In the stressful world that we live in, many people have turned to Xanax (alprazolam) to get some relief from anxiety. Xanax is the 13th most commonly prescribed psychiatric drug medication in the United States, and nearly 42 million Americans are taking the drug. Every year, 22,000 people die from complications involving prescription medications. Approximately 30 percent of these involve a category of drugs known as benzodiazepines, of which alprazolam is one. Xanax is habit-forming and often used alongside alcoholic beverages with tragic results.
What Is Xanax?
Xanax reduces anxiety by depressing the central nervous system. This promotes feelings of calm and relaxation. It is in a family of drugs known as benzodiazepines, which are a form of tranquilizers. When they lower central nervous system function, they also lower the heart rate, cause lower blood pressure, reduce body temperature, and have other effects on systems that are heightened during anxiety.
When you are stressed, your brain sends out signals that are part of the fight-or-flight syndrome. Alprazolam stimulates gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. The effect of the drug is immediate, and a person can quickly find release from anxiety and panic disorders within about 15 minutes after taking it. It is most often prescribed for those with anxiety and panic disorders. It’s only effective for a short amount of time and leaves the body in about six hours.
Alprazolam is meant to be taken for short periods of time because it is habit-forming. It is also possible for users to develop a tolerance to alprazolam, which means that it will take higher doses to get the same effect. Addiction to it is both physical and psychological. For those who have developed a tolerance to the drug, taking alcoholic beverages with it can be even more dangerous because the potential reaction is much more serious.
Because the effects of alprazolam immediately make the user feel good, it is a substance that is often abused even by those who do not have anxiety disorders. It is often used recreationally and results in hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits for overdoses or adverse reactions every year.
The side effects of alprazolam in doses that are too high include:
- Blurry vision
- Loss of coordination
- Short-term memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Slurred speech
- Shortness of breath
Alprazolam does not mix well with any other medications or substances that have an effect on lowering the response of the central nervous system. Most overdoses occur because the central nervous system is depressed to that point that it hinders the ability of the heart to beat and the lungs to breathe. Combining alprazolam with barbiturates, opioid analgesics, hypnotic drugs, heroin, or methadone can cause death in a similar manner.
What Are the Effects of Alcohol?
The immediate effects of drinking alcoholic beverages are similar to those of taking Xanax.
The symptoms of alcohol overconsumption include:
- Slow breathing
- Slow heart rate
- Slurred speech
- Loss of muscle coordination
- Loss of memory and blackouts
It is possible to die from alcoholic beverage consumption alone or from alprazolam consumption alone if the amounts consumed are high enough. Nearly one in five emergency room visits for the nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals also involved consuming alcoholic beverages. This dangerous combination is responsible for many deaths every year. Aside from the short-term effects, regular consumption of alcoholic beverages can also cause weight gain, high blood pressure, reduced sexual performance, hangovers, and memory loss.
What Could Happen if You Mix Xanax and Alcohol?
The problem with mixing Xanax and alcoholic beverages is that both of them have similar effects on the body. When the two are combined, the slowing of the central nervous system can happen rather quickly, resulting in serious side effects such as seizures, coma, and death within as little as 15 minutes. This dangerous combination causes the heart to beat slower and slower until it can no longer pump enough for blood to the brain. At this time, death occurs.
This reaction can occur the first time you take these two substances in combination with one another. It can also occur even after a person has been engaging in this behavior for some time. They may be fine for a while and think that they are safe. Just because someone has successfully done this in the past does not mean that they are in less danger than they were the first time they did it, however.
As the body builds up a tolerance and a person begins to consume more alcoholic beverages or more Xanax, they increase the likelihood that an overdose will occur at some time in the future. Both alcoholic beverages and alprazolam are hard on the liver and can cause long-term liver damage. This can also lead to a dangerous reaction even if the person thinks they are safe because they have been doing it for so long.
How Much Is Too Much?
The next question you are probably asking is how much of both of these substances is too much. Having one or two servings of alcoholic beverages is typically not harmful as long as there is no dependency involved and the consumption isn’t habitual. A blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent is considered legally intoxicated. At this level, your abilities are impaired to the point where it is not legal to drive a motor vehicle. At 0.20 percent, you’re in danger of having a blackout, which can be especially dangerous while driving or engaging in risky behavior. At 0.30 percent, death or coma can occur on alcoholic beverages alone. This is a level that is similar to going under surgical anesthesia.
The short-term effects of alcohol become worse the more that is consumed. It is often the goal of the drinker to only have enough to alleviate social inhibitions, experience a type of euphoria, or perhaps become mildly sedated. Even a little bit of alcohol, though, can be dangerous if it lowers the person’s inhibitions to the point where they engage in risky behavior.
Signs of alcohol poisoning and dangerous intoxication include:
- A complete and total loss of coordination
- Extreme confusion and incoherency
- Intense vomiting
- Potential seizures
- Irregular or slow respiration
- Skin that is blue or pale
- A coma-like loss of consciousness
At this stage, death can occur quickly. If a person who has been drinking alcoholic beverages displays this level of intoxication, it is imperative that they get to an emergency department quickly. Even if they do make it through the overdose episode, they can suffer long-term consequences such as kidney or liver damage. Therefore, it is important to get them help as quickly as possible.
The regular recommended dose of Xanax is a quarter of a milligram (0.25 mg) to one-half milligram (.5 mg). They often come in 1 mg tabs that have perforations to allow them to be scored and broken easily. Taking one of these tablets is twice the recommended therapeutic dose. This can have an effect similar to alcohol and can include a type of recreational high that involves euphoria, sedation, extreme relaxation, and freedom from any worry. As with alcohol, even mild euphoria can cause the person to take dangerous actions or engage in risky behaviors.
One thing to remember is that Xanax is a complex medication that has a different effect on everyone according to their body’s chemical makeup. In some people, it may only produce a mild state of calm. In others, the same dosage can produce stomach bleeding, double vision, temporary amnesia, muscle tremors, and a serious lack of focus.
The long-term effects of Xanax are similar to those of alcoholic beverages. They include fatigue, headache, dry mouth, seizures, dizziness, depression, difficulty urinating, a lack of sex drive, rashes, constipation, and shortness of breath. In some cases, undesirable mood changes will also occur. Xanax can also damage the liver if taken long-term. Taking alprazolam over the years can cause amnesia, dementia, delirium, respiratory depression, and mental health issues, including severe depression.
As you can see, having only one-half Xanax with a few drinks of alcoholic beverages can have an additive effect quickly. It is like consuming either one of them in higher doses. Both of them act on the hypothalamus of the brain to slow body functions, including breathing and heart rate. This effect can be dangerous. First, the person can become so heavily sedated that they slip into a coma.
Even if the person recovers from combining Xanax and alcoholic beverages, they can suffer from permanent brain or liver damage, cardiomyopathy, and heart arrhythmias. Xanax abuse and alcohol abuse can also lead to mouth and throat cancer, breast cancer, and pancreatitis. These effects are worse due to the additive effect of both of these substances.
It is important to understand that nearly 44 percent of all emergency room visits involving mixing alcoholic beverages and Xanax result in serious consequences. For treatment, it is not unusual for alcohol and alprazolam addiction to occur simultaneously. If you take alcoholic beverages and are prescribed alprazolam, it makes you 86 percent more likely to be hospitalized at some point in your life. Mixing these two substances is serious business.
One of the mistakes that people make is that they may feel they are used to either the alcohol or the alprazolam and that because their body is used to it, it will not hurt them to combine the two. This type of thinking results in nearly 20 percent of all deaths caused by Xanax abuse and alcoholic beverages.
Sometimes, people feel panicky and anxious when they consume alcoholic beverages. This may lead them to believe that taking Xanax will help them to feel better. This can be a dangeorus combination even the first time the person tries it.
If a person has been drinking and taking alprazolam together regularly, they should not stop cold turkey. To do so may cause them to go into severe withdrawal, which could also have serious consequences. If a person has been taken these two substances together regularly, it is imperative that they seek medical advice and engage the services of a treatment facility. Stopping this double-substance-use dilemma must be done under carefully supervised medical care.
There is no safe dosage of alprazolam and alcohol that can be consumed together. This combination is made even more dangerous if it is combined with other pharmaceuticals such as painkillers or another prescription medication that lowers central nervous system response. Taking high blood pressure medicine, seizure medication, or medicines for depression increases the likelihood of dangerous symptoms. It is difficult to predict the reaction that two pharmaceuticals will have when taken together. Some counteract each other while some enhance the effects of one another, so it’s important to avoid potentially dangerous combinations altogether.
The most important thing to remember is that this combination is like a ticking time bomb, and the reaction could occur even after the person has been doing it for a long time. Xanax and alcohol should never be used together. If you or your loved one is engaging in this dangerous behavior, it is important that you seek help and contact professionals who can assist you in breaking the addiction safely. Even in small doses, the long-term effects could eventually lead to organ failure and a reduced quality of life.