Xanax, a common brand name of alprazolam, is a strong sedative often used to treat anxiety disorders. Alprazolam is in a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, which lower anxiety by decreasing abnormal brain activity. Alcohol can also have sedating effects, and when alcohol is combined with Xanax, the effects can be serious.
Most people who take Xanax use this medication when experiencing symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks. Panic attacks are periods of intense fear that appear suddenly, seemingly without cause. Taking Xanax can lessen these symptoms, helping the person to achieve a state of calm. This medication is typically only used as-needed and on a short-term basis because it can be addictive.
Some people with anxiety disorders attempt to self-medicate with alcohol, and may be tempted to drink while taking Xanax as a way to further relieve anxiety. Alcohol and Xanax are both central nervous system depressants. Combining these two substances can cause severe side effects and significantly increases the risk of overdose.
Side Effects of Xanax and Alcohol
Xanax or alcohol alone can cause sedation and impaired motor functioning, but the side effects of both substances tend to be more severe when they are combined. According to a study published by the Journal of Psychiatric Research, alprazolam and alcohol activate the same receptors within the brain, which can cause the substances to exacerbate the effects of each other.
Alprazolam can cause many different side effects, including:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty urinating
Any of these effects may be exacerbated by alcohol, but dizziness, extreme sedation, and difficulty concentrating are commonly experienced when combining Xanax and alcohol.
Xanax can also cause dangerous side effects. Combining alcohol with this drug can increase the likelihood of experiencing any of the following complications:
- Difficulty breathing
- Yellowish skin or eyes
- Depressed mood
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Memory issues
- Difficulty speaking
Neurological complications, like seizures, are of particular concern when alcohol is combined with Xanax. Behavioral consequences, such as increased aggression, have also been reported. A study from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol found that the combination of alcohol and alprazolam increased aggressive behavior more than either substance on its own.
Xanax and Alcohol Overdose
Perhaps the most dangerous potential consequence of mixing these substances is overdose. An overdose occurs when too much of a specific substance is ingested, and the body cannot process it correctly. When experiencing an overdose of combined alcohol and Xanax, symptoms of either type of overdose syndrome may be present.
Symptoms of Xanax overdose include:
- Difficulty staying awake
- Severe confusion
- Difficulty with coordination
- Loss of consciousness
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning, or alcohol overdose, are:
- Abdominal pain
- Stomach and intestinal bleeding
- Difficulty breathing
- Slurred speech
- Stupor, or decreased level of alertness
- Difficulty walking
Loss of consciousness, coma, and death are not uncommon in response to an overdose of Xanax and alcohol. An overdose is a serious emergency that requires immediate medical attention. While combining any benzodiazepine with alcohol can lead to an overdose, alprazolam has been found to be somewhat more toxic than other benzodiazepines, making the risk of death with this drug particularly high, according to a study published by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
Xanax Addiction and Alcoholism
While many people use Xanax on a short-term basis and do not develop an addiction, some people become physically dependent on the drug. The risk of developing an addiction is increased if the substance is misused, such as taking an increased dose or using the drug more frequently than prescribed. Many people who are addicted to Xanax have co-occurring addictions, particularly to alcohol. Because alcohol increases the effects of Xanax, people who are addicted to the drug will often also abuse alcohol. Combining these substance can increase the risk of becoming addicted to either substance.
Suffering from an addiction to both Xanax and alcohol can not only increase the health risks associated with these substances, but it can also complicate the withdrawal and recovery process. Detox from either substance requires medical supervision due to possible life-threatening complications associated with benzodiazepine and alcohol withdrawal. You should never stop taking a central nervous system depressant, like Xanax, too suddenly. Instead, the dosage should be slowly tapered over time. When going through withdrawal from both Xanax and alcohol, the risk of dangerous complications, such as seizures, is increased. Other medications, such as clonidine, may be given to help control the symptoms of withdrawal.
Dangers of Mixing Xanax and Alcohol
Xanax and alcohol are both powerful depressant substances. Combining alcohol with prescription medications can be dangerous, even when drinking socially without the intention of becoming intoxicated. Always check with the prescribing physician before combining alcohol with any prescription medication.