Alcohol and benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants; therefore, consuming them together can cause excessive sedation and respiratory distress. Below, we will look at how the vicious cycle of using alcohol and benzodiazepines causes a neurochemical imbalance, resulting in anxiety and ultimately addictive cravings.

Anxiety is a common mental health disorder that develops from many risk factors, including genetics, life events, personality, and brain chemistry. Consuming alcohol and benzodiazepines together creates a vicious loop of anxiety in the GABA. The GABA helps to stabilize brain functioning. A detailed description of how alcohol and benzodiazepines impact a person’s anxiety levels is provided below.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol is among the most used and abused drugs in the United States. Alcohol usually has CNS depressant effects. Drinking alcohol is correlated with many physiological reactions, including substantial consequences on the CNS. Alcohol increases the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitters GABA and glycine and decreases the activity of excitatory neurotransmitters such as NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspirate).

Benzodiazepine Abuse

Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants that activate gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the relaxing neurotransmitters in the brain that slow down brain activity. By stimulating GABA, benzodiazepines counter anxiety and help a person feel calm. The problem is that benzodiazepines, although first causing GABA to rise, then trigger GABA to drop.

Benzodiazepines can be addictive, despite being prescription medications with legitimate uses. The amount needed to suffer a fatal overdose on benzodiazepines by itself is vastly high. It is much easier to overdose on this medication when mixed with other substances, such as alcohol.

Drug overdoses have become an everyday reality in the United States. As of 2019, the fatal drug overdose rate was 21.6 per 100,000 people. In 2020, 12,290 overdose deaths in the United States involved benzodiazepines.

Mixing Alcohol and Benzodiazepines

The most common drugs abused or misused with benzodiazepines are other benzodiazepines and alcohol. Individuals who take these drugs together do so for several reasons. Previous data collected by SAMHSA implies a continual rise in hospital emergency admissions associated with the misuse of benzodiazepines and alcohol.

  • Individuals abuse the two drugs together because it enhances the effects of the drugs.
  • Individuals who misuse benzodiazepines are often under the impression that using prescription medications with other drugs is safer than using illicit drugs in combination with alcohol or other drugs.
  • Most adults can legally procure alcohol, and it is readily available at parties or in social situations. This availability makes it an ideal companion drug for anyone who misuses or abuses drugs.

When used with alcohol, benzodiazepines can cause a person’s heart to stop beating, obstruct brain activity, or slow down breathing to respiratory failure, lasting brain injury, coma, or death. It also increases the possibility of an overdose, leading to respiratory depression, seizures, and death. Many combined benzodiazepines and alcohol can calm and quiet body functions to the point that the individual’s heart stops beating or breathing stops, resulting in a coma or death.

Risks of Combining Alcohol and Benzodiazepines

There are considerable hazards associated with combining benzodiazepines and alcohol. The risks of abusing these drugs in combination are significantly more severe than using them singularly.

Some of the significant risks of combining alcohol and benzodiazepines include:

  • Enhanced effects: Mixing two drugs with the same reaction improves the effects of both drugs, meaning that the results of both drugs increase significantly compared to the use of either drug alone.
  • Increased risk of overdose: When an individual mixes two CNS depressants, they are at severe risk for overdose on one or both of them. An overdose on either drug can have powerful and even lethal ramifications, including organ damage or brain damage due to a lack of oxygen because both drugs suppress breathing.
  • Increased reduction of cognition: Individuals mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines will significantly decrease their cognitive abilities. These cognitive decreases can result in several different potentially severe situations, including a loss of inhibitions and impaired judgment that can lead to poor decisions, significantly reduced reasoning capabilities, and an inability to manage emotions resulting in a person becoming combative or confrontational.
  • Increased risk of a mental health disorder: Long-term abuse or misuse of alcohol and benzodiazepines is associated with an increased likelihood of being diagnosed with a severe psychological condition, such as depression, trauma, stressor-related disorders, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, etc., are more prevalent in people who suffer from polydrug abuse.

Any level of abuse of one or both of these drugs is a severe condition. Individuals who abuse these drugs often need intensive and long-term treatment programs to help them recover from their substance abuse.

Addiction treatment is one of the most meaningful decisions you will make throughout your life. You don’t have to go through recovery alone. If you or a loved one are ready to receive the quality care you deserve, we are prepared to help. Crownview Co-Occurring Institute in Oceanside, CA, can provide treatment for many levels of addiction. Our experienced staff delivers a custom blend of therapies tailored to your specific needs to treat your disorder effectively. Our personalized approach allows each client to receive quality care with successful results. We want to support you from crisis to independence. Let CCI help you get to long-term recovery. Call (760) 477-4754 today to learn more. If you are searching for help outside of California, you can head to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website to find a treatment facility near you.