These days, it’s not uncommon to turn on the news and hear about a celebrity death involving a mixture of drugs and alcohol. Deaths from mixed drugs date back decades — most notably, “Wizard of Oz” star Judy Garland and American music icon Elvis Presley. More recently, we’ve seen it happen to Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger, and Anna Nicole Smith.
But the problem extends far beyond Hollywood. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) reports that drug overdose deaths have spiked 102 percent from 1999 to 2000. In 2010, there were over 38,000 deaths from drug overdoses, and 60 percent of those deaths involved prescription drugs (as opposed to heroin or cocaine). Of the 22,000 deaths involving prescription drugs, 30 percent involved benzodiazepines such as Xanax.
Drugs such as Xanax are highly addictive. Aside from how addictive it is, Xanax is relatively safe when taken on its own, and the amount needed to overdose is very high. However, it’s much easier to overdose on Xanax when it’s combined with other drugs, such as alcohol. When combined, Xanax and alcohol can cause various side effects, some of which can be fatal. This is why alcohol and Xanax should never be combined. Even if you think you’re responsible with your drinking, and Xanax is taken as prescribed, it’s important to still be aware of the dangers of taking Xanax with alcohol.
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What Makes Mixing Alcohol and Xanax So Dangerous?
Xanax is a prescription anti-anxiety medication. It’s also sold in the generic form under its chemical name, alprazolam. Xanax is classified as a benzodiazepine central nervous system depressant. Benzodiazepine medication is commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, panic disorder, and occasionally, alcohol withdrawal. The goal is to slow down the activity of the central nervous system and produce a calming effect. When abused, misused, or combined with other drugs, benzodiazepine medications can cause dangerous, and even deadly, side effects.
Similarly, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Because of this, the warning label for Xanax warns against drinking alcohol and using other non-prescribed drugs while taking it.
Alcohol and Xanax both increase activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. This neurotransmitter is responsible for muting excitation in the brain, which causes a sedative effect. When depressants are mixed together, over-sedation occurs, which is a serious problem that may result in death.
Xanax intensifies the symptoms of alcohol and vice versa. When taken together, alcohol and Xanax become more potent than if you used either of them on their own. As a result, you’re at risk of excessive sedation, dangerous accidents, respiratory depression, cardiac problems, and loss of consciousness.
Other depressants that are commonly mixed with Xanax include:
- Opioid analgesics (OxyContin, Vicodin, morphine).
- Barbiturates (Seconal, Nembutal).
- Hypnotic drugs (Ambien).
Combining drugs can escalate the side effects of Xanax, causing severe drowsiness, fatigue, weakness, and clumsiness. It also increases the risk of breathing difficulties, unconsciousness, and unintentional death.
Side Effects of Mixing Xanax and Alcohol
Alcohol and Xanax work to reduce overall activity in the brain, effectively reducing signals in the central nervous system. When taken independently, they both cause a relaxing effect on users. But together, the effects of each drug build upon one another.
Reduced activity in the central nervous system can lead to dangerous side effects. Individuals mixing Xanax and alcohol are at risk of:
- Slow breathing
- Slurred speech
- Slow pulse
- Impaired coordination
- Memory loss
With these side effects in mind, mixing Xanax and alcohol (including drinking on Xanax) is never a good idea. Whether it’s Xanax and beer, wine or any other alcoholic beverage, these two substances should never be combined in any way.
Can You Overdose on Xanax?
“Can you die from Xanax?” and “Can you overdose on Xanax?” are two commonly asked questions regarding this medication. Even without mixing Xanax and alcohol, there can be dangers with taking Xanax alone. Taking this drug in larger doses than prescribed or for longer than recommended can lead to addiction. It takes a relatively high dosage of Xanax to cause an overdose, but it’s a common occurrence when combined with alcohol or other depressants.
Symptoms of a Xanax overdose may include:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Loss of balance or coordination
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty breathing
- Blurred vision
If you or someone you know experiences any of these overdose symptoms, call 911 immediately.
If you or someone you know is mixing Xanax and alcohol, it’s important that you seek help immediately from an addiction treatment facility. Treatment for co-occurring alcohol and Xanax use often requires a period of medically monitored detox.
If you’ve been abusing alcohol and Xanax over an extended period of time, it’s likely that you’ve become dependent on them. When you stop using, you’ll likely experience withdrawal symptoms that range from mild discomfort to dangerous medical conditions.
Attempting to self-detox at home or quit cold turkey is never advised, especially if you’ve been using for a long time. Medically assisted detox helps minimize the risk of experiencing potentially dangerous symptoms. A team of medical professionals will provide 24-hour care and if necessary, provide you with medications to help with withdrawal symptoms.