Drug overdoses are, unfortunately, a common reality in the United States. As of 2018, the fatal drug overdose rate was 20.7 per 100,000 people. That same year, 10,724 overdose deaths in the United States involved a benzodiazepine, which is the drug class to which Xanax belongs. 

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

When combined, Xanax and alcohol can cause various side effects, some of which can be fatal. This is why experts recommend not taking Xanax and alcohol together. Even if you think you’re responsible with your drinking and you take Xanax exactly as prescribed, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of combining Xanax with alcohol.

infographic with the dangers of mixing xanax and alcohol

When combined, Xanax and alcohol can cause various side effects, some of which can be fatal. This is why experts recommend not taking Xanax and alcohol together. Even if you think you’re responsible with your drinking and you take Xanax exactly as prescribed, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of combining Xanax with alcohol.

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, meaning that it has a sedative effect. Benzodiazepine medications are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, panic disorder and occasionally alcohol withdrawal or seizures. Their goal is to slow down the activity of the central nervous system and produce a calming effect. Alcohol also has a sedative effect on the body, which is why the makers of Xanax warn against mixing the prescription medication with alcohol. 

Alcohol and Xanax increase the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. This neurotransmitter is responsible for slowing the activity of the nervous system, causing the sedative effect. When these two depressants are mixed, oversedation 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)

    Heroin

    Methadone

Combining drugs can escalate the side effects of Xanax, causing severe drowsiness, fatigue, weakness and clumsiness. Mixing Xanax with other substances 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 slowing 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.

infographic with the side effects of combining xanax and alcohol

  • Individuals mixing Xanax and alcohol are at risk of:

    Vertigo

    Fainting

    Slow breathing

    Drowsiness

    Slurred speech

    Slow pulse

    Impaired coordination

    Nausea

    Memory loss

    Irritability

    Anxiety

    Delirium

    Seizures

    Coma

    Death

With these side effects in mind, drinking alcohol while taking Xanax is generally considered unsafe. While some people may combine the two substances and never suffer any side effects, others can experience a fatal overdose, so no safe level of alcohol use has been established for people using Xanax. This means that you should not drink beer, wine or liquor while taking Xanax. 

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 is possible to overdose, especially if Xanax is combined with alcohol or opiates.

infographic with the symptoms of xanax overdose

  • Symptoms of a Xanax overdose may include:

    Extreme drowsiness

    Lightheadedness

    Loss of balance or coordination

    Confusion

    Blurred vision

    Muscle weakness

    Difficulty breathing

    Fainting

    Coma

Call 911 immediately if you or someone you know experiences any of these overdose symptoms.

Getting Help

If you or a loved one 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 abuse often requires a period of medically-monitored detox.

If you’ve been abusing alcohol and Xanax over an extended period of time, you’ve likely become dependent on them. When you stop using, you may experience withdrawal symptoms that range from mild discomfort to dangerous medical conditions, like seizures and coma. 

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 provide you with medications to help with withdrawal symptoms if necessary.

Entering an inpatient addiction treatment program may seem overwhelming, but it gives you the best chance at success. Not only will you be monitored by a team of medical professionals around the clock, but you’ll also receive long-term care that will provide you with tools to stay healthy and clean.

Recovery is possible, but the first step involves getting the help that you need. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you’re struggling and need help for your addiction. While taking this step is often scary, it’s the first step toward a better, happier, and more satisfying life in recovery.

If you have questions about treatment for alcohol and Xanax abuse, drinking and Xanax, or mixing Xanax with alcohol, The Recovery Village can help.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.