The Dangers of Combining Benzos and Alcohol

 

The CDC estimates that alcohol is a contributing factor in 20 percent of all benzodiazepine overdose deaths. This link between benzodiazepines and alcohol is scary, but not surprising. Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are increasingly being prescribed to people dealing with anxiety. However, benzos are highly addictive and deadly in their own right. Add Americans’ preference for mixing alcohol with just about any drug, and you have a recipe for disaster. Because both are sedatives, the effects of benzos and alcohol may feel good, but it’s easy to overdose and even die — especially is you’re alone with no one to help.

Therein lie the dangers of combining benzos and alcohol. If you or someone you love is addicted to benzos or mixing them with alcohol, reach out to treatment experts at Alcohol & Drug Rehab Oklahoma today at (405) 583-4309. There is help. Do not lose hope because you can overcome addiction.

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Keep reading on for more insight into what benzos are, and why it is dangerous to mix them with alcohol. Contact our professionals today if you require additional assistance.

The Dangers of Combining Benzos and Alcohol

Benzos For Anxiety

Once called “mother’s little helpers,” benzos are used to treat anxiety. They are depressants, which means that they slow activity in the central nervous system. That in turn slows the messages traveling between the brain and the body. Other depressants include alcohol, cannabis, and heroin. 

Furthermore, benzos are minor tranquilizers. That’s why doctors commonly prescribe benzos to relieve stress, anxiety, and to help people sleep. They are even used to treat alcohol withdrawal.

However, there is increasing concern among medical professionals about the risks of using benzos, especially if they are used over a long period of time. By themselves, they can cause an overdose. The chances of overdosing sharply increase when they are used along with alcohol or other drugs. Some people use them illegally to get high or to help them ‘come down’ from stimulants such as amphetamines or cocaine. 

Moreover, even after a short period of use, benzos are associated with dependence and withdrawal symptoms. As a result, they should not be the first option for the medicinal treatment of insomnia, anxiety, or other health concerns. 

Types of Benzos

There are three types of benzos: long, intermediate, and short-acting. Short-acting benzos, like Xanax, have stronger withdrawal effects. They can also be more addictive than long-acting benzos such as Valium.

While benzos have different effects on different people, for instance, the effects may include: 

  • Depression 
  • Confusion 
  • Feelings of isolation or euphoria 
  • Impaired thinking and memory loss 
  • Headache 
  • Drowsiness, sleepiness, and fatigue 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Slurred speech or stuttering 
  • Double or blurred vision 
  • Impaired coordination, dizziness, and tremors 
  • Nausea and loss of appetite 
  • Diarrhea or constipation

Generally taken in pill form, benzos can be crushed and snorted. Some even inject the, which may cause, for instance:

  • Vein damage and scarring 
  • Infection, including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, and AIDS 
  • Deep vein thrombosis and clots causing loss of limbs, damage to organs, stroke, and possibly death

As with all drugs taken intravenously, repeatedly injecting benzos and sharing injecting equipment with others increases the above effects’ risk. If you are struggling with addiction, then contact us today. Our specialists will be able to help you overcome and win this battle.

Benzo Overdose 

Dr. Anna Lembke is the director of addiction medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California. She points out that benzo overdoses are more likely to occur in people taking other prescription and recreational drugs, including opioids. She also urges people to seek immediate medical attention in the event of a suspected overdose.  

In addition, Rachel Firebaugh is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Pharmacy in Seattle. She says signs of an overdose could include difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, and the inability to wake. Also, watch for dizziness, slurred speech, confusion, and weakness. 

Benzos are highly addictive. Lembke and Firebaugh say this is especially true for those who already struggle with alcohol use disorder.   

A lot of people get prescribed benzos and have no idea they are addictive,” Lembke says. “The bottom line is we use benzos too frequently and too casually. They are very serious drugs and they really should only be used in very serious situations.

Benzos are often present in high amounts in patients who have intentionally or accidentally overdosed. For example, call an ambulance if you or someone you know have any of these symptoms:

  • Over-sedation or sleep 
  • Jitteriness and excitability 
  • Mood swings and aggression 
  • Slow, shallow breathing 
  • Unconsciousness or coma 
  • Death, more likely when taken with another drug such as alcohol. 

Other Benzo Dangers 

Dr. Matthew Hirschtritt is a clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He co-authored a study on benzos for UCSF and Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

However, numerous studies have shown that long-term benzo use links to an increased risk of dementia. That’s one of the dangers of combining benzos and alcohol.

“Unhealthy alcohol use may amplify this dementia risk,” Hirschtritt says.

For example, regular use of benzos may cause: 

  • Impaired thinking or memory loss 
  • Anxiety and depression 
  • Irritability, paranoia, and aggression 
  • Personality change 
  • Weakness, lethargy, and lack of motivation 
  • Drowsiness, sleepiness, and fatigue 
  • Difficulty sleeping or disturbing dreams 
  • Headaches 
  • Nausea 
  • Skin rashes and weight gain 
  • Addiction 
  • Withdrawal symptoms

There is also some evidence that long-term, heavy use of benzodiazepines is a risk factor for epilepsy, stroke, and brain tumors.

Moreover, while giving up benzos is right for your health, it is by no means easy. If you have been using benzos for a long time, there will be a challenge to getting your body accustomed to functioning without them. So, if you plan to stop taking benzodiazepines, get advice from a health care professional. Do not go “cold turkey,” as sudden withdrawal can cause seizures. 

Withdrawal symptoms differ depending on the type of benzo taken. For instance, symptoms can last from a few weeks to a year and can include: 

  • Headaches 
  • Aching or twitching muscles 
  • Dizziness and tremors 
  • Nausea, vomiting, stomach pains 
  • Bizarre dreams, difficulty sleeping, fatigue 
  • Poor concentration 
  • Anxiety and irritability 
  • Altered perception, a heightening of senses
  • Delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia seizures. 

Benzos and Alcohol Interaction

Between 1996 and 2013, the percentage of American adults who filled a benzo prescription increased from 4.1 percent to 5.6 percent. During this same period, the number of overdose deaths involving benzos jumped from 0.58 to 3.07 per 100,000 adults.

The CDC also reports that alcohol was a factor in 25 percent of benzo-related emergency room visits. Alcohol also played a part in 20 percent of benzo-related deaths in emergency departments.

“If you combine [benzodiazepines and alcohol] you can have a serious drug-drug interaction, including a lethal overdose,” says Lembke of Stanford. 

Furthermore, this is because benzos and alcohol are both sedatives. Used individually, they can relax muscles, make you sleepy, and reduce feelings of panic, fear, and agitation. However, use benzos and alcohol together and all those effects intensify.

But this potentially dangerous benzo and alcohol cocktail can also simultaneously amplify the potential for serious side effects, such as respiratory depression. When your breathing slows to a dangerous level, that’s respiratory depression. The worst-case scenario?

“[You] fall asleep and stop breathing,” Lembke says.

This worst-case scenario, however, is not rare due to the prevalence of combining benzos and alcohol. Overdoses from combining benzos and alcohol result from the impact of two depressants on the central nervous system. 

“Their effects can reduce motor coordination, impact judgment and decision-making, and result in falls and accidents,” Hirschtritt of UCSF says. “Long-term use can lead to cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, liver, kidney, and neurological injury, as well as psychosis or suicidal ideation for those with pre-existing psychiatric conditions.”

Are you, or someone you care about, suffering from benzo addiction? If you are worried about yourself or another then contact us today. Our experts will be able to provide you with the tools necessary to aid you in recovery.

Prescribing Benzos

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the country. They affect 18 percent of the adult population each year. Also, doctors are prescribing benzos for anxiety at an increasing rate.

Moreover, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that the number of doctor visits resulting in a benzo prescription almost doubled between 2003 and 2015. The increase went from 3.8 percent to 7.4 percent.

In addition, Lembke says benzos are increasingly being prescribed for mild to moderate anxiety. Benzos are technically meant for severe or acute anxiety.  

Hirschtritt and his research team find that problem drinkers are more likely to take benzos. In the UCSF and Kaiser Permanente Northern California study, researchers found that primary care patients with “unhealthy alcohol use” had a 15 percent higher likelihood of using benzos than moderate drinkers and nondrinkers.

That finding runs counter to the researchers’ hypothesis that heavy alcohol users are less likely to be able to obtain benzos.

However, in another twist, the authors of the UCSF and Kaiser Permanente study also found that problem drinkers tended to moderately use prescribed benzos. Their average dose was 40 percent lower and the duration of use was 16 percent shorter than for moderate drinkers and nondrinkers.

Likewise, it’s not known if the heavy drinkers are following their doctor’s advice or are taking the initiative on their own to avoid functional impairment.

Alcohol and Overdoses

As for alcohol use, 54.6 percent of adults 26 and older were current alcohol users. In all, benzos were at least partially responsible for 11,537 overdose-related deaths in 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  

The experts say to use be extra cautious in order to avoid the effects of benzos and alcohol. This means waiting until the drug is out of your system before hitting happy hour. But it’s not clear cut how long it takes to get the drug out of your system. 

“It really depends on a few things,” Firebaugh of the University of Washington School of Pharmacy says, adding that the medication dosage and the amount of alcohol involved are important factors.

“If it were a small amount of alcohol and a lower dose of the benzo, there would be a lower risk,” she says.

On the other hand, Lembke says people should wait one or two days after taking benzo before drinking. She says that some benzodiazepines are longer-acting — like Valium — and will stay in your system longer. Others, such as Xanax, are considered shorter acting and leave your system quickly.

Obviously, medical experts would rather that you avoid the dangers of combining benzos and alcohol by abstaining from one or both of the drugs.

To summarize, there is a treatment for addiction to benzos and alcohol. If you or a loved one are having trouble discontinuing the use of either substance reach out to treatment experts at Alcohol & Drug Rehab Oklahoma today at (405) 583-4309. Do not lose hope! You can overcome addiction.

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