If you have ever visited a doctor for an anxiety disorder, you may have learned about Xanax. Xanax, also known by its generic name, Alprazolam, is a medication that is grouped into a classification of drugs called benzodiazepines.
Essentially, Xanax works by increasing the release of GABA in the brain. GABA is a molecule that decreases brain activity leading to an overall sense of calm and relief. Other possible side effects of Xanax include drowsiness, confusion, and forgetfulness.1 Some users report mild to moderate euphoria which may lend to its significant abuse potential.
As you can imagine, some of the effects of Xanax mimic those of alcohol. Go to a bar on the weekend and you will see how alcohol acts as an anxiety buster. A natural introvert can transform into the life of the part after only a few drinks. Several drinks later, they may wake up the next morning with the faintest memory of the night before.
This is because alcohol actually works in a similar way as Xanax. Instead of increasing GABA, alcohol acts like GABA and directly binds to these receptors in the brain.2 As a result, a person under the influence of alcohol may feel less inhibited and prone to activities that would otherwise cause them anxiety.
What Happens If I Mix Xanax and Alcohol?
When Xanax is taken with alcohol, the effects are amplified to a greater degree. Death from Xanax has usually been found in combination with other drugs and alcohol. According to the NIH, almost 11,000 deaths caused by drug overdose involved a benzodiazepine mixed with other drugs or alcohol.3 Death from benzodiazepine use alone, although rare, has been reported.4 While death is a cause for concern, there is no doubt that when Xanax and alcohol are taken together, impairment is increased. A person may find themselves in dangerous situations especially if they are operating machinery or driving a car.
Abuse and Addiction
Death and impairment are not the only risks of mixing Xanax and alcohol. Because of the euphoric and relaxing effects of these substances, they both carry similar risks of abuse and addiction. Additionally, some people may be abusing other drugs such as opiates or amphetamines at the same time.
Abusers can find themselves psychologically and physically dependent on Xanax and alcohol. If a person suddenly stops taking Xanax, they can experience moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include heart palpitations, excessive sweating, shaking, and seizures. Treatment must be sought immediately to control severe symptoms or else death is a real possibility.5
It is critical to work with a physician when stopping Xanax as they may recommend tapering the dose slowly to reduce withdrawal symptoms.6 It may be recommended to attend a rehab program depending on the history of abuse. Inpatient rehab programs can be used to detoxify, assess, and treat addiction. Psychological treatment such as counseling and group therapy can also act as effective tools needed to cope with abuse.
Overall, the implications and dangers of Xanax and alcohol abuse are a growing concern in our society today. More than ten percent of young people age 18 to 25 years old are abusers of Xanax.7 The younger population is especially at risk due to the glamorization of these drugs by some cultural trends. Unfortunately, it has become a common theme to hear about another celebrity succumbing to drug overdose.
It is important to be familiar with the risks and how these substances work. To be informed is to be empowered. To be empowered is to intervene if you or a loved one is staring death in the face, especially if Xanax and alcohol are in question.
- Uzun S, Kozumplik O, Jakovljevic M, Sedic B. Side effects of treatment with benzodiazepines. Psychiatria Danubina. 2010;22(1):90-93.
- Davies M. The role of GABAA receptors in mediating the effects of alcohol in the central nervous system. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. 2003;28(4):263-274.
- Overdose death rates. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates.
- Drummer O, Danson L. Sudden death and benzodiazepines. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 1996;17(4):336-42.
- Lann M, Molina D. A fatal case of benzodiazepine withdrawal. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2009;30(2):177-179. doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e3181875aa0
- Vicens C, Fiol F, Llobera J, et al. Withdrawal from long-term benzodiazepine use: randomised trial in family practice. The British Journal of General Practice. 2006;56(533):958-963.
- Results from the 2013 National Survey on drug use and health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabsPDFWHTML2013/Web/HTML/NSDUH-DetTabsSect1peTabs47to92-2013.htm