Alcohol is among the most widely used drugs globally. Because of its legal status, many people don’t understand how dangerous consuming the substance in large amounts is. They see their superhero pouring a glass of whiskey in the middle of the day and showing no signs of impairment. Once the movie ends, they flip back to television and see advertisements for that same alcohol brand their superhero made look so delicious. After that, they leave the house and see a billboard with attractive people having the time of their lives. By the time they reach the store, liquor fills the shelves, and the brain has been conditioned to think this is OK. But it’s not.
Although alcohol is classified as a central nervous system (CNS), it is a depressant that produces mild stimulant-like effects in low doses. When you have a drink or two, it could increase sociability and make you feel good. Alcohol can be used safely if you drink in moderation and get a ride home. However, when you start binge drinking, driving under the influence, or drinking daily, it becomes dangerous. Alcohol is responsible for increasing the activity of inhibitory neurotransmitters, gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), and glycine while decreasing NMDA receptor activity.
Again, the social use of alcohol can have some beneficial effects. But the more you drink, you risk developing detrimental effects on your physical and emotional well-being. When you drink too much, you’re at risk of developing a substance use disorder or conditions like cancer, gastrointestinal disease, or heart disease. When you become tolerant of alcohol’s effects, you might also start using other drugs, such as benzodiazepines, to enhance how you feel. One drug commonly mixed with alcohol is benzodiazepines, another central nervous system depressant with dangerous side effects.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) highlights data showing that 95,000 people die each year because of alcohol use. It’s considered the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., behind inactivity and tobacco. In 2019, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 10,142 deaths, 28 percent of all driving deaths.
The same study found that alcohol misuse cost the United States a staggering $249 billion in 2019, with 75 percent of the total cost attributed to binge drinking. On a global scale, alcohol consumption cost 3 million people their lives in 2016, causing it to be the seventh-leading risk factor for premature death and disability that year.
Alcohol is extremely dangerous when used alone; pairing it with another dangerous prescription depressant, such as a benzodiazepine, can have catastrophic effects on your health.
Like alcohol, benzodiazepines are also central nervous system depressants. However, they’re available only with a doctor’s prescription. Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety, panic disorders, insomnia, and seizures. Many people use alcohol to relieve social anxiety, panic attack or help someone fall asleep, but it’s a slippery slope when used in this fashion. Benzodiazepines were never designed to be used long-term. Despite this, they’re still prescribed at a high clip. Most of those who take drugs like Xanax or Valium won’t abuse them, but that’s not the case for everyone.
What’s frightening is that addiction specialists from Yale University believe benzodiazepines could play a role in a new epidemic similar to what we’re experiencing with opioids. What’s even more concerning is that someone with crippling anxiety with no other option will become dependent on benzos to function and unknowingly develop a severe substance use disorder. Over time, 50 percent of patients will become dependent on them in as little as four weeks. They’ll need a higher dose to receive the same sense of relief, causing them to potentially drink alcohol as a means of enhancing the benzos’ effects.
Between 1996 and 2013, the number of benzodiazepines given to adults increased by 67 percent to 135 million prescriptions each year. The quantity doctors gave also tripled during that time frame. Benzodiazepine use could, quite literally, reach the same height as opioids. The rates of teenagers addicted to benzodiazepines have surpassed opioids. Experts blame pop culture and song lyrics for normalizing its use. Similar to alcohol and its brainwashing advertisements, social media posts are dominated by mentions of benzodiazepines.
With so much of our young generation exposed to this deadly cocktail of drugs, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise how many are experimenting with alcohol and benzodiazepines.
Combining Alcohol and Benzos: The Dangers
Although alcohol and benzodiazepines are well-tolerated in moderate doses, various dangers are attributed to mixing them. Even if you consume a small amount of alcohol or a low dose of a benzodiazepine, there are warning labels on prescription containers against this practice for a reason. Doctors make it a point to mention avoiding alcohol when they’re prescribed benzodiazepines. The risk of abuse for both of these drugs is more severe than the risks of abusing them alone.
The most significant risks of using these two drugs together include the following:
- Enhanced effects: Using two drugs together with the same mechanism of action will result in the enhancement of effects individually. This means the effects of both drugs are increased dramatically compared to using them alone.
- Risk of overdose increases: When someone mixes two CNS depressants, they increase the risk of a fatal overdose on one or both drugs. Overdosing on either drug can have severe consequences, including organ damage or brain damage due to the lack of oxygen because both drugs suppress breathing. The amount of alcohol that can cause an overdose is reduced when used with benzodiazepines. The dose of benzos that can cause an overdose is also reduced due to alcohol. Benzodiazepines will stay in your system longer when used with alcohol, meaning you can still overdose by drinking later on. You must stop benzos for several days before drinking because of this.
- Reduced cognition: Since the effects from both drugs are enhanced, someone mixing them will experience reduced cognition, resulting in serious situations, such as a loss of inhibitions that causes an accident, impaired judgment, decreased reasoning abilities, and an inability to control emotions. The odds of suffering a blackout also increase when these drugs are used together.
- Decrease in physical reactions: Because of both drugs’ enhanced effects, individuals can experience reductions in their response times, resulting in a dangerous situation.
- Increased side effects: When you take two CNS depressants, your risk of side effects skyrockets. You’ll likely experience lethargy, nausea, vomiting, or an allergic reaction as a result of taking these together.
- Unpredictable side effects are more likely: Using two drugs together also increases the chances of developing unusual reactions that are challenging for physicians to diagnose.
- Increased chances of developing acute conditions: The chances of developing severe acute reactions, such as strokes, heart attacks, psychosis, seizures, or suicidal tendencies skyrocket, when mixing these drugs. It must be avoided.
- Long-term physical conditions: Prolonged use of alcohol and benzodiazepines can cause significant issues, including gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular issues, liver damage, kidney damage, and neurological issues that lead to the development of dementia.
- Mental health conditions: Many people misuse or abuse alcohol or benzodiazepines because they have a pre-existing mental health condition. However, abusing the drug(s) can also worsen these issues. Conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, stressor-related disorders, bipolar disorder, and psychotic disorders are more widespread in those engaging in polydrug use.
- Increased risk of becoming physically dependent: Using these drugs long-term can lead to physical dependence. Continued use increases the chances a person will experience withdrawal symptoms after stopping their use, which can result in seizures or fatal outcomes.
Strained relationships: Those abusing one or both drugs place themselves at risk of battling problems in their personal and professional lives. They could experience significant impairment in many areas of their lives, leading to failure at work, broken relationships, or homelessness. If you’ve reached this point in your addiction, getting addiction treatment is the only thing that can help. Addiction is miserable, especially when you’re trying to support two habits. At this point, professional care is the only option you have to get yourself right. Don’t wait another day.