Mixing prescription drugs with other substances is incredibly dangerous, and life-threatening complications can arise. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, roughly 25 percent of emergency department visits associated with drug misuse or abuse in 2011 also involved alcohol. Among alcohol-related ED visits, 56 percent involved prescription drugs.
Xanax and alcohol are an especially dangerous combination. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Xanax is the brand name for a drug containing alprazolam, which is a benzodiazepine. Doctors typically prescribe Xanax to treat panic disorders and anxiety disorders.
How Does Xanax Affect the Body?
Benzodiazepines are psychoactive drugs, which means they alter brain function and affect mood, perception, and even consciousness. Xanax works by amplifying the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a neurotransmitter that inhibits brain function and promotes feelings of relaxation and drowsiness.
Benzodiazepines are popular in the medical community because they are fast-acting, and they can be formulated to be either short- or long-lasting. People who take benzodiazepines need to exercise caution and should only ever take them as directed by their doctor. Because drugs like Xanax inhibit brain function, an overdose can be fatal. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fatal benzodiazepine overdoses are on the rise, and the total number of deaths caused by this class of drugs increased more than fourfold from 2002 to 2015.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?
What Happens When Xanax and Alcohol Are Combined?
Since Xanax and alcohol are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, combining them can increase the effects that both have on the body. The most dangerous side effects of combining Xanax and alcohol are coma and respiratory depression, which can be life-threatening. Other common side effects of combining these two substances include:
- Slurred speech
- Slowed heart rate
- Poor coordination
- Slowed breathing
- Impaired memory
Since alcohol can increase the effects of Xanax on the body, people who combine these two substances are at risk of increased GABA activity, which can result in sedation and the inhibition of vital brain functions. When this happens, coma and even death can result.
Individuals who do not suffer from a fatal overdose may experience long-term side effects of combining Xanax and alcohol. These include:
- Memory loss
- Mood disorders
- Liver cancer
- Mouth and throat cancer
Some individuals may have a legitimate prescription for Xanax and combine the drug with alcohol inadvertently when celebrating a special occasion with friends. Others may combine the two purposely in an attempt to increase their effects. This is an example of drug abuse and can lead to addiction.
Regardless of the reasons for combining in Xanax and alcohol, the consequences can be devastating. As a result, friends and family should look out for loved ones who may be taking benzodiazepines.