Renaissance Ranch

How Mixing Benzos and Alcohol Could Kill You

Jul 20, 2023

Combining alcohol with drugs or any form of medication is never a good idea; in some cases, it can be downright deadly. Alcohol, like drugs, changes your body and brain chemistry. And when you have multiple substances negatively impacting roughly the same areas of the brain simultaneously, you risk seriously overloading your system.

How Mixing Benzos and Alcohol Could Kill You

(Drazen Zigic/Freepik)

Your Brain and Body on Alcohol

Alcohol immediately dulls your senses (blurry vision, slowed speech, etc.), reduces your inhibitions, and impairs your judgment. After only a few drinks, you can become more vulnerable to risky activities you may not normally engage in, such as driving while intoxicated, unprotected or non-consensual sex, and abusing drugs.

In the long term, heavy drinking kills brain cells. And while some can regenerate over time, many do not. Since the prefrontal cortex does not fully develop until a person’s mid-twenties, early drinking can significantly impact brain growth, causing cognitive issues, anxiety and depression, impulsivity, and severe damage to memory and coordination.

Your body suffers, too. Alcohol can cause high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, cardiomyopathy (a disease affecting your heart muscle), liver damage, alcoholic lung disease, cancer, and digestive problems.

Benzodiazepines: What They Are and How They Work

Commonly termed benzos or downers, benzodiazepines represent a family of drugs that suppress the central nervous system. You probably know the more commonly-prescribed ones by their trade names: Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin. Medical professionals most often prescribe these drugs for anxiety, panic disorders, and insomnia, but they also serve as muscle relaxants and anti-convulsants and give anesthesia medications added potency. Alcohol detox facilities also use benzodiazepines to help ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Another well-known member of the Benzo drug class is flunitrazepam, trade name Rohypnol. While the drug is generally prescribed for insomnia elsewhere in the world, the Food and Drug Administration has never approved it for use in the United States. It’s ten times more potent than Valium and is referred to as the ‘date rape’ drug, which is one of the reasons why it’s illegal. It is the only benzodiazepine classified as a Schedule 1 drug (meaning it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse). All of the others are classified lower as Schedule IV drugs.

Benzodiazepines direct your brain to release the neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and dopamine into the brain. The increased dopamine gives you that pleasurable, or ‘high,’ feeling, while the GABA slows down your nervous system and puts you in a sedative state. Although considered safe for use, benzodiazepines have the potential for addiction and other short- and long-term side effects, including memory problems, dizziness, aggression, sleep disturbances, and depression.

Since these drugs are habit-forming – sometimes after as little as a few doses – it’s critical not to try and quit ‘cold turkey.’ Work closely with your doctor when it’s time to stop because withdrawal symptoms can quickly become life-threatening if you’re not careful. Reactions may range from tremors and sweats to full-blown seizures and psychotic episodes.

A Dangerous Mix

Using benzodiazepines while drinking alcohol accentuates the effects of both substances, giving a person a more significant ‘high.’ But these enhanced sensations come at a terrible cost to your body and brain. The double-depressive impact of alcohol and drugs on critical bodily functions, such as breathing and heart rate, is especially hazardous. Additionally, multiple substance use amplifies each drug’s negative side effects and dramatically increases the potential for overdose.

Consider also the fact that using both will exaggerate your inebriation, thus seriously impairing your thinking and reaction times and putting you at considerable risk of falling, drowning, and other accidents.

In order to better understand the correlation between alcohol and benzodiazepine use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at data compiled from 13 states in 2010. What they found was alarming – alcohol was involved in more than 24% of benzodiazepine abuse-related deaths and just over 27% of emergency room visits.

“Mixing any drugs with alcohol is a big risk, but especially benzodiazepines and opioids, since all three act as nervous system suppressants,” said Preston Dixon, COO at Renaissance Ranch, a rehab for men in Utah. “These substances all work together to make it really difficult for vital organs like your heart and lungs to function,” he continued. “And that’s when, in the worst cases, your organs start to fail, you slip into a coma, and die.”

Since benzos and alcohol can worsen depression and reduce inhibitions, combining the two may also increase a person’s risk of committing suicide. reviewed 17 studies of benzodiazepines and their connection with suicide. Researchers concluded that there is a significant causal link between the two, as most studies showed an increased risk of suicide coupled with benzodiazepine use.

The problem with having a substance use disorder is that you don’t always have the capacity to recognize when you’re in real trouble. That’s why getting help from professionals and peers who understand what you’re going through is crucial. If you want to learn more about combatting substance abuse, call us at (855) 736-7262.