What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, more commonly referred to as benzos, are a type of medication known as a sedative. Much like alcohol, benzodiazepines slow down brain functioning and neural activity. This means that they are effective at reducing anxiety and insomnia. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considers benzodiazepines to be a Schedule IV drug under the Controlled Substances act. This means that they consider benzos to have the potential to be subject to substance abuse and addiction.
Some common benzos and their brand names are:
- Alprazolam (Xanax, Kalma, Alprax)
- Diazepam (Valium, Ducene)
- Oxazepam (Alepam, Murelax, Serepax)
- Nitrazepam (Alodrom, Mogadon)
- Temazepam (Euhypnos, Normison)
Drug abuse combining alcohol and benzodiazepines is the most common form of misuse. An individual with substance use disorder may mix benzos with other substances in order to enhance the effects. Mixing two substances that have similar effects, such as benzos and alcohol, is dangerous. Using both at the same time can amplify the effects, leading to various emotional and physical health problems.
Central Nervous System Depressants
Benzodiazepines are sedative drugs that are also known as depressants. Like other mental health medications, benzodiazepines work by impacting chemical messengers in the brain known as neurotransmitters. The specific neurotransmitter that benzos impact, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), slows down the central nervous system.
Doctors use benzos because they slow down the central nervous system. This means that benzos are effective when used to:
- Reduce stress
- Relieve anxiety
- Improve sleep
- Reduce impact of seizures (relieve muscle spasms)
When an individual takes smaller doses of depressants, they may feel some side effects. These side effects can have a negative impact on their everyday functioning. These include:
- Reduced inhibitions
- Mood improvement
- Reduced anxiety
- Slower reaction time
- Reduced motor coordination
- Slower breathing
- Increased risk of injury
The dangerous effects of depressants increase when mixed with other drugs, or when an individual with a substance use problem takes more than the recommended dose.
Mixing Benzodiazepines and Alcohol
Benzos are typically considered safe when taken as prescribed. However, an individual might abuse alcohol alongside prescribed benzodiazepines to amplify its effect. There is also a possibility that an individual could develop an addiction to the two addictive substances. For example, an individual suffering with alcohol use disorder may, after a prolonged period of unhealthy alcohol use, develop a tolerance. The individual suffering with addiction may start mixing alcohol and benzos together in order to surpass a built-up tolerance. This would result in the individual feeling the effect of alcohol as strongly as they did when they had a lower tolerance.
Benzodiazepines and alcohol both increase each other’s effects. This is because they both act as a depressant to the central nervous system. Professionals consider mixing alcohol with benzodiazepine drugs, or any other substance, to be dangerous. The interaction of the two substances is associated with increased risk to mental and physical health.
Benzos and Alcohol Side Effects
Mixing benzodiazepines and alcohol amplifies the depressive effects of both drugs, becoming much more dangerous. The dangers of mixing benzos and alcohol include:
- Mood swings
- Irregular breathing
- Memory loss and blackouts
- Organ failure (liver disease, heart disease)
Even moderate drinkers are not free of the dangers of mixing benzos with alcohol. Drug use mixing the two substances poses a serious risk to their overall life satisfaction and health issues, such as organ and brain damage.
Can Combining Benzos and Alcohol Lead to an Overdose?
If an individual combines alcohol with benzos or other medications, they increase the risk of having an overdose. It is therefore important to understand the signs and symptoms of an overdose involving the two drugs in order to minimize health complications. Signs and symptoms of an overdose include:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Impaired movement
- Slow and shallow breathing
- Organ failure
- Possibly death
If you or someone you know have taken a combination of benzodiazepines and other substances and is experiencing these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. The sooner this is done, the more likely you are to avoid possibly fatal consequences.
How Long After Taking a Benzo Before You Can Drink?
The amount of time between taking a benzo and drinking alcohol depends on the specific benzo that you are taking. It is important to wait until a benzo has completely left your system before drinking any alcohol. This will minimize the risk associated with mixing the two drugs.
The following are benzos that last in your system for eleven to twenty hours:
- alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), estazolam (Prosom), and temazepam (Restoril)
Other benzos can last in your system between one to three days. These include:
- chlordiazepam (Librium), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), flurazepam (Dalmane), and quazepam
If you have a medical condition, such as poor kidney or liver function, it may impact how long benzodiazepines might stay in your system. If this is the case, it is important to wait an even longer amount of time than stated before you can drink alcohol again.
Benzodiazepines for Alcohol Withdrawal
Interestingly, despite the dangers of taking benzodiazepines alongside alcohol, benzos are a first-line treatment for withdrawal symptoms. Doctors use benzos to reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as delirium and seizures, associated with alcohol addiction.
When treating someone in alcohol rehab, a doctor might use long-acting benzodiazepines to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Long-acting benzos include diazepam and chlordiazepam. On the occasion that an individual with a physical dependence on alcohol has a seizure, a medical professional will use a quick-acting benzo, such as lorazepam or diazepam.
The benzos are not used when the individual still has alcohol in their system. This is because mixing benzos and alcohol is dangerous.
An individual with a substance use disorder to benzos may not actually realize that they have an addiction. Some common warning signs of an addiction to benzos are:
- You have consistently run out of your prescription before you should
- You experience physical weakness, poor motor control, or suffer from tremors when using benzodiazepines
- You have experienced an overdose before
- You have heightened anxiety
- You have experienced blackouts or ‘lost time’
If you take benzodiazepines and are experiencing some or any of these signs, then you should speak to a medical professional to discuss treatment. This will most likely involve substance use disorder and mental health disorder based treatment.
Addiction Treatment Options
Addiction treatment centers treat substance use disorders and mental health disorders involving the use of benzos and alcohol. Once you begin your addiction treatment journey, you have already taken the hardest step. That is accepting help. From there, you can expect a variety of treatment options.
Addiction treatment can involve:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Medication management
- Trauma-focused counseling
- Family and marital counseling
With the help of caring people, there is always a treatment which can put an end to your substance abuse. Even if your addiction involves a long-term benzodiazepine addiction, treatment can be effective.
At Alina Lodge, we understand that healing relationships and treating emotional damage that accompanies substance addiction is essential to lasting recovery. Our holistic detox process involves the addiction treatment options above, carried out by our caring staff, inline with our core values.
- Integrity – We help our students become honest with themselves so that they can change their lives.
- Time – We provide time for our students to heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
- Compassion – We offer empathy and safety to our students as we walk with them through discomfort, pain, and fear.
If you or someone you know is ready to take the step toward treatment, then contact us. You can begin your journey to becoming free of addiction today.