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Updated on July 21, 2023
5 min read

What Are the Risks of Combining Diazepam and Alcohol?

Alyssa Hill
Dr P. E. Pancoast, MD
Written by 
14 Sources Cited
Alyssa Hill
Written by 
14 Sources Cited

Mixing diazepam with alcohol is a common concern, as both substances have relaxing effects on the central nervous system. Understanding the risks and complications of combining alcohol and diazepam is crucial for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the medication.

What Is Diazepam?

Diazepam (Valium) is a prescription medication in the benzodiazepine class of drugs. It’s FDA-approved for treating several conditions like:1,2,3,4,5

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Muscle spasms
  • Seizures or fits
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms

The drug also has off-label uses, including:4

  • Sedation in the ICU
  • Short-term treatment of spasticity in children with cerebral palsy

Diazepam is a “prescription only” drug and a Schedule IV controlled substance with a potential for abuse.1,4

How Does Diazepam Affect the Brain and Body?

Diazepam increases the activity of a calming chemical in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This explains diazepam's anti-anxiety, muscle-relaxing, and sleep-inducing effects.1,2,4,5

While diazepam can be an effective treatment for anxiety and other conditions, it also comes with side effects, including:

  • Sedation or drowsiness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Impaired coordination
  • Memory problems
  • Shakiness or trembling
  • Unsteadiness when walking
  • Decreased alertness
  • Blurred vision
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Can You Drink Alcohol While Taking Diazepam (Valium)?

No. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strictly warned not to combine the two substances, even when taking diazepam in prescribed doses. 

Alcohol and diazepam are both central nervous system depressants. Thus, mixing alcohol and Valium intensifies their sedative effects.1,2,3,6,7

The results can vary per person as the combination affects people differently. For instance, men and women are affected differently due to differences in body weight and water composition.8

How Does Alcohol Interact with Diazepam in the Body?

Alcohol can accelerate the absorption of diazepam in the body. This can lead to:

  • Increased levels of diazepam in the bloodstream
  • Prolonged diazepam’s intended effects
  • Amplifying diazepam’s side effects (like drowsiness)

In one study:9

  • Beer and white wine raised the blood level of diazepam for up to 2 hours. 
  • Whisky elevated diazepam’s level for 90 minutes. 
  • Red wine did not affect diazepam significantly. 

What are the Dangers of Mixing Valium and Alcohol?

Some of the risks and complications of combining Valium and alcohol include:1,2,4,6,10,11,12,13,14

  • Increased sedation and intoxication: People may experience severe drowsiness, confusion, and impaired coordination. The combination may also affect their daily functioning, decision-making, and risk of accidents and injuries.
  • Respiratory depression: Valium and alcohol can reduce the rate and depth of breathing. Their combination can further suppress respiration, potentially leading to respiratory distress, shallow breathing, or even respiratory failure.
  • Memory impairment: Both alcohol and Valium can cause memory problems and impair cognitive function. Combining them can intensify these effects.
  • Increased potential for overdose: Taking Valium and alcohol together raises the risk of overdose from both substances. Overdose may lead to severe respiratory depression, loss of consciousness, or even coma. 
  • Increased diazepam use: People mixing Valium and alcohol are likely to consume much higher doses of the benzodiazepines. This can increase diazepam’s other serious risks, particularly abuse, misuse, dependency, and overdose.
  • Other health effects: Combining Valium and alcohol can cause injury to various organ systems, such as the brain, heart, kidney, and liver. 

How Long Should You Wait to Drink Alcohol After Taking Diazepam?

It would be best if you avoided alcohol altogether while on diazepam. If your doctor allows for occasional alcohol consumption, you should at least wait until Valium’s effects have worn off before drinking alcohol. 

The duration can vary depending on several factors, such as: 

  • The medication’s dose
  • The person’s metabolism
  • Overall health

Valium is a long-acting benzodiazepine; it stays in your body longer than short-acting benzodiazepines (like Xanax and Ativan). Decreasing its effect could take 20 to 54 hours. However, your body may take around 20 days to clear it.6 

Furthermore, Valium accumulates in the body. If you take multiple doses, the drug stays in your system longer.

How to Safely Use Diazepam (Valium)

Here are some guidelines for using diazepam safely:1,2,3,4,5,13,14

Take Diazepam as Prescribed

Diazepam is an addictive substance, so you must take it at the lowest dose for up to four weeks. Don’t exceed the recommended dose or duration without the doctor’s permission.

Avoid Alcohol Entirely

Unless your doctor explicitly allows you to drink, you should avoid mixing alcohol and diazepam. 

Mixing the two substances can make you very sleepy. You may also experience breathing problems and difficulty waking up.

Inform Your Doctor About Other Medications You Take

Tell your doctor about all your medications, including over-the-counter medicines, herbal supplements, recreational drugs, and other prescription drugs. These substances may interact with diazepam and increase the risk of side effects

Don’t Drive or Operate Machinery

Until you know how diazepam affects you, avoiding activities that can potentially harm you or other people is best. It can cause drowsiness and impair your ability to concentrate and react quickly.

Do Not Abruptly Stop Taking Diazepam

You must always consult your doctor before stopping any medication. A gradual tapering of diazepam may be necessary to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Store Diazepam In a Secure Place

Keep this medication away from children and pets. Accidental ingestion of diazepam can have serious consequences. 

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Summary

Diazepam, or Valium, is a prescription medication for anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It works by increasing the activity of a calming chemical in the brain called GABA. 

It’s dangerous to mix Valium and alcohol due to their combined sedative effects on the central nervous system. The combination can intensify sedation, impairs coordination, and increases the risk of accidents and injuries. It can also lead to respiratory depression, memory impairment, fatal overdose, and harm to various organ systems. 

It’s best to avoid alcohol while taking diazepam. However, if you must drink, it’s recommended to wait until diazepam’s effects have worn off before alcohol use. 

Understanding the risks and following guidelines can help ensure the safety and effectiveness of diazepam treatment. Consult your doctor for personalized advice if you have any concerns or questions.

Updated on July 21, 2023
14 sources cited
Updated on July 21, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. About diazepam.” NHS, 2022.
  2. Common questions about diazepam.” NHS, 2022.
  3. VALIUM (DIAZEPAM) Label.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  4. Dhaliwal et al. “Diazepam.” StatPearls Publishing; 2023.
  5. Diazepam.” MedlinePlus, 2021. 
  6. Ng, C., and Murdock, J. “Can You Drink Alcohol With Anxiety Pills Like Xanax And Ativan?” GoodRx Health, 2022. 
  7. Misuse of Prescription Drugs Research Report.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2020. 
  8. Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol With Medicines.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 2014.
  9. Laisi et al. “Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic interactions of diazepam with different alcoholic beverages.” European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 1979.
  10. Hirschtritt et al. “Benzodiazepine and unhealthy alcohol use among adult outpatients.” Am J Manag Care, 2019.
  11. The Effects of Combining Alcohol with Other Drugs.” University Health Service.
  12. Gandhi, N., and Gragnolati, AB. “10 Medications You Shouldn’t Mix With Alcohol: Azithromycin, Sudafed, Mucinex, and More.” GoodRx Health, 2022.
  13. Schmitz, A. “Benzodiazepine use, misuse, and abuse: A review.” Ment Health Clin, 2016.
  14. Polysubstance Use Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2022.
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