Xanax and Alcohol

Overview: What is Xanax?

Xanax, also known as alprazolam, is a class of prescription medications known as benzodiazepines. Doctors prescribe this medication to people with anxiety and panic disorders. 

Xanax is also a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows down the nervous system. It works by enhancing the effects of the natural chemical, gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), in the brain. 

Mixing Xanax and Alcohol

Xanax can be effective in reducing the symptoms of anxiety. However, many people who take Xanax also drink alcohol. Unfortunately, the combination of Xanax and alcohol can be very dangerous and even deadly.

You should only take Xanax as prescribed by your doctor. This medication can be addicting, and stopping use abruptly can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. You should also never mix Xanax and alcohol because the combination can be deadly. 

Why Do People Mix Xanax and Alcohol?

In many cases, people mix Xanax and alcohol unintentionally. People with anxiety or panic disorders, such as generalized anxiety, PTSD, or social anxiety disorder, may not experience the relief they need by taking Xanax alone. 

If this occurs, an individual may turn to alcohol to suppress feelings of anxiety. While this may be effective in the short-term, alcohol can make symptoms of anxiety worse in the long-run.

Alcohol and drugs can also cause panic attacks. A panic disorder is a risk factor for relapse among people struggling with a drug addiction. Alcohol abuse commonly begins before, or at the same time, panic disorder symptoms arise.

The co-occurrence of substance abuse, particularly alcohol abuse, is common among people who have social anxiety disorder. People with this disorder report that alcohol helps lessen their social anxiety, although it often makes it worse. Alcohol abuse usually develops after the onset of this disorder.

In the U.S., anxiety disorders affect over 40 million adults. This increases the risk of people mixing Xanax and alcohol.

side effects

Side Effects of Xanax Use & Abuse

Doctors typically prescribe Xanax in the lowest effective dose to minimize any possible side effects. However, side effects can still happen. 

If you experience any reactions that become severe or do not go away, contact your doctor immediately. These can include:

  • Drowsiness and tiredness
  • Light-headedness and dizziness
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased salivation
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Problems urinating
  • Joint pain
  • Feeling anxious in the early morning

In rare cases, side effects can be serious and life-threatening. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately or call 911. These symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Severe skin rash
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Depression
  • Confusion or memory problems
  • Unusual changes in behavior or mood
  • Problems with speech
  • Problems with balance or coordination
  • Thoughts of suicide or death
side effects

Side Effects of Alcohol Use & Abuse

Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. This means it produces a relaxing effect on the body. However, drinking alcohol can cause many negative effects, including:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Upset stomach and diarrhea
  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Distorted hearing and vision
  • Impaired judgment
  • Decreased perception and coordination
  • Unconsciousness
risk factors

Dangers of Mixing Xanax and Alcohol

There are many health risks associated with mixing Xanax and alcohol together. Both Xanax and alcohol depress the central nervous system (CNS) by increasing the activity of GABA in the brain. This inhibitory neurotransmitter suppresses excitation in the brain, resulting in a sedative effect. 

Combining both Xanax and alcohol leads to an over-sedation of the brain, which can affect basic body function and cause life-threatening problems. Xanax and alcohol work together to reduce overall activity in the brain. 

Serious side effects can include extreme sedation, reduced motor coordination, extreme changes in mood and behavior, and a reduction in judgment and decision-making.

People who mix Xanax and alcohol are at risk for:

  • Vertigo (a sensation that the environment around you is moving or spinning)
  • Fainting
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteady walk
  • Impaired coordination
  • Slow pulse
  • Slow breathing
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Impaired memory consolidation
  • Coma

The use of Xanax and alcohol can contribute to many different medical complications, including:

  • Cardiovascular and respiratory depression – Xanax and alcohol suppress the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS controls your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. Combining these substances can cause an individual to stop breathing. Reduced oxygen and blood flow can also contribute to brain and organ damage.
  • Liver and kidney damage – mixing Xanax and alcohol puts a strain on the liver and kidneys as the organs try to metabolize and rid the body of toxins.
  • Increased risk of aggressive behavior – combining Xanax and alcohol can increase aggressive behaviors in some people. 

Other risks of mixing Xanax and alcohol include:

  • Increased risk of hallucinations and psychosis
  • Increased risk of Xanax addiction or alcoholism
  • Increased risk of accidental Xanax overdose and death

You should completely avoid alcohol consumption when taking a benzodiazepine like Xanax.

risks

Overdose Risks & Symptoms: Xanax and Alcohol 

In 2017, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported 11,537 overdose deaths caused by benzodiazepines. The risk of overdose increases when a person combines benzodiazepines, like Xanax, with opioids or alcohol.

Signs and symptoms of a Xanax and alcohol overdose include:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Problems with coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Respiratory depression
treatment

Treatment for Xanax and Alcohol Abuse or Addiction

Combining Xanax and alcohol often leads to drug dependence. This means your body has become dependent on the substances to function properly. 

Addiction treatment for co-occurring Xanax and alcohol abuse requires medically monitored detoxification (detox) at a treatment center. 

Treatment for Xanax and alcohol addiction typically occurs in an inpatient rehab center. Detoxing without medical monitoring can put a person at risk of seizures, coma, or death. 

During medically monitored detox in an inpatient treatment program, professionals closely watch a person’s vital signs, monitor withdrawal symptoms, and administer medications as needed. 

Resources

Alcohol and Your Body, https://shop.ucsc.edu/alcohol-other-drugs/alcohol/your-body.html.

“Alcohol's Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 6 June 2019, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-body.

Bond, A J, and J C Silveira. “The Combination of Alprazolam and Alcohol on Behavioral Aggression.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol. Supplement, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 1993, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8410962.

“Drug Overdose Deaths Among Women Aged 30–64 Years - United States, 1999–2017.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Jan. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6801a1.htm?s_cid=mm6801a1_w.

“Facts & Statistics.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.

Liang, Di, and Yuyan Shi. “Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs and Drug Overdose Deaths Involving Benzodiazepines and Prescription Opioids.” Drug and Alcohol Review, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31317593.

“The Next U.S. Drug Epidemic As of 2019.” Online Masters in Public Health, 13 Aug. 2019, https://mphdegree.usc.edu/blog/the-next-u-s-drug-epidemic-as-of-2019/.

Updated on: September 22, 2020
Author
Alcohol Rehab Help Writing Staff
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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