Benzos and Alcohol: A Comprehensive Guide

What are benzodiazepines? 

Benzodiazepines, often referred to as “benzos,” are a type of prescription sedative often prescribed to individuals for anxiety or insomnia issues. Also referred to as depressants and tranquilizers, benzodiazepines work by producing sedation, inducing sleepiness, relieving anxiety, and in some cases are prescribed to prevent seizures. 

Prescription names for benzodiazepines include Valium®, Xanax®, Restoril®, Ativan®, and Klonopin®. Street names include Benzos, Downers, Nerve Pills, and Tranks. 

 

What is alcohol? 

An alcoholic drink is a drink that contains the recreational drug ethanol, a type of alcohol produced by fermentation of grains, fruits, or other sources of sugar. Ethanol is the only type of alcohol we can drink even small amounts of without getting seriously sick. Although there are many types of alcohol, such as isopropyl or “rubbing” alcohol, when people refer to “alcohol,” they are generally referencing the ethanol in alcoholic beverages, which is the ingredient that produces the effect of drunkenness.

Alcohol generally has central nervous system depressant actions; however, at very small doses, individuals who consume it may experience mild stimulant-like effects. It is the most commonly used and abused drug in the United States. 

 

Dangers of combining benzodiazepines and alcohol

There are a number of serious risks associated with mixing benzodiazepines and alcohol. The risks of abusing these drugs simultaneously is far greater than the significant risk of abusing them individually. 

According to an article in the journal “Alcohol Research & Health,” alcohol and benzos have a synergistic depressant effect on the central nervous system, as both drugs are classified as depressants. Depressants can suppress the central nervous system to dangerous, unconscious levels. 

When an individual mixes benzos and alcohol, they experience enhanced effects of both, which increases risk of overdose exponentially. This severe and potentially life-threatening combination has side effects such as: 

  • Impaired cognition
  • Slowed breathing
  • Decreased physical responsiveness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Organ failure
  • Coma 
  • Death 

Withdrawal symptoms for benzodiazepines and alcohol

Improper, abrupt withdrawal from benzos and alcohol—together or separately—can be deadly. Medical supervision, generally in detox centers, is highly recommended to ensure safe withdrawal. Severity of withdrawal symptoms can vary widely from person to person, depending on factors such as length of use, frequency of use, dosage, and physical condition and composition of the individual. 

Alcohol Withdrawal 

Mild symptoms can show up as early as 6 hours after last ingesting alcohol. These include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Shaky hands
  • Headache
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia 
  • Sweating 

More severe withdrawal symptoms such as hallucinations and seizures, appear in some individuals, generally in the 12 to 48 hour mark. These can be accompanied by symptoms such as: 

  • Fever
  • Heavy sweating 
  • Racing heart
  • Confusion
  • High blood pressure

If severe symptoms appear, it is imperative to seek medical assistance, as severe alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. 

Benzodiazepines Withdrawal

The onset of benzo withdrawal depends in part on precisely what drug(s) were being taken. Some benzodiazepines, such as alprozolam (Xanax) and larazapam (Ativan) have a shorter lifespan, which means they leave the system more quickly. With these, withdrawal symptoms can begin to occur in as short as 8 to 12 hours. For benzos with a longer lifespan, such as clonazepam (Klonopin), it can take 1 day or longer for withdrawal symptoms to appear. 

Benzo withdrawal symptoms can include: 

  • Physical aches and pains
  • Muscle spasms
  • Hyperventilation
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating 
  • Racing pulse
  • Hypersensitivity to stimuli 
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium 
  • Grand mal seizures 

Individuals should never attempt to quit benzos cold turkey on their own. The most common and safest way to cease use of benzos is through medically supervised tapering of the drugs. Abrupt cessation of taking benzodiazepines without tapering can induce a life-threatening grand-mal seizure, among other effects.

In Summary

While some drugs are mostly safe to withdraw from on your own, benzodiazepines simply are not. Severe alcohol withdrawal is also not safe to withdraw from without medical supervision. Safe detox is strongly recommended when withdrawing from either of these drugs separately, and is vital if withdrawing from them simultaneously.

How Oasis Recovery helps individuals recover from benzo and alcohol addiction 

Oasis Recovery Center, located in the heart of Asheville, North Carolina, has helped hundreds of individuals reclaim their lives from the grips of addiction. 

Our comprehensive addiction treatment programs incorporate everything from medication-assisted treatment to psychotherapy with options such as EMDR to group activities and processing, adventure therapy, equine therapy, art therapy, and a variety of mindfulness-based holistic healing modalities including acupuncture, qi gong, yoga, meditation, and more. Clients at Oasis are supported through every step of their healing journey with our unique, individualized, impactful recovery programs. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with benzodiazepine, alcohol, or addiction to other substances, Oasis Recovery is here to help. Reach out to us today at (828) 330-9497  or get in touch through our online contact form for more information about addiction treatment and recovery at Oasis. 

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