In general, it’s a bad idea to mix two depressant drugs, also known as downers. Xanax (alprazolam) is a benzodiazepine, a class of central nervous system depressants that slows brain activity. The central nervous system is responsible for vital life functions, such as breathing. Alcohol also affects the central nervous system and how fast we breathe.
When Xanax and alcohol are combined, they increase each other’s effects. That means the effects of alcohol are more potent when it’s combined with Xanax, and the effects of Xanax are more potent when combined with alcohol. Because the drugs cause similar side effects, even a small dose of Xanax combined with a few drinks can cause life-threatening consequences.
It only takes a small amount of Xanax and alcohol to cause a deadly overdose. People addicted to Xanax usually have a higher tolerance to benzodiazepines, and someone suffering from an alcohol addiction usually has a higher tolerance to alcohol. Those people have to consume higher doses of the respective substances to feel the same effect as someone with a low tolerance.
These people may also require higher doses to overdose, but there is no safe amount of Xanax that can be combined with alcohol. Even people with a high tolerance to one substance can overdose if they take it with a small dose of the other substance.
You can die if you take Xanax with alcohol. Few people die from overdosing on Xanax alone. But when the prescription drug is combined with alcohol, your risk of overdose increases drastically. The drugs have a synergistic effect on the brain that can make you pass out and stop breathing.
A synergistic effect means the effects of Xanax and alcohol together are greater than the effects of the same substances when taken alone.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, side effects of combining alcohol and Xanax include:
Taking Xanax with alcohol increases your risk of blacking out. People who black out are conscious, but their brain stops forming memories. During black outs caused by alcohol, people usually make poor decisions because they’re drunk. Then they don’t remember what they did the next day. Blacking out from Xanax and alcohol usually causes the same chain of events.
An overdose refers to taking any amount of a substance that causes dangerous side effects. Alcohol poisoning is another name for an alcohol overdose. Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person’s blood alcohol content becomes so high that crucial life functions begin to shut down.
A person’s BAC during an overdose caused by Xanax and alcohol can be much lower than when a person overdoses on alcohol alone. It doesn’t take as much alcohol for the brain to become life threateningly impaired when the person is already on Xanax.
Signs and symptoms of an alcohol and Xanax overdose include:
If you or someone you know overdoses on alcohol and Xanax, you should 911 immediately. Medical attention may save the person’s life. Letting people sleep it off, putting them in a cold shower or waiting to call for help will put their life at risk.
Depending on several factors, benzodiazepines can stay in your system for several days, and alcohol can stay in your system for several hours. There’s no safe amount of time to give someone to sleep off an overdose.
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People who are trying to feel buzzed or relaxed may intentionally mix Xanax with alcohol to feel sedative effects. These people may include people who regularly misuse drugs and teens or college students, who are more likely to engage in risky behaviors involving alcohol.
Elderly people may also be more likely to unintentionally mix prescription medications with alcohol because they may forget which drugs they’ve taken or they don’t understand warning labels.
Unfortunately, the risks of mixing alcohol with Xanax and other substances are often overlooked, or ignored, with perilous consequences.
In 2014, a pair of government reports showed that more people were overdosing on the combination of alcohol and benzodiazepines.
“Both of these substances, in their own way, are depressants and when used together can cause problems for your heart and other organs.”
In October 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that alcohol was involved in 27 percent of emergency department visits involving benzodiazepines in 2010. Alcohol played a role in 21 percent of all benzodiazepine-related deaths that year.
The combination of alprazolam, the active ingredient in Xanax, and alcohol caused more emergency department visits (39,573) and deadly overdoses (13,063) than the combination of alcohol and any other benzodiazepine in 2010.
In December 2014, the Drug Abuse Warning Network identified 109,565 emergency department visits for overdoses involving benzodiazepines and alcohol between 2008 and 2011.
Find more alcohol-related statistics
During 2016, reports of college students sneaking Xanax into their friends’ drinks began to surface. The students referred to it as a QB Sneak or a Halfback Sneak because one of the street names for Xanax is footballs.
“The worst part is the unknown. Who did I see? What did I say? Where did I go?”
The students’ intentions were usually light-hearted. They’d make fun of their friend for blacking out or acting foolishly. They likely didn’t realize how risky and illegal their actions were.
Even comedian Jared Freid, who is known for joking about wild behavior, warned against mixing alcohol with Xanax. Writing for TotalFratMove.com, a website targeted to fraternity and sorority members, Freid described his regret from mixing alcohol and Xanax.
“The worst part is the unknown,” Freid wrote. “Who did I see? What did I say? Where did I go? Did I tell everyone what I really think about them and their girlfriend and their ugly parents? So many questions unanswered.”
Mixing alcohol and Xanax is dangerous. Doing it intentionally to have a good time may cost you your life. Sneaking the drug into your friends drink may end up killing them.
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