July 28, 2021 Alcohol

What Happens If You Use Alcohol With Benzodiazepines?

Alcohol and benzodiazepines are both sedatives that can slow down many bodily processes including breathing and heart rate. Therefore, using these substances at the same time is extremely risky, as doing so increases the risk for hospitalization, coma, and death.

Continue reading to learn more about the risks associated with alcohol and benzodiazepine use, and how abuse of these substances can be safely and effectively treated at a drug rehab center.

Why Do People Use Alcohol With Benzodiazepines?

People may use alcohol with benzodiazepines for a variety of reasons—many of which aren’t always intentional.

Those who take prescription benzodiazepines for insomnia or anxiety may drink alcohol for recreation when spending time with friends and family. Some may combine these substances to heighten the effects of either alcohol or benzodiazepines, and experience greater euphoria. Others may consume alcohol while taking benzodiazepines under the impression that doing so is safe because both substances are legal.

Regardless of the reason for using alcohol with benzodiazepines, this behavior is dangerous due to how it increases the risk for serious health problems.

What Are the Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Benzodiazepines?

Alcohol and benzodiazepines both produce sedative effects that slow down the central nervous system. Therefore, combining these substances can severely impact a person’s breathing and heart rate to cause loss of consciousness and overdose, according to the CDC.

Other effects of mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lowered immunity
  • Delayed response time
  • Memory impairment
  • Brain damage
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Organ failure
  • Seizures
  • Physical dependence on alcohol and/or benzodiazepines
  • Addiction
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Hospitalization
  • Coma
  • Death

Benzodiazepines come with warnings on their prescription labels about the dangers of using them with alcohol. People who use these medications should avoid using alcohol at any time, including after discontinuing benzodiazepines. Those who want to drink alcohol after discontinuing benzodiazepines should seek approval from their doctors first to verify it is safe to do so.

How Is Alcohol and Benzodiazepine Abuse Treated?

Medically Supervised Detox

Medically supervised detox is the first stage of treatment for alcohol and benzodiazepine abuse. Quitting alcohol and benzodiazepines abruptly can cause the central nervous system to speed back up, which is why patients who discontinue these substances often face an increased risk of seizures, rapid heart rate, and other unpleasant effects.

Detox usually takes place in a comfortable residential environment where patients can rest as they go through withdrawal and be closely monitored by medical professionals trained to anticipate and treat complications.

Medically supervised detox involves the use of medications that reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms will vary from one person to the next based on factors including the frequency of drug and alcohol use, health status, and whether the person used more alcohol than benzodiazepines or vice versa.

Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle aches
  • Impaired memory and concentration
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Tremors and shaking
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Seizures

Detox treatment for alcohol and benzodiazepines usually lasts for several weeks, given how patients must gradually taper off benzodiazepines to avoid complications. According to the World Health Organization, the benzodiazepine of abuse is usually replaced with an equivalent amount of diazepam—a long-acting drug that has shown to be effective at minimizing symptoms of both alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal.


Drug and Alcohol Rehab

After detox, patients can transition into an addiction treatment program to receive behavioral therapy that teaches them how to cope with triggers and avoid relapse. Detox only treats physical dependence on drugs and alcohol and doesn’t address behaviors and mindsets related to addiction. The goal of rehab is to address the root causes of a person’s addiction and help them change their lifestyles for the better so they can become healthier, happier, and more productive.

Drug and alcohol rehab programs offer various behavioral therapies and tailor their treatment programs to each patient based on their recovery needs. For example, a person who started using alcohol to cope with stress may receive special training and education on healthy stress management techniques such as meditation and yoga.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and family behavior therapy are some of the many therapies commonly available at drug and alcohol rehab centers. CBT helps patients identify and change negative behaviors and attitudes that may be driving their substance use disorders. DBT helps patients develop healthy, effective ways to manage stress and negative emotions that don’t involve substance abuse and other forms of self-harm like cutting and hair-pulling. Family behavior therapy helps patients mend broken relationships with their loved ones and improve family dynamics.

Twelve-step support groups including Alcoholics Anonymous are also available at drug and alcohol rehab centers, as well as recreational therapies that allow patients to explore and express their thoughts and emotions through art forms including music, painting, and writing. Relapse prevention education teaches patients how to manage and control common triggers like stress and peer pressure to achieve long-term abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

Many rehab centers offer several levels of care to accommodate patients as they make their way through recovery. Residential programs offer the highest level of care, as patients in these programs can live at the recovery center and have 24/7 access to addiction support services.

Partial hospitalization programs and intensive outpatient programs are the next lower levels of care, as they give patients more freedom to resume their jobs, schooling, and family lives while continuing to receive therapy. Alumni programs are also available for those who have completed rehab and want to stay connected to the recovery community by attending monthly outings and regular support group meetings.

If you need help recovering from alcohol and benzodiazepine abuse, please understand that an addiction treatment center can help you experience a safe, comfortable recovery while facing a low risk of complications. Contact Indiana Center for Recovery to learn more about available treatment options in your area.