Mixing Anxiety Medications With Alcohol
OVERVIEW: Alcohol can make you sleepy, drowsy, or lightheaded. Drinking alcohol while taking anxiety meds intensifies these effects. You may have trouble concentrating or performing your daily tasks. You lose coordination and riving becomes impossible. Even worse, combining alcohol with prescription pills may lead to overdose and even death.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Why Mix the Two?
- Anxiety and Depression
- Dangerous or Not?
- Side Effects
- Safety Guidelines
- Signs You Need Help
Why Mix The Two?
People drink while taking anti-anxiety meds for two main reasons:
- Clinical ignorance. Some people do not read drug labels thoroughly. Others may avoid the precautions given them by doctors.
- To get high. While pills for anxiety aren’t frequently a drug of choice or abused on their own to get high (relative to other narcotic drugs), people seek to use alcohol to intensify the euphoric effect that they can achieve while taking benzodiazepines or sedatives. Still, drugs like Xanax and Ativan are additive.
- To treat alcohol withdrawal. According to a study from The Drug and Alcohol Dependence Journal, published in 2006, non medical use of prescription drugs was more prevalent among individuals who had alcohol use disorders than those without alcohol use disorders. Some anti-anxiety meds actually helps take care of withdrawal symptoms of alcohol. Many alcoholics find this sedative alluring so they continue to function without a hangover and continue to drink. What makes this relationship dangerous is that both substance depress body responses to the point your heart can stop beating. Without quick medical attention, this could result in death.
While medications for anxiety disorders can treat the side effects of mental health disorders (including alcohol withdrawal), they can also provoke many negative effects that are dangerous when combined with alcohol. That is why doctors warn against drinking while on any of these types of medication.
Anxiety and Depression
It’s best to avoid drinking when taking your anxiety meds because symptoms of anxiety may worsen. If you’re taking lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax) or other benzodiazepines you can decrease the effectiveness and usefulness of these anxiolytics, thereby altering the course of therapy for mental health disorders or anxiety. Moreover, mixing anxiety prescriptions and alcohol may make you even more depressed. Drinking can counteract the benefits of your anxiety medication, making your symptoms more difficult to treat. Alcohol may improve your mood to start, but its later effects will increases symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Dangerous or Not?
Q: Is mixing anxiety meds with alcohol bad for you?
A: Yes, the combination of these two substances can lead to life threatening dangers.
The combination of alcohol and anxiety pills is first dangerous due to the possibility of worsening side effects. Adverse effects which can sometimes appear due to the use of anxiety meds may worsen if you drink alcohol while taking these drugs. For example, antidepressants can cause a dangerous spike in your blood pressure. The National Institute On Alcohol Abuse (NIAA) provides a table of other commonly used medicines that interact poorly with alcohol.
Additionally, your thinking and alertness can get impaired when taking anxiety meds together with alcohol. Mixing the two can affect your judgment, coordination, and motor skills. This combination may make you sleepy, impair your ability to drive, or do other tasks that require focus and attention.
With medications like sedative benzodiazepines, alcohol acts on the same molecules inside or on the surface of the cell as does the medication. These interactions may be synergistic—that is, the effects of the combined medications exceed the sum of the effects of the individual medications. Effects of drinking while taking anxiety medications include:
- co-dependence between the two substances
- enhanced mood changes
- extreme drowsiness
- memory loss
- potential amnesia
- reduced motor skills
- respiratory depression
NOTE: Combining alcohol and anxiety meds can also effect memory and behavior, which can increase risk for accidents, overdose, and potential death.
Alcohol enhances the effects of anxiolytic medications in the body. In fact, both alcohol and anti-anxiety meds are central nervous system depressants. A sedative benzodiazepine pill becomes more potent as alcohol relaxes the body and slows it down. This action can lead to a coma or it can increase the level alcohol intoxication in the body, which could poison you.
Older people are at particularly high risk for harmful alcohol– medication interactions. Aging slows the body’s ability to break down alcohol, so alcohol remains in a person’s system longer. Older people also are more likely to take a medication that interacts with alcohol—in fact, they often need to take more than one of these medications.
If you take lorazepam, alprazolam, or other benzodiazepines AND drink alcohol, you increase your chances of potential overdose. Alcohol is a depressant and benzo anti-anxiety meds are sedatives, so together the chemical reaction in the body causes drowsiness. Plus, anxiety medications can mask the effects of alcohol so as you continue to drink on these pills, you may increase alcohol toxicity, eventually resulting in alcohol poisoning or death.
Death is possible when you mix anxiety pills and alcohol together. Because of this, doctors advise that you NEVER drink while on anti-anxiety medications. The two together lead to accidents as cognitive ability decreases. Plus, drinking on anxiety pills can depress heart rates and breathing, resulting in death.
If you are planning to drink while taking your anxiety medications, it is best that you wait until any benzodiazepine is out of the system before drinking. Without the presence of the medication it should be safe to drink. How long benzodiazepines stay in your system depends on dosing and drug type. But be aware that the two can develop relationship of dependence. It is advisable you speak to your doctor if you plan to drink as you are taking anxiety medications.
It just isn’t safe to drink while on anti-anxiety medications. There are too many factors that play into combining the two. Simply, you can experience too many dangerous reactions if you drink while on benzos. If you have any questions about drinking and taking anti-anxiety medication, talk to your doctor before you do.
REMEMBER THIS: Timing is important. Alcohol and medicines can interact harmfully even if they are not taken at the same time. The NIAAA suggests that you protect yourself by avoiding alcohol completely if you are taking a medication and don’t know its effect. To learn more about a medicine and whether it will interact with alcohol, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.
Signs You Need Help
Sometimes, anxiety medications can illuminate a problem with drinking. Here are some signs that you might need professional help from an addiction treatment center:
- You can’t stop thinking about drinking.
- You can’t quit drinking for long enough to take your anxiety medicine correctly.
- You drink in the mornings.
- You experience withdrawal symptoms when you quit drinking.
If you notice any of these, take hope! Medical help is out there. Also, check out the NIAAA’s definition of an alcohol problem for more.
Alcohol addiction is no longer a shameful condition; it is a medical problem that can be treated medically. If you think you have a problem, please reach out for help. You can call our hotline, leave us a message, or even ask a trusted doctor for an assessment. Just know that you are not alone. An estimated 88K people die from alcohol-related problems every year. You don’t need to be one of them.
Give us a call.
Leave Your Questions Here
Do you still have questions about mixing anti-anxiety medication with alcohol or other substances? Please leave your questions here. We try our best to answer all questions personally, and promptly. And if we don’t know the answer, we will refer you to someone who can help. Your experiences with mixing anxiety pills and alcohol are also welcome.
Reference Sources: NIAAA: Alcohol Alert Alcohol-Medication Interactions
NIAA: Alcohol and Medication Interactions
The State of Missouri Drug Use Review: Issues and Options for Benzodiazepine Use
NCBI: The relationship between past-year drinking behaviors and nonmedical use of prescription drugs
NIH: Harmful Interactions
Photo credit: Andrew J Furgeson