The Consequences of Mixing Alcohol and Benzodiazepines
In This Article
Individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) may misuse more than one substance, sometimes even at the same time. Mixing substances can become increasingly dangerous, as different substances can interact with one another in the body and cause serious implications. Alcohol and benzodiazepines, for example, are two substances that can be detrimental when used together. Likewise, the frequency in which you drink alcohol and the amount of alcohol you consume are two important things to consider when taking benzodiazepines1.
Alcohol is one of the most abused substances in the United States. Typically, it acts in the body by depressing the central nervous system (CNS), causing lowered inhibitions. Benzodiazepines are commonly used to treat conditions such as anxiety, sleep problems, and seizures. When taken as directed for these disorders, benzodiazepines can have positive therapeutic effects. Benzodiazepines, like alcohol, also depresses the CNS and have some abuse potential, sometimes causing physical dependence.
Alcohol and benzodiazepines have similar pharmacological effects. Thus, they can cause a host of complications when used together. These complications can affect your body in both the short-term and long-term, interfering with your quality of life and causing serious health consequences. These potential complications will be discussed further throughout the rest of this article.
Increased side effects
Both alcohol and benzodiazepines are considered depressants, meaning that they slow down the CNS. When mixed together, these effects are more pronounced and thus more dangerous. In general, common side effects associated with mixing benzodiazepines and alcohol include:
- Memory loss
- Mood swings
- Poor coordination
- Increased likelihood of experiencing an accident
- Organ failure (e.g., liver disease)
Elevated risk of overdose
Overdosing is an incredibly dangerous situation and a medical emergency as it can be life-threatening. During an overdose, one may experience what is known as hypoxia, which means there is decreased oxygen to the brain. This is because substances such as alcohol and benzodiazepines slow the CNS down, therefore slowing down and depressing your breathing. When there is decreased oxygen going to your brain, you may experience brain damage.
When you take a depressant substance in excess, there is a risk of overdose. When you take two CNS depressants at once, the risk for overdose is amplified. This is because the two substances have similar effects in the body. When taken together with alcohol, substances like benzodiazepines can build up in your system and accumulate, causing more pronounced effects.
Both alcohol and benzodiazepines can affect your memory because they act on memory centers in the brain such as the hippocampus. One study suggests that alcohol can prevent you from forming long-term memories. In addition, increased benzodiazepine use is associated with certain types of dementia. Thus, using both alcohol and benzodiazepines together will not only affect your short-term memory but also your long-term memory4,5.
Studies show that over 50 percent of individuals with SUD will also experience mental illness. Likewise, chronic alcohol or benzodiazepine abuse can increase your probability of developing a mental disorder. Mental disorders that commonly occur with SUD include depression, anxiety, bipolar, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), personality disorders, and schizophrenia6.
- Linnoila, M. I. (1990). Benzodiazepines and alcohol. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 24 Suppl 2, 121–127. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-3956(90)90043-p
- Dangers of mixing alcohol and benzos | eleanor health. (2021, August 11). https://www.eleanorhealth.com/blog/alcohol-and-benzos
- What happened? Alcohol, memory blackouts, and the brain. (n.d.). Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/186-196.htm
- He, Q., Chen, X., Wu, T., Li, L., & Fei, X. (2019). Risk of dementia in long-term benzodiazepine users: Evidence from a meta-analysis of observational studies. Journal of Clinical Neurology (Seoul, Korea), 15(1), 9–19. https://doi.org/10.3988/jcn.2019.15.1.9
- Substance use and co-occurring mental disorders. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/substance-use-and-mental-health