Alcohol and Xanax
Alcohol and Xanax is one of the most popular drug combinations. Abuse of either substance is harmful, but if taken together the consequences can be fatal.
Mixing Alcohol and Xanax
When taken in therapeutic dosage range, Xanax is generally considered to be safe. However, when individuals take high doses of Xanax or mix the drug with another substance such as alcohol, dangerous and potentially deadly interactions can occur. Alcohol and Xanax both increase activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain and the overall activity of the central nervous system. This chemical causes a sedative effect. When depressants are mixed together, over-sedation occurs, which can then result in respiratory depression, cardiac arrest, and loss of consciousness. Xanax intensifies the symptoms of alcohol and vice versa. Despite the dangers, many individuals that abuse both substances do so in order to experience a more intense intoxication.
What Is Xanax?
Xanax is the brand name for a drug called Alprazolam, a benzodiazepine used to treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), insomnia, other panic and sleeping disorders, and even seizures. Xanax can only be legally obtained with a prescription. Benzodiazepines are considered tranquilizers or sedatives and are the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States. The drug’s calming effects and addictive qualities have caused Xanax to be abused by those both with a prescription and those without. It is often misused in combination with another substance, particularly alcohol. While addiction or abuse of either substance can be harmful, when used together the combination is dangerous and potentially fatal.
The appearance of Xanax tablets varies depending on the dosage and manufacturer. A 2mg tablet comes in the form of a pill shaped like a bar, however, 2mg ER tablets come in a roundish circle. 1mg tablets come in the shape of oval and are usually blue. Xanax in .05mg doses usually come in either ovals or circles and range in color from yellow to even green or white.
When taken in larger doses, Xanax can produce a euphoric effect. These characteristics along with the misconception that prescription drugs aren’t harmful makes Xanax an attractive substance for both experienced and novice drug users. Xanax is often abused along with another substance. One of the most common pairings is to take Xanax or another benzodiazepine with alcohol – a dangerous and potentially lethal combination.
The Effects of Xanax
Xanax is a central nervous system depressant that works by regulating the release of the brain’s GABA neurotransmitters. This chemical, found in many of the brain’s nerve connections, is released when one is feeling anxious or nervous. Xanax increases the amount of GABA and induces dopamine – increasing feelings of pleasure and decreasing feelings of panic, anxiety and other negative mental states. For someone with an anxiety-related mental illness, the effects of Xanax can make it possible to function normally and avoid debilitating panic attacks. However, due to the pleasurable effects of the medication, many individuals will abuse the drug for recreational purposes rather than medical purposes.
Common effects of Xanax include:
- Increased relaxation
- Decreased feelings of panic and anxiety
- Feelings of detachment
As a person continues to take Xanax over time, the brain becomes dependent on receiving the neurotransmitter GABA from the drug and stops producing it on its own. Tolerance occurs when the body no longer responds to the drug in the same way that it initially responded, requiring more of the drug to receive the desired effect. Tolerance develops because the metabolism of the drug speeds up and the number of cell receptors that the drug attaches to or the strength of the bond between the receptor and drug decreases. The more the metabolization of the drug that occurs, the more that is needed to experience the desired initial effect.
Xanax withdrawal can impact the user with varying levels of severity, but if a heavy Xanax user tries to quit cold turkey, the results can be dangerous and even deadly. Even going a short amount of time without using can cause those with an addiction to face withdrawal symptoms. In particular, users who suddenly cease Xanax often experience intense levels of anxiety. Withdrawal symptoms may come to include intense aches and pains, insomnia, vomiting, uncontrollable shaking, mental instability and anxiety, and even life-threatening seizures.
The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Xanax
Both alcohol and Xanax have individual sets of side effects that impact an individual’s behavior and mental state. Because of this, the two should never be used together as it can cause life-threatening consequences. When used with alcohol, the introduction of Xanax to one’s body can cause one’s heart to stop beating, hamper neural activity, or slow your breathing to the point of respiratory failure, permanent brain injury, coma, or death. It also increases the likelihood of a Xanax overdose, which can lead to respiratory depression, seizures, and potentially even death. An abundance of Xanax and alcohol can relax and slow body functions to the point that the user’s heart stops beating or they stop breathing, again resulting in a coma or death.
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At-Risk College Students
College is seen by many as a time for experimentation and self-discovery; however, this has led many students to carelessly and recklessly engage in unhealthy habits such as binge drinking, prescription drug abuse, and illicit drug use that can easily lead to the development of an addiction. It has been found that those who are enrolled in a full-time college program are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs like Xanax than those who don’t attend college.
Many students with pre-existing anxiety are likely to abuse Xanax or other benzos to relieve the newfound stress and pressures of college life. Some see drug use as a means to fit in and make friends. The perception that partying and substance use is practically synonymous with having any social life has created a self-fulfilling cycle of addiction amongst college students. Those with a Xanax prescription are eager to use and even give out this drug in a social setting with the hopes of gaining popularity. Meanwhile, those without a prescription are inclined to accept the offer as a desperate attempt to fit in. In 2015, more than 50% of the 176,000 benzodiazepine-related emergency room visits also involved other drugs or alcohol.
Additionally, in 2016, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 57.2% of full-time college students (aged 18-22) had consumed alcohol in the past month. Of those that drank, 38% partook in binge drinking in the past month. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks for men or four or more drinks for women in under 2 hours. Over 10% of students engaged in heavy or problem drinking, defined as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month. Those of the same age group who do not attend college were significantly less likely to drink and exhibited less problematic drinking behaviors.
Treatment for Alcohol and Xanax Addiction
The first step to treating any addiction is reaching out to a treatment center (or specialist) to find the right treatment program for you. Then, after contacting the treatment center, the most important next step is scheduling an assessment or substance abuse evaluation to determine the severity of the addiction. Then, the proper level of care for the patient will be recommended.
No matter what, when dealing with a benzodiazepine addiction, the care and supervision of a medical professional is necessary. It is important to be patient throughout treatment to ensure a long-term, complete recovery from a Xanax or alcohol addiction. In addition to a detox, therapy is an imperative aspect of the treatment process. This helps former users address their reasons for addiction and learn healthy coping mechanisms to use moving forward.
Get Help Today
If you suspect that someone you know is struggling with an alcohol and Xanax addiction, it is important to learn how to identify symptoms of abuse and other red flags. There are many sources both online and locally that can help you learn about resources in your area to help someone with a substance use disorder. To find out more, talk to a dedicated treatment expert today.
- Medical Reviewer — Last Reviewed: September 16, 2019
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Durbin, Kaci. (2019). Xanax. Retrieved on August 1, 2019 from https://www.drugs.com/xanax.html
The Koffel Law Firm. (2014). Xanax Use Among College Students Reaches “Epidemic” Proportions. Retrieved on August 1, 2019 from https://www.koffellaw.com/columbus-criminal-defense-blog/2014/february/xanax-use-among-college-students-reaches-epidemi/
Levi, Lauren. (2018). The Drugs Influencing Pop Culture Right Now. Retrieved on August 1, 2019 from https://www.vulture.com/2018/02/the-drugs-influencing-pop-culture-right-now.html
Murdoch, Tim. (2017). Xanax: An Unforeseen Danger in College. Retrieved on August 1, 2019 from https://pittnews.com/article/120026/opinions/xanax-unforseen-danger-in-college/
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