Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health disorders, and no matter how the symptoms manifest, anxiety can be an extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable experience. It can cause so much discomfort that people will go to great lengths to relieve it. Some people even engage in dangerous behaviors, including mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines.
What Are Benzodiazepines and What Are They Used For?
Benzodiazepines, also commonly known as “benzos,” are a classification of medication that works to calm a person. These medications achieve this effect by increasing the levels of an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Some common benzodiazepines are:
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Temazepam (Restoril)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
Benzodiazepines are used to treat several medical conditions:
- Alcohol withdrawal
- For sedation before surgical procedures.
Short-term use of these medications under the guidance of a doctor is generally safe, but these medications can lead to dependence and addiction. For this reason, they should be used for a limited time and taken only as prescribed.
Why Are Alcohol and Benzodiazepines a Dangerous Combination?
While combining alcohol and benzodiazepines can certainly induce feelings of calm and euphoria, mixing these two substances can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. Alcohol and benzodiazepines both act as central nervous system (CNS) depressants. When taken together, the depressant effects of both substances increases. Taking them together also increases the risk of memory impairment. Some other common CNS depressant effects worsened by combining alcohol and benzodiazepines are:
- Slowed respiration
- Slurred speech
- Lowered blood pressure
- Increased risk of falls and injuries
Combining these substances can lead to an accidental overdose. This happens when a person takes enough substances to produce symptoms that are life-threatening or that cause death. With a combination of CNS depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines, a person’s breathing can slow or even stop. As a result, the brain cannot get the oxygen it needs, which can cause detrimental short and long-term effects, including coma, brain damage, and death.
Long-term use of either alcohol or benzodiazepines can lead to physical as well as psychological dependence, and it can be uncomfortable and dangerous to try to detox from the substances at home due to the risks of:
- Delirium tremens
- Heart dysrhythmias
The withdrawal symptoms may last longer and be more severe when detoxing from both substances than from just one.
What to Do in Case of Overdose
Check for symptoms such as:
- Unconsciousness or inability to awaken the person
- Slow, shallow breathing, difficulty breathing, or no signs that the person is breathing at all
- Cyanosis of the lips or fingernails (blue-tinged lips or nails)
- Weak, thread pulse or absence of pulse
If an overdose from alcohol and benzodiazepines is suspected, always call 911 immediately and stay with the person until paramedics arrive. Perform chest compressions and rescue breathing if they are not breathing and do not have a pulse. If the person has a pulse, assist them onto their side to prevent aspiration in the event of vomiting.
If the person has to go to the hospital, Flumazenil may be administered for benzodiazepine overdose. Unfortunately, according to one study, Flumazenil, administered at a usually effective dose against benzodiazepine sedation, does not improve CNS depression induced by alcohol intoxication. Higher doses did lead to some improvement of symptoms, but more research in this area is needed.
Safe, Healthy, and Effective Ways to Treat and Manage Anxiety without Alcohol and Benzodiazepines
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for anxiety disorders, but treatment is available. Antidepressants, beta-blockers, and buspirone are some of the medications used to treat anxiety disorders. Psychotherapy, including CBT, is also used to treat anxiety disorders.
Many other healthy strategies can be used alone or with therapy and medications to help manage anxiety symptoms. Some of these include:
- Listening to calming music focusing on something that stimulates at least one of the physical senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing) to distract from feelings of anxiety
- Deep breathing exercises
- Physical exercise, even if it is just a brief period of gentle movement
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Using art to express feelings (it does not have to be a masterpiece)
- Joining a support group for people with anxiety
- Writing in a journal
- Spending time outside
- Avoiding caffeine
- Sharing your feelings and thoughts with caring friends
- Taking meds exactly as prescribed, and do not stop them without consulting with your health care provider.
- Trying aromatherapy
- Spending a little extra time with a pet
Help for Alcohol and Benzodiazepine Use Is Available
Substance use is difficult to stop, and there is no cure for substance use disorders at this time. However, treatment is available to help people begin and maintain recovery. Treatment usually consists of psychotherapy and medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Still, other modalities such as art therapy, yoga, equine therapy, dietary management, and other complementary treatments can also help when paired with MAT and psychotherapy.
Symptoms of anxiety can be severe and debilitating, and people who experience crippling anxiety will try almost anything for relief. Unfortunately, this can include the dangerous practice of mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines. Would you like to be free from alcohol and benzodiazepine use? You do not have to do it alone. Let Casa Palmera help. Every detail at our lovely, serene Del Mar, California facility is designed with your wellbeing and treatment in mind. Substance use disorders can affect every aspect of your life, and our holistic approach will address the mind, body, and spirit. Because substance use disorders affect the entire family, we also work with your family support system. When you complete treatment, we will provide you with a comprehensive individualized aftercare plan to help you maintain your sobriety after treatment. In addition, you can take advantage of our alumni program for additional support. For more information, call Casa Palmera today at (855) 508-0473.