Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the use of Xanax and other psychiatric drugs has increased. About 46% of people who reported misusing the drug said they took it to relax or feel relief from anxiety.[1] Another 22% said they took it to help them sleep. Misusers were people who took it without a prescription and those who had a prescription but took more than prescribed. About 5.8% of adults in the United States reported misusing a prescription drug in 2020, and 1.5% reported misusing benzodiazepines.[2] Although misusing the drug by taking too much or taking it without a prescription are both common forms of abuse, another dangerous potential form of misuse is mixing it with alcohol.
Xanax and Alcohol

What Is Xanax?

Also called alprazolam by its generic name, Xanax is in a class of drugs called benzodiazepines.[3] Valium is also a benzodiazepine, but Xanax was developed as an alternative to it. It was designed especially for treating panic attacks from anxiety, along with the chronic condition of anxiety. Benzodiazepines are tranquilizers and have a sedating effect. Since they tend to work quickly, they are often prescribed for people who have multiple panic attack episodes. Xanax is a Schedule IV controlled substance and is only available through prescription. However, people who misuse it often purchase it from a street drug dealer or obtain it from a friend or family member who has a prescription. One of the reasons why Xanax was created was to make a substance with less abuse potential than Valium. However, the abuse potential for Xanax is still significant because of how it acts on the body and affects the brain.

How Does Xanax Affect the Body and Brain?

Xanax is a central nervous system depressant.[3] This means that it slows the activity of the CNS. At the same time, it also increases gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is commonly known as GABA. This is the brain chemical that is responsible for creating feelings of calmness or relaxation. As a result, people feel more relaxed and less anxious when they take Xanax. Additionally, the drug reduces the level of excitement in the brain. When a person experiences a panic attack, the level of brain excitement is high.

Mixing Alcohol and Xanax

In addition to the actions Xanax has on the brain, there are other potential effects on the body. For example, when the level of brain excitement is high during a panic attack or when there is increased anxiety, a person’s muscles are usually tense. As a result of the Xanax taking effect, a person’s muscles will relax more. Some people get headaches when their anxiety is high, and the change in brain chemicals may also help relieve a headache.

Does Xanax Interact With Alcohol?

Xanax and alcohol interact with one another. Because of this, physicians and pharmacists often warn people to avoid consuming alcohol while taking Xanax. To better understand exactly how the two interact, it helps to know the science of it. This is easier to understand by learning the effects of ethanol and alprazolam mixing. Although all alcoholic drinks contain ethanol, they contain varying amounts.

In a study, researchers noted that ethanol and alprazolam created increased aggression.[5] Also, they analyzed the chemical interaction of the two substances. In comparison with administering alprazolam by itself, the concentration of the drug in the brain increased significantly when it was administered along with ethanol. The researchers concluded that ethanol could increase alprazolam toxicity by preventing CYP3A4 activity, along with potentially affecting other processes. Based on reported problems of people drinking alcohol and taking Xanax, their findings are certainly supported in medical statistics as well.

What Happens When You Mix Alcohol and Xanax?

As noted in the previous section, alcohol can increase the toxicity risks of Xanax or alprazolam. Because of this, taking the two substances together typically intensifies their individual effects.[6] To know what to possibly expect in terms of side effects and dangers, it helps to know the effects of both substances individually.

Effects of Alcohol

After the initial interaction that may create a subdued feeling, these are some potential effects of alcohol:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings
  • Lethargy or sleepiness
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Vomiting

Effects of Xanax

These are some potential negative effects of Xanax:

  • Memory problems
  • Seizures
  • Poor coordination
  • Impaired vision
  • Rage and aggression
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting or nausea

Long-Term Effects of Xanax and Alcohol

Although the beginning effects of even a small amount of alcohol and Xanax may be a buzz that is similar to consuming a lot of alcohol, the effects can quickly become unpleasant. If a person consumes alcohol and Xanax together regularly, there can be long-term effects. Long-term misuse of any chemical substance can increase the risk of developing other chronic illnesses. For example, someone who misuses alcohol may be too tired to exercise and may over-eat. This can lead to obesity and a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Drinking and substance abuse can also lead to permanent liver damage. Some of the shared effects of alcohol and alprazolam, such as memory problems and lack of coordination, can become long-term problems with repeated abuse. Since alcohol and drugs are hard on the gastrointestinal system, people can also develop a variety of GI disorders because of substance abuse. Misusing Xanax, alcohol, or both of them can exacerbate the effects of some existing health conditions as well. As a person continually misuses Xanax and alcohol, the risk of developing chemical dependence is higher.[7] This also increases the risk of developing an addiction.

Is There Help for Addiction To Alcohol and Xanax?

Treatment facilities exist in every state that offers treatment for alcohol addiction, Xanax addiction, and other substance addictions. Many of these treatment centers offer programs to treat more than one existing addiction. Additionally, they offer dual diagnosis treatment to address mental health issues.[8] Most people who misuse Xanax and have an alcohol addiction require dual diagnosis treatment since the underlying issue is usually anxiety or another mood disorder.

Alcohol & Xanax Addiction

A mental health condition is often the reason a person seeks a substance to misuse. For instance, someone with anxiety that is not managed well may seek Xanax and alcohol to help reduce the unpleasant effects of the anxiety. Addiction treatment centers help people find the right treatments for all their psychological health needs, including supportive therapies.

Treatment Programs

Although not all facilities offer every form of program, these are some of the types of addiction treatment programs that exist:

  • Inpatient detox takes place in a medical facility, and a person is supervised 24/7 while she or he stops using a substance.
  • Residential or inpatient treatment involves 24/7 care in a facility for a period between a month or up to a year, depending on individual needs.
  • Partial hospitalization treatment typically includes five sessions per week in a facility, and they last about five hours each.
  • An intensive outpatient program usually includes multiple weekly treatment sessions, and each session is about three hours.
  • An outpatient program may involve one or more sessions per week, and sessions are usually less than a few hours.
  • Online programs involve remote counseling for intensive or regular therapy.

Types of Therapy

There are several therapy approaches and designs that professionals use in addiction treatment. These are some common examples:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy analyzes the reasons for behaviors, and dialectical behavior therapy helps people modify behaviors.
  • Group therapy involves others who struggle with addiction.
  • Individual therapy focuses on the person with the addiction.
  • Family therapy helps family members learn how to support their loved one with addiction, and it helps the person with the addiction understand the individual effects on the family members.
  • 12-step meetings introduce people to a form of group therapy that is helpful in maintaining recovery as an ongoing requirement.
  • Holistic and natural therapies may include music therapy, meditation, yoga, exercise, nutrition, and other therapies that support overall wellness or teach people healthier habits.

Treatment for Alcohol and Xanax Addiction

A treatment facility will help a person who struggles with Xanax and alcohol addiction by developing a custom treatment plan. Through therapy, people learn their behavior causes or triggers. They also learn how to avoid some triggers, cope with the unavoidable ones and learn ways to overcome urges to misuse substances. They also learn how to stay in recovery and reduce their chances of relapsing. Thanks to legislative changes, most addiction treatment programs are covered or partially covered by marketplace insurance plans when treatment is deemed necessary by a medical professional.

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8294026/
[2] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/what-scope-prescription-drug-misuse
[3] https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Benzodiazepenes-2020_1.pdf
[4] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326528
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29848078/
[6] https://www.healthline.com/health/xanax-and-alcohol
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2732004/
[8] https://medlineplus.gov/dualdiagnosis.html