Picture this: You’re a habitual user of the benzodiazepine Xanax (alprazolam), and you’ve just been offered a glass of wine. Is it safe for you to take that first sip? Or, can you have as many drinks as you’d like without worrying about the consequences?
You should know that thinking like this could be a sign of a substance abuse problem. That’s especially true if you are hoping that alcohol will augment the impact of Xanax, so you can take fewer pills and feel just as good.
If you have a substance abuse issue, treatment does work. With help, you can move past these kinds of thoughts and into a healthier future.
You should also know that there is no real safe amount of alcohol to take with Xanax. In fact, combining these two substances could lead to deadly side effects you just didn’t expect.
Why Is Alcohol Cause for Concern?
Alcohol is so dangerous, in terms of abuse, because it is so very common. As an addiction expert writing for Psychology Today explains, hostesses would rarely serve their dinner guests cocaine or heroin with dinner, but they might serve those guests alcohol without giving the issue a second thought. Because it is so easy to find, alcohol can seem completely harmless, and that means people might mix it with all sorts of other substances without realizing the dangers involved.
Alcohol can interact with almost every type of drug available, but the interactions involved can vary, depending on the drug. As the charity Drinkaware explains, alcohol tends to exaggerate the impact of drugs in some way.
For example, stimulant drugs (like cocaine) tend to speed up the heart and rev up electrical activity within the brain.
Alcohol, as a sedative, tends to slow down heart rate and brain activity.
When taken together, a stimulant and a sedative work against one another in a competition.
That can lead to a heart that races one minute and then slows to a crawl the next.
This puts the body in a precarious and unpredictable position. Mixing alcohol with sedatives (such as benzodiazepines) tends to cause a doubling effect. Where a glass of alcohol might be mildly sedating, a glass of alcohol with a sedative can be extremely sedating, and in some cases, it might slow breathing down to such a degree that vital processes needed for life stop altogether.
Despite these dangers, it is not uncommon for people to mix alcohol with substances of abuse. In research cited in an article published in Scientific American, researchers found that 60 percent of people who take medications known to interact with alcohol also drink from time to time. In addition, 5 percent have three drinks at a time when they imbibe alcohol.
This suggests that people are possibly not aware of how dangerous it can be to mix alcohol and drugs like Xanax. Unfortunately, the consequences of that ignorance can be severe.
Why Alcohol and Alprazolam Don’t Mix
As mentioned, alcohol is a sedative that tinkers with electrical activity within the brain and slows breathing and heart rates. Xanax is also a sedative, and when the two are combined, they can reinforce one another and deliver intense sedation. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, combining alcohol and Xanax can also cause:
- Persistent dizziness
- Impaired motor control
- Unusual behavior
- Memory loss
- Difficulty breathing
The two drugs work together to overwhelm delicate systems that keep people breathing normally and experiencing the world as they should. The combination can also cause people to feel so sedate and calm that they slip into a coma-like state that they cannot be awakened from. Death can follow.
In a study about Xanax overdose deaths, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers found that 34.5 percent of people who died due to Xanax also had alcohol in their bodies.
It might be easy to assume that people who died were taking illicit Xanax that was combined with some other illicit drug substance. Other studies suggest, however, that even pure Xanax can cause death when combined with alcohol.
In a separate study published in the American Journal on Addictions, researchers found that a prescription was present in 52.5 percent of Xanax overdose deaths. This means even people who take Xanax straight from a pharmacy face very real overdose risks. That risk is augmented when alcohol is also present.
Is There a Safe Amount To Take?
When you’re given a prescription for Xanax, you’re also provided with guidelines that tell you how much of the substance to take and when to take it. You might think it’s reasonable to combine Xanax with alcohol as long as you don’t take more Xanax than your doctor prescribes. Unfortunately, research suggests that even sticking to a prescription won’t keep you safe.
In a study published in the journal Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism and Toxicology, researchers looked at how quickly people’s bodies metabolized Xanax when alcohol was also present.
The researchers found that after 120 minutes, Xanax concentrations increased by 642 percent when alcohol was also present. This is a huge increase, and it demonstrates just how dangerous it can be to combine alcohol and Xanax.
When the two are present at once, Xanax is just easier for the body to make use of, and the concentrations of the drug within the body rise accordingly.
This just isn’t something that someone can overlook. It’s chemistry, and it can be remarkably dangerous.
Even a very small dose combined with alcohol can cause side effects you didn’t anticipate.
For example, in a 1991 study published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, researchers found that even a dose as small as 1 mg (milligram) when combined with a drink of alcohol resulted in sedation, dizziness, and impaired performance.
When a dose that small causes such a big impact, it is safe to say that no dose is without risk.
Why Xanax is Dangerous
Although Xanax is prescribed by your physician, that doesn’t mean it’s always a safe drug. If your doctor determined the risks outweigh the benefits when prescribing the medication, they thought your condition was severe enough, and Xanax can help. However, when they prescribed it to you, it was done under the belief you’d take it as prescribed and not mix it with other drugs or alcohol. As was mentioned above, Xanax and alcohol are extremely dangerous. You might also wonder – can you drink on Xanax? The answer is no, leading you to wonder what makes Xanax dangerous by itself?
The reason the medical community agrees about Xanax and its dangers is the risk of developing a tolerance and dependence on the drug. Even when using it as prescribed, Xanax can have disastrous consequences. Even worse, when you mix the drug with other depressants like alcohol, it could be fatal. If you’ve been taking it and want to know how to sober up from Xanax because you’re concerned about how you’re feeling, there is nothing you can do other than wait and don’t mix it with anything else.
Xanax and beer are also frowned upon. You might think that because beer has less alcohol, it’s safe, but that’s simply not true. Older adults are also at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease when using Xanax for longer than six months. In addition to the potential health issues with prolonged use of the medication, the withdrawal that occurs when you abruptly stop long-term use can also be dangerous. Xanax withdrawal can range from mild to severe.
When Can I Drink After Taking Xanax?
If you’re prescribed Xanax and want to have a glass of wine with dinner one night, you’re likely wondering how long after taking Xanax can I drink? Well, the simple response to that question is to avoid alcohol altogether because it’s dangerous and can lead to an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Although some people can drink in moderation and not run the risk of developing an addiction, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen in others. Still, if you have to drink, you must wait before Xanax leaves your body before drinking. This means you would need to wait several days or even weeks after your last dose before drinking alcohol safely.
Side Effects of Xanax
Xanax is one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the world, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without its potential side effects. If you’re using Xanax, you could experience some or all of these common side effects. These include the following:
- Slurred or slowed speech
- Memory impairment
- Drowsiness or fatigue
If you continue experiencing these effects, you must speak to your doctor. Although they’re pretty standard when using the drug, you should always keep a watchful eye on them and have your healthcare professional pay attention.
Xanax can also cause severe side effects. You should never use the drug for more than two to four weeks unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Studies have found there are severe health concerns connected to prolonged use of the drug. These include:
- Impaired concentration
- Decreased motor coordination
- Poor reaction time
- Memory loss
- Slower speed of processing information
- Lost sex drive
- Social phobia
If you experience these, you must contact your primary care physician. They’ll help you taper off the drug. Since Xanax can have severe withdrawal effects, you should never stop without help. If you’re unable to stop, it could indicate a substance use disorder and the need for professional help. Your doctor can help guide you in the right direction