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Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Benzodiazepines

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People who are addicted to benzodiazepines and alcohol often mix the two drugs to experience a greater high. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry indicated that up to 41 percent of alcoholics admitted to abusing benzodiazepines. The ability to prevent withdrawal effects or to increase intoxication were two commonly cited reasons for combining alcohol with benzodiazepines.

The Dangers of Combining Drugs

“People who are addicted to benzodiazepines and alcohol often mix the two drugs to experience a greater high.” Used on its own, it is unlikely that benzodiazepines will cause severe adverse effects that will lead to an overdose. However, when benzodiazepines are paired with drugs like alcohol, hypnotics, sedating antidepressants, neuroleptics, antihistamines, opioids or anticonvulsants, the combination acts in synergy to increase the effects of both drugs.

Most addicts mix alcohol and benzodiazepines to overcome a resistance they’ve developed to the desirable effects of alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, alcohol also greatly increases the toxic effect of abusing benzodiazepines. It is not unusual for fatal overdoses to occur due to the effects of mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines.

How Mixing Alcohol and Benzodiazepines Affects the Brain

benzodiazepine abuse Understanding some of the science involved with mixing these two drugs can help you understand why being addicted to them is so dangerous. In the body’s central nervous system, there are many benzodiazepine receptors, which are linked to GABA receptors. The GABA receptors also make the benzodiazepine receptors more sensitive to the GABA neurotransmitters. The sensitivity of the GABA neurotransmitters to benzodiazepines enables the effects of the drugs.

Scientists have found that, if benzodiazepine is regularly abused, the GABA receptors become less sensitive to the drug. This is how the body builds a tolerance for benzodiazepine. However, if you are addicted to benzodiazepines and alcohol, the GABA receptors become more sensitive to benzodiazepine as well as alcohol. Due to the fact that both benzodiazepine and alcohol work on the same receptors, the drugs work in synergy.

An alcoholic will also have a cross-tolerance for benzodiazepine, because both drugs affect the brain in similar ways. This is why alcoholics who have never abused benzodiazepine are often prescribed the drug to help minimize the symptoms of alcohol detoxification. However, the cross-tolerance between both drugs also makes it incredibly easy to overdose when using them both. For this reason, alcoholics who are prescribed benzodiazepines to help diminish withdrawal symptoms must be carefully monitored.

The Withdrawal Process

drug withdrawal While mixing two drugs can often alter the withdrawal time line, the detoxification process from alcohol and benzodiazepines mimics the symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal. Although it is unusual for alcoholics to experience withdrawal syndrome, users who are addicted to benzodiazepines and alcohol experience symptoms starting from two to 10 days after discontinuing the drugs.

For people who mix benzodiazepines with alcohol, withdrawal symptoms are often manifested through psychomotor signs. Most alcoholics experiencing detoxification experience symptoms related to their autonomic nervous system. However, most can expect to experience some of the symptoms listed below addicts during detoxification:

  • Autonomic hyperactivity
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Possible seizures

When withdrawing from both drugs, a treatment facility may offer you oral barbiturates to help alleviate any discomfort. Of course, sedative tolerance tests will be conducted to determine if prescribing barbiturates is a responsible course of action.

Other Harmful Effects

“People mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol may also find that they engage in more anti-social behaviors.”
While mixing benzodiazepines and alcohol increases the chance of an overdose, the combination can also exacerbate harmful side effects that they already experienced as a result of abusing one of the two alone. For example, heavy drinkers who abused benzodiazepines showed significant impairment in their episodic memory. This inability to remember recent events and how and when they occurred was a far larger problem for people who mixed the drugs when compared to regular alcoholics.

People mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol may also find that they engage in more anti-social behaviors, such as aggression, hostility and irritability. These symptoms are particularly common for the elderly, people with developmental disabilities, and children who are addicted to benzodiazepines and alcohol. If you’re concerned about the dangers of mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol, call to gain access to information about the best rehab centers in your area.


  • There are more than 2,000 types of benzodiazepines that have been produced in laboratories, but currently, only about 15 of these formulations are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States.
  • Alcoholics who have never abused a benzodiazepine are often prescribed the drug to help minimize the symptoms of alcohol detoxification.
  • Benzodiazepines mixed in alcoholic drinks have been used as “date rape” drugs, due to their ability to impair a person’s judgment and ability to resist assault.
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The editorial staff of is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
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