Xanax and Alcohol: Why They Should Not Mix

By
Riva Kent
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Jefferey A. Berman MD, DFASAM
Last Updated
October 22, 2023

Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Table of Contents
  1. The Dangers of Xanax and Alcohol Interactions 
  2. Why do People Mix Xanax with Alcohol?
  3. 7 Reasons Why You Should Not Be Mixing Xanax and Alcohol
  4. Final Word: Can You Drink On Xanax? 
  5. Treatment for Xanax and Alcohol Addiction at Avenues Recovery

Drugs are typically grouped into seven different categories. These are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, CNS stimulants, hallucinogens, dissociative anesthetics, narcotic analgesics, inhalants, and cannabis. Xanax, the brand name for Alprazolam, belongs to a class of medications called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are a type of depressant that causes the brain and nerves to produce a calming effect. Depressants slow everything down – motor skills, speech, reflexes, breathing, heart rate – essentially reducing arousal and stimulation. Xanax, one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the US, is used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and panic disorders.

Although we don’t typically think of alcohol as a drug, it is, in fact, a depressant that affects the central nervous system. Like benzodiazepines, alcohol works by depressing the body’s central nervous system, reducing the activity of several broad-stroke mental functions, such as thought, memory, coordination, and respiration.

The Dangers of Xanax and Alcohol Interactions 

According to PubMed Central, most fatal overdoses involve the use of more than one type of drug, known as poly-drug or poly-substance use. Because they are both depressants, when alcohol and xanax are used together, they have an additive effect, which means that each intensifies the effects of the other. Xanax interferes with the activity of liver enzymes that break down alcohol, so taking both at once is like taking higher doses of each. Combining them also increases the amount of time that both substances stay in the body. This leads to exaggerated sedation, which can have harmful and even fatal effects. 

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Why do People Mix Xanax with Alcohol?

There are various reasons why someone might mix these two drugs together:

  • One possibility is that an individual has an unreasonable expectation about what the drugs are supposed to do. This could be someone who is prescribed xanax to treat anxiety, but he/she doesn’t see the improvement in the increased functionality that was expected. This person, therefore, resorts to increasing their dose, self-medicating, and combining their medication with alcohol in an attempt to reach a desired state of calm. 
  • Other people might be driven to combine xanax with alcohol  to experience feelings of euphoria and a loss of inhibitions. As Biophysicist Michael DeLay explains, when combining alcohol and xanax, “the simplest of activities, most mundane of entertainment, and the dullest of foods can take on an entirely new zest.”
  • Another reason people might misuse these drugs is that xanax and alcohol are both legal and easy to obtain. A Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [1] survey found that among people aged 12 or older in 2021, 3.9 million people misused prescription benzodiazepines. Everyone knows that there are risks involved when it comes to illicit drugs. But when it comes to prescription drugs, there is sometimes a mistaken impression, especially among young people. They believe that if something is legal it is safe, no matter how it is used (or abused). Yet even legal substances, when misused, can be addictive and lead to serious health and medical complications.

7 Reasons Why You Should Not Be Mixing Xanax and Alcohol

While the dangers of mixing xanax and alcohol can’t be strictly defined, here are 7 reasons why you don’t want to take the risk.

1. Increased Dangers

Some speculate that the cause of Whitney Houston’s death was due to mixing xanax with alcohol. It is dangerous to mix any benzodiazepine with alcohol but xanax is even more risky since xanax is quite fast acting in comparison to other benzodiazepines. When alcohol and xanax are mixed together, their effects happen at a very fast pace. Thus a person can go from being sober to experiencing an intense intoxication in a relatively short period of time which can be dangerous, if not fatal.

2. Drinking on Xanax Causes Unpredictable Outcomes

Another one of the dangers of mixing xanax and alcohol is the uncertain nature of the exact effect that the two substances will have. While some individuals may not see any fatal outcomes, another person may experience severe consequences. Personal circumstances such as sleep deprivation, an empty stomach, and the like, could all affect the way different people react. Thus, if a person does combine xanax and alcohol, there is no clear indicator of how much a “safe amount” of each substance would be. It can also vary from person to person and between men and women due to different people’s tolerance levels. What might be fine for one person can have an adverse effect on another. Health professionals advise waiting up to ten hours after consuming one substance before consuming the other to ensure that the two substances don’t mix with one another in the body.

3. Impaired Decision Making

Mixing alcohol and xanax can affect the brain’s ability to process information, making it difficult to concentrate or make decisions. Therefore, being under the influence of these drugs puts a person in a situation where they are more vulnerable to sexual assault, partially due to their inability to give clear consent or non-consent. Additionally, people who have combined xanax and alcohol will often report that they cannot remember how much of the drugs they consumed or even where and when. The inability to control how much alcohol one is consuming means that one cannot make balanced decisions and are likely to end up drinking far more units of alcohol than is safe.

4. Inattentiveness 

This impaired alertness can also be particularly problematic if a person attempts to drive under the influence, where they need to be aware and focused on what is going on around them on the road. It is also common for people to slur their words, feel disorientated, dizzy, and easily confused.

5. Memory Deficits and Blackouts

In addition to difficulty concentrating, the combination of alcohol and xanax can lead to short-term memory deficits and, in some cases, blackouts. Blackouts can occur both during the period of intoxication and while the intoxication is wearing off. Blackouts cause a complete loss of memory of events, which can be extremely detrimental to a person. 

6. Respiratory Dysfunction

With high doses of both xanax and alcohol, it’s possible that a person’s breathing could slow down to dangerous levels.  Already in 2018, the National Institute on Drug Abuse [2] explained that “When people overdose on a CNS depressant, their breathing often slows or stops. This can decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, a condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia can have short- and long-term mental effects and effects on the nervous system, including coma and permanent brain damage.” Respiratory failure and cardiac arrest are not things that anyone wants to face in their lifetime, but mixing and overdosing on these two substances makes such occurrences a possibility. 

7. Dependence and Withdrawal

Among benzodiazepines, xanax is often considered the one that users are most likely to get addicted to due to its rapid action that makes users feel high in a shorter amount of time relative to other drugs. Of course, when a person is involved in poly-drug use, they can become addicted to both substances and experience major withdrawal symptoms.

Those with a dependence on xanax might have tried to stop taking the drug before, only to find that their withdrawal was short-lived, and they soon resorted to retaking it. This relapse is likely because of the difficult side effects that occur as the effects of the drug wear off. Xanax withdrawal can cause symptoms similar to those you might have with an alcohol hangover. For example, you may have a headache, nausea, or vomiting. You may also feel anxious or irritable. In addition, withdrawal from alcohol can cause delirium tremens and the most severe manifestation of alcohol withdrawal can cause hallucinations, shaking, shivering, and irregular heart rate.

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Final Word: Can You Drink On Xanax? 

If you are thinking about mixing xanax and alcohol, be aware of the consequences before you make that decision. Memory blockage, increased withdrawal symptoms and dependence, respiratory dysfunction, and inattentiveness are just a few of the possible outcomes. It is simply not worth the harm that it can cause to your body. If you are already experiencing an alcohol and xanax addiction, consider the various treatment programs available so that you no longer experience the negative results of drug abuse. 

Treatment for Xanax and Alcohol Addiction at Avenues Recovery

If you are struggling with xanax and alcohol addiction or know someone who is, Avenues Recovery is here for you. At Avenues, a trained professional can help you to halt the addiction in its tracks before it grows any more severe. We will guide you through the detoxification process and ensure that your recovery takes place in a safe environment, with the negative withdrawal effects mitigated as much as possible. Contact our professionals with any questions you may have and start your path to treatment today.

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Sources

[1] samhsa.gov

[2] nida.nih.gov

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