Mixing Alcohol & Benzodiazepines: Effects & Dangers
Mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines can be dangerous for your health, safety, and overall well-being. If you drink alcohol and use benzos, or you know someone who does, it is important to be aware of these dangers.
This article will help you understand what you need to know about mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol, including how alcohol and benzodiazepines interactions affect the body, the effects of alcohol and benzodiazepines, and how to seek help for benzodiazepines and alcohol abuse.
Is Mixing Alcohol and Benzodiazepines Dangerous?
Yes, mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines can be extremely dangerous. Mixing multiple substances at the same time or within a short time of each other is known as polysubstance use.1
Both alcohol and benzodiazepines have depressant effects on the central nervous system; each substance can increase the action of the other, which can potentially lead to stronger and more unpredictable effects.1
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that polysubstance use involving alcohol with other depressants (such as benzodiazepines) can lead to many serious physical health risks and dangers.1 This includes the various problems discussed below.1
How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?
Alcohol misuse affects the body in numerous ways that can cause a range of health problems and concerns.3
Some of the bodily systems that are impacted by alcohol and the ways that alcohol affects them include:
- Cardiovascular system – Drinking too much over time or too much on one occasion can cause a variety of heart/cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat).3,4
- Brain – Alcohol changes the structure of your brain and the way it functions; therefore alcohol use can lead to many cognitive and neurological problems, including learning and memory problems, alcohol-induced blackouts, stroke, and dementia.3,4,5
- Liver – Alcohol has a major impact on the liver because this is the organ responsible for metabolizing alcohol.6 Alcohol use can lead to different liver diseases and inflammations, including fatty liver, which can progress to other problems, such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer.3,6
- Pancreas – Alcohol use can lead to pancreatitis, which causes inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas. This can cause abdominal discomfort, pain, and digestion problems.3,7 In some cases, it can be life-threatening.7
- Immune system – Alcohol negatively impacts and weakens your immune system, which can increase your chances of developing different infections and conditions like tuberculosis and pneumonia.3
- Gastrointestinal system – Alcohol can increase the chances of gut leakiness, microbial dysbiosis (imbalance in your gut microbiome), and colorectal cancer.3
Alcohol can also increase the risk of many cancers, such as breast, mouth, throat, esophageal, and voice box cancer.4
How Do Benzodiazepines Affect the Body?
Benzodiazepines are sedative-hypnotic drugs that are central nervous system depressants.2
Different benzos may be indicated for the management of different conditions, including anxiety disorder, panic disorder, seizure disorder, alcohol withdrawal management, insomnia, and procedural sedation/anesthesia.8
While they can be beneficial for their prescribed purposes, benzodiazepines can also lead to dependence, and they can also be misused, which can contribute to the development of addiction, or sedative use disorder.8
When misused in unintended ways, such as taking someone else’s prescription, taking more than prescribed, or using the drug to get high, benzodiazepines can be dangerous rather than beneficial.2
Benzos can negatively impact the body in a variety of ways and lead to different problems and conditions, including:
- Psychomotor retardation – This means a slowing down of mental/physical activities. You may experience drowsiness, poor concentration, motor incoordination, vertigo, mental confusion, and slow reaction time, which can increase the risk of driving problems and accidents.8
- Brain and memory problems – Benzos can lead to problems such as headache, dizziness, and sleepiness.2 They can also cause anterograde amnesia, which means an inability to form new memories, and episodic memory problems, which means having difficulty remembering recent events.8 Over time, chronic benzo use can also lead to deficits in sustained attention, as well as problems with processing speed, divided attention, and expressive language.9
- Dependence – This is the physiological adaptation of the body to a substance, wherein the body becomes so used to the drug being present in the system that when the individual cuts back on their use or quits, withdrawal symptoms emerge. With significant levels of physiological dependence, a person may continue to compulsively drink or use drugs to avoid unwanted withdrawal symptoms.8
Effects of Mixing Benzodiazepines and Alcohol
Misuse of benzodiazepines often occurs in conjunction with other substances, particularly alcohol, and people who use both substances often do so to augment, or increase, the effects of the other.2,8
Mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines can lead to the above-mentioned problems but it can also increase your risk of dangerous and sometimes unpredictable interactions due to the combination of the two substances.1
There are several factors that can influence the effects of combining benzos and alcohol, including your age, whether you have other psychiatric or medical conditions, and whether you also use other substances.8,10
Combining benzodiazepines with alcohol use can lead to detrimental outcomes, including:
- Increased sedative effects, which can lead to adverse events such as accidents, injuries, or fatal overdose.10,11
- Exacerbation of psychiatric conditions.10
- Risk of permanent brain damage.1,11
- Heart damage.1
- Damage to other organs.1
Can You Overdose on Alcohol and Benzodiazepines?
Yes, you can overdose on alcohol and benzodiazepines.1 An overdose is a medical emergency and can lead to coma, permanent brain damage, and death.1,2
Symptoms of alcohol/benzo overdose include:
- Stopped or slowed breathing.2
- Weak pulse.1
- Altered mental status.1
If someone is overdosing, do not wait. Contact 911 immediately and stay with the person until help arrives.1
Treatment for Benzodiazepine and Alcohol Addiction
Seeking help for benzodiazepine and alcohol addiction is important to help people stop the cycle of substance misuse and start the path to recovery. People who misuse more than one substance often have multiple and complex medical, psychiatric, and social needs, so it is important for treatment to address all the unique needs a person may have.11
Effective treatment should typically focus on both substances, because addressing just one substance could increase the chances of unsuccessful treatment and relapse.11
People should receive individualized and customized treatment plans based on their needs.11 At Sunrise House, our inpatient rehab in New Jersey, our addiction treatment experts will perform a comprehensive evaluation to determine your unique needs and the proper course of treatment for you, which may involve different types of addiction treatment; for example, you may start with detox before progressing to an inpatient stay.
Treatment can include a combination of medication, counseling, and behavioral therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you make positive changes to your thoughts and behaviors that led to the substance misuse or addiction in the first place.2
If you or a loved one are struggling, please call our free, confidential helpline at to speak to a caring admissions navigator. They are standing by 24/7 to answer any questions you may have about treatment and addiction. You can start treatment today, learn more about using insurance to pay for rehab, learn about other ways to pay for rehab, and easily online.