Alcohol is among the most used and abused drugs in the United States. Alcohol generally has central nervous system depressant actions; however, at very small doses, individuals who consume it may experience mild stimulant-like effects.
Drinking alcohol is associated with numerous physiological reactions, including significant effects on the central nervous system. Basically, alcohol increases activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glycine as well as decreases the activity of excitatory neurotransmitters such as NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspirate).
Social use of alcohol in restricted amounts may have some beneficial effects; however, regular and moderate to heavy use of alcohol is associated with numerous adverse effects to physical and emotional wellbeing. In addition, deaths associated with the misuse or abuse of alcohol run into the millions when one begins to look at the long-term effects of alcohol use and the probability of developing conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, gastrointestinal diseases, etc.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2015 found the following to be true:
The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies all benzodiazepines as controlled substances. Some of the more familiar benzodiazepines include:
Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants like alcohol, and they have their major mechanism of action on the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. Except in a very few cases, such as the control of seizures in disorders like epilepsy, benzodiazepines are not designed to be long-term solutions to the issues they treat, such as anxiety, issues with sleep, etc. Nonetheless, these drugs are still widely prescribed. Even though the majority of individuals with a prescription for these medications do not abuse them, drugs that are prescribed frequently are also more available to potential abusers. According to SAMHSA, in 2015, nearly 2 million Americans misused tranquilizers.
Professional sources, such as SAMHSA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), report that when benzodiazepines are misused or abused, they are not typically the primary drug of abuse. Benzodiazepines are most often abused in conjunction with other drugs.
The most common drugs abused or misused along with benzodiazepines are other benzodiazepines, prescription pain medications (particularly opiates), and alcohol. Previous data collected by SAMHSA indicates a steady rise in hospital emergency department admissions associated with the misuse of benzodiazepines and alcohol from 2007 through 2011. There are several reasons given by individuals who take these drugs for abusing them in combination.
There are numerous dangers associated with mixing benzodiazepines and alcohol. Every warning label on the container for a benzodiazepine cautions against this practice, and physicians often explicitly instruct their patients to avoid alcohol when they are prescribed benzodiazepines. The risks for abusing these drugs in combination are significantly more severe than the risks of abusing them singularly.The major risks of combining these drugs include:
Any level of abuse of one or both of these drugs is an extremely serious condition. Individuals who abuse these drugs often require intensive and long-term treatment programs to help them recover from their drug abuse.
There are important reasons that the warnings on the instruction labels of benzodiazepines strongly advise against drinking alcohol with these drugs. Combining alcohol with benzodiazepines can be dangerous practice even if it is engaged in only occasionally.
Chronic abuse of these two drugs together can result in a number of serious short-term and long-term effects. These ramifications are not limited to potentially serious health issues but extend to issues with an individual’s overall life satisfaction and everyday functioning. Because abuse of either of these drugs can result in the development of physical dependence that can have serious ramifications, individuals should not attempt to stop using these drugs without first consulting with a licensed medical professional.