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Alcohol And Benzodiazepines: How Do Benzodiazepines Work?

Alcohol is widely available and addictive. Benzodiazepines, also called benzos, are available in short-acting and long acting pills, and are used together to aid in alcohol-related conditions. Long-term alcohol use can change the brain’s function, making it difficult to quit, resulting in cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and moodiness. Some of the most commonly used benzodiazepines are Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, Halcion, Librium, Xanax, and Ambien.

While many benzodiazepines have effective prescribed clinical uses, they have the potential for abuse, which means individuals can develop a physical dependence as well as symptoms of withdrawal when they attempt to stop use. Individuals who experience dangerous alcohol related conditions including alcohol withdrawal, which include some challenging symptoms such as hallucinations and depression, may use benzos as an aid to manage the uncomfortable symptoms. The effectiveness of benzos has led to the 50+ million annual prescriptions written. The use of benzos has increased between 1999 and 2013 from 4.1% to 5.6%.

Alcohol And Benzodiazepines: The Similarities

Benzos are used to treat symptoms of alcohol withdrawal in patients diagnosed with alcohol use disorders. Oftentimes when patients take benzos, they are using them to treat seizures, insomnia, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, pain, and alcohol withdrawal.

Those who abuse alcohol may abuse benzos for similar reasons. Both alcohol and benzos affect the central nervous system, and both can create side effects that mirror each other such as:

  • Passing out
  • Poor judgement
  • Blurred vision
  • Changes in mood
  • Withdrawal
  • Cravings

Fatal drug overdoses increase when combined with alcohol.

Alcohol And Benzodiazepines Facts, Figures, And Attitudes

According to a study by Kaiser Permanente, the trends between alcohol and benzodiazepines revealed interesting results. The results found patients with unhealthy alcohol consumption, “had a 15% higher likelihood” of benzodiazepine use than non-drinkers. Such individuals may believe that benzos are not addictive, or pose little risk when taken.

Alcohol impacted benzo use in these individuals by increasing the risk of poor motor skills, falls, and accidents. Next, the research found long-term benzo and alcohol use contributed to liver and heart injury, as well as kidney and brain injury. Furthermore, those who used benzodiazepines were more likely to develop benzo withdrawals, and encounter withdrawals from both substances.

Signs Of Alcohol And Benzodiazepine Abuse

Alcohol abuse can lead to symptoms of alcohol withdrawal which can increase the desire to use benzos. It is important to recognize the symptoms of alcohol abuse. The symptoms can vary depending on how much the individual has had to drink (amount), how often the individual drinks (frequency),  and how long the individual has last shown symptoms. Common signs of alcohol abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • An inability to control one’s drinking.
  • Drinking in isolation to hide habits.
  • An inability to attend everyday functions or make commitments due to alcohol use.
  • Combining alcohol with other substances.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking.
  • Needing alcohol to feel normal or feel happy.
  • Using alcohol to combat stress and frustration.
  • Increasing one’s alcohol intake.
  • Legal problems because of drinking.
  • Moodiness or aggression when intoxicated.
  • Drinking first thing in the morning (eye openers).
  • Drinking to stop symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Experiencing blackouts.
  • Drinking prior to social engagements or sneaking additional drinks during.
  • Hiding alcohol or masking what you are drinking.

In addition to the above signs of alcohol abuse, individuals can display health challenges such as jaundice, weight loss, bloated stomach, strained relationships and financial challenges to name a few.

Benzodiazepine addiction can include feelings of relaxation and euphoria that often serves as motivation for continued abuse. As a result of continued use, the individual can develop a physical dependence and can eventually need intervention or medications to help safely stop use. Signs of benzo addiction or abuse are very similar to alcohol abuse and also include:

  • Passing out

  • Feelings of drowsiness

  • Doctor shopping

  • Changes in mood

  • Increasing dosage

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

Like alcohol abuse, benzodiazepines can create adverse and serious effects like coma and problems breathing and even coma. Because of these challenges, those abusing benzodiazepines may feel compelled to continue use. When combined with other medications like antidepressants or other chemicals, he or she increases the susceptibility of comas, respiratory difficulty, and overdose. Additional withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Insomnia

  • Nausea

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Muscle spasms

  • Tremors of hands

  • Feeling restless

  • Delirium/Hallucinations

  • Seizures

  • Goosebumps and skin crawling sensations

  • Detaching from reality

Factors impacting the symptoms associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal vary based on how much of the drug someone someone has consumed, how frequently they use the drug. how long they have been abusing benzos, and if they have combined them with other chemicals. Individuals can decide to taper benzo use to find balance and wean themselves, but professional medical assistance is crucial to ensure there is a program in line for withdrawal management, and to check for underlying conditions that may be the driving factor for the addiction.

Lastly, alcohol withdrawal can be potentially fatal.  Symptoms of physical alcohol withdrawal like Delirium Tremens (DT’s), nausea, depression, and anxiety are strong indicators that detoxification is necessary for medical stabilization. Once a person is physically stable they can begin participation in treatment and 12-Step groups for growth and recovery.

Get The Help You Deserve Today

Alcohol and benzodiazepines have similar side effects and withdrawal symptoms. If you or a loved one is struggling to quit alcohol and benzos, there is help available. Contact a treatment provider to discover nearby treatment centers and options. They can help answer any rehab-related questions like traveling for rehab and financing options.

  • Author: Krystina Murray | Last Updated: October 6, 2021

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    Krystina Murray

    Digital Content Writer

    Krystina Murray has received a B.A. in English at Georgia State University. She has over 7 years of professional writing and editing experience, and over 17 years of overall writing experience. She enjoys traveling, fitness, crafting, cooking, and spreading awareness of addiction recovery to help people transform their lives.

  • Medical Reviewer: Dayna Smith-Slade

  • Sources