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Benzo vs Alcohol: Differences, Similarities, Side Effects and More!

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Benzodiazepines and alcohol are two widely used substances that affect the central nervous system and have similar effects on the brain. While they are both known for their anxiolytic and sedative properties, they differ in their chemical composition, mode of action, and potential side effects. Mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines can lead to severe loss of motor function, altered mental status, respiratory depression, and an increased risk of harm and death.

In this article, we will explore the differences and similarities between benzodiazepines and alcohol, including their effects on the body and brain, their uses, risks, and potential for addiction. We will also discuss the potential side effects of each substance, and the risks associated with their misuse or abuse. Mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol can result in respiratory depression, increased risk of accidents and harm, and enhanced intoxication effects.

Understanding the similarities and differences between benzodiazepines and alcohol can help individuals make informed decisions about their substance use and reduce their risk of harm.

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a class of psychoactive drugs that are commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and other conditions that affect the central nervous system. They are also sometimes used to treat seizures, muscle spasms, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which helps to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. However, misuse of these drugs can lead to benzodiazepine addiction, characterized by both psychological and physical dependence.

The use of prescribed benzodiazepines carries significant risks, especially when combined with alcohol, as this combination can exacerbate the potential for addiction and lead to severe health consequences.

Chemical Composition of Benzodiazepines

The chemical structure of benzodiazepines is characterized by a diazepine ring, which consists of seven carbon atoms, and a fused benzene ring. The specific chemical composition of each benzodiazepine varies depending on the specific drug, but they all share a similar structure.

What is Alcohol? 

Alcohol, also known as ethanol, is a psychoactive substance that is commonly consumed in various forms, including beer, wine, and spirits. It is produced by the fermentation of sugars and grains by yeast or bacteria. Alcohol is a depressant that affects the central nervous system, leading to feelings of relaxation, decreased inhibitions, and impaired coordination. Unhealthy alcohol use is associated with an increased likelihood of benzodiazepine consumption, higher risk of overdoses, and accidents.

Alcohol consumption can impact benzodiazepine use, leading to poor motor skills, accidents, and long-term health consequences such as liver, heart, kidney, and brain injury. There is also a likelihood of developing withdrawals from benzodiazepines and encountering withdrawals from both substances.

Benzodiazepines vs Alcohol | Differences, Similarities, Side Effects and more!

Chemical Composition of Alcohol

The chemical composition of alcohol (C2H6O) is relatively simple, consisting of a two-carbon molecule with an attached hydroxyl group (-OH). This chemical structure allows alcohol to dissolve easily in water and other liquids, making it readily absorbed by the body. 

Benzodiazepines vs. Alcohol: Fact Sheet

  Benzodiazepines Alcohol
Generic Name Benzos Alcohol
Drug Type Sedative CNS Depressant
Active Ingredients  Benzene ring and Diazepine ring Ethanol
Used as treatment for: Anxiety and Panic Disorders Killing germs
Available Form(s) Tablets, Capsules, and Injections Liquid
Is it a controlled substance? Yes, Schedule IV drugs No
Legal Status Can only be prescribed medically Unscheduled
Risk of Withdrawal Effects Yes Yes
Risk of Addiction Yes Yes

Alcohol Dosage and Side Effects:

Alcohol dosage can have a significant impact on the body and mind, with the potential for both short-term and long-term side effects. In small doses, alcohol can produce feelings of relaxation and euphoria, but as the dosage increases, so do the risks of negative consequences.

Drinking alcohol while taking benzodiazepines can be particularly dangerous, as it increases the potential for harmful physical and psychological side effects.

Too much alcohol can lead to impaired judgment, slurred speech, and difficulty with coordination. Excessive drinking can also result in more serious side effects, such as liver damage, high blood pressure, and increased risk of certain types of cancer.

Alcohol abuse is closely related to benzodiazepine addiction, and the combination of the two can be extremely hazardous. It is crucial to seek professional help for alcoholism and addiction to ensure safe detoxification and recovery.

It’s important to understand the potential dangers of alcohol and to always consume it in moderation, if at all. This means, one drink a day for men and 2 drinks per day for men, as per CDC. By doing so, you can enjoy the benefits of alcohol without risking your health or safety.

Benzodiazepines Dosage and Side Effects:

Benzodiazepines Dosage and Side Effects:

The recommended dosage for benzodiazepines can vary depending on the specific medication, the condition being treated, and the individual’s medical history. In general, benzodiazepines are prescribed at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible duration to minimize the risk of benzodiazepine addiction when misused.

The recommended starting dose for most benzodiazepines is typically as low as 0.5 mg and may be adjusted gradually up to 5 mg based on the individual’s response and tolerance. It’s important to note that benzodiazepines should be taken exactly as prescribed by a healthcare provider, and individuals should not increase the dose or frequency of use without medical supervision.

Avoiding substance misuse is crucial to prevent disruptions in one’s life and to maintain overall well-being. If you experience negative effects, seek help from a treatment provider.

Abruptly stopping benzodiazepines after prolonged use can also result in withdrawal symptoms, which can be severe and require medical attention. Too much benzodiazepines can lead to drowsiness, confusion, and difficulty with coordination. Excessive use can also result in more serious side effects, such as memory problems, addiction, and even respiratory depression.

Alcohol vs. Benzodiazepines: Can You Experience Alcohol Withdrawal for Either?

Alcohol vs. Benzodiazepines: Can You Withdrawal for Either? 

Yes, both alcohol and benzodiazepines can cause withdrawal symptoms if used for a prolonged period of time and then abruptly stopped or if the dosage is rapidly reduced.

Unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures can occur during withdrawal from both alcohol and benzodiazepines. It is crucial to seek help and support, especially in a residential rehab setting, to manage these symptoms safely.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and include tremors, anxiety, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and even seizures. In severe cases, alcohol withdrawal can lead to delirium tremens (DTs), a potentially life-threatening condition that can cause hallucinations, seizures, and fever.

Similarly, benzodiazepine withdrawal can also range from mild to severe and typically includes symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, insomnia, muscle tension, and sweating. In some cases, benzodiazepine withdrawal can also cause more severe symptoms such as seizures, psychosis, and delirium.

It’s important to note that withdrawal from alcohol or benzodiazepines can be dangerous and should be done under medical supervision. In some cases, medication-assisted treatment and/or behavioral therapy may be recommended to help manage withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse. Alcohol abuse is often linked with benzodiazepine addiction, and seeking professional help is essential to ensure safe detoxification and recovery.

Benzodiazepines vs Alcohol: Prevalence in the United States

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2019, an estimated 14.5 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), representing 5.8% of this age group. Additionally, an estimated 2.0 million adults aged 18 or older had a prescription tranquilizer use disorder (which includes benzodiazepines), representing 0.8% of this age group. Patients with unhealthy alcohol consumption are more likely to use benzodiazepines, increasing the risk of overdose and accidents.

Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that in 2020, an estimated 53.3% of adults aged 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol in the past month, and 23.3% reported binge drinking (defined as consuming five or more drinks on the same occasion).

In terms of benzodiazepine use, a study published in JAMA Psychiatry estimated that in 2018, approximately 5.6% of adults aged 18 or older reported benzodiazepine use in the past 12 months, and 1.2% reported misuse (i.e., using a benzodiazepine in a way that was not prescribed).

Overall, while both alcohol and benzodiazepines are commonly used in the United States, alcohol use and alcohol use disorders are more prevalent than benzodiazepine. However, mixing alcohol with benzodiazepines can lead to severe loss of motor function, altered mental status, respiratory depression, and an increased risk of harm and death.

Bottom Line: Benzodiazepines versus Alcohol

Bottom Line: Benzodiazepines versus Alcohol

In conclusion, while both benzodiazepines and alcohol can be harmful if misused, alcohol is more widely used and associated with more negative health consequences overall, while benzodiazepines are typically prescribed for specific conditions and can be effective when used as directed. It’s important to use both substances responsibly and to seek medical help if experiencing any negative effects or withdrawal symptoms.

FAQs on Alcohol and Benzodiazepines 

Alcohol vs Benzodiazepines: Which is more addicting and leads to Benzodiazepine Addiction?

Both alcohol and benzodiazepines have the potential to be highly addictive when misused. Both substances have the ability to cause physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction when used regularly and over a prolonged period of time.

Can you mix alcohol with Benzodiazepines? Risks of Mixing Alcohol

No, it’s not recommended to mix alcohol with benzodiazepines as they can have additive effects and increase the risk of overdose and other negative consequences. Both substances depress the central nervous system, and when used together, they can cause extreme drowsiness, impaired coordination, and slowed breathing, which can be life-threatening. 

Can Benzodiazepines be used to treat alcohol use disorder?

Benzodiazepines are not typically used to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD) as they also have a potential for abuse and dependence.  However, sometimes doctors might prescribe them to help with the withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety or depression associated with alcohol or meth.


Warren Phillips

Warren is a Licensed Master Social Worker, who specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Clinically, Warren has developed a therapeutic skillset that utilizes a strengths-based perspective, Twelve Step philosophies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

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