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Xanax and Alcohol: the Good, the Bad and the UGLY

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Last updated: 04/22/2019
Author: Medical Review

Reading Time: 2 minutes

If you or someone you know ever struggled with feelings of anxiety or panic episodes, you may well have been prescribed a drug known as Xanax, which is a brand name for alprazolam. Xanax belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs, best known for their calming effects.

Xanax’s calming effects resemble those of alcohol to a certain degree, which makes sense since these two substances produce similar effects on the brain and body. These two substances also carry high risks for abuse and addiction.

Ultimately, combining Xanax and alcohol on a regular basis is a recipe for disaster as far as addiction risk goes, while a growing potential for overdose and death develops along the way.

Calming Effects – The Good

Both Xanax and alcohol act as central nervous system depressants, slowing down brain and central nervous system activities and the systems they regulate. Whereas Xanax is specifically formulated to treat anxiety- and panic-driven conditions, alcohol also produces a calming effect and actually carries certain health benefits when used in moderation.

Xanax and alcohol both alter the brain’s GABA levels, a neurotransmitter that slows nerve cell signal transmissions, according to Stanford Medicine. These effects translate into lower anxiety levels overall.

Xanax and Alcohol – Abuse & Addiction Potential – The Bad

As a general rule, any substance capable of altering the brain’s chemical system holds a potential for abuse and addiction. In effect, repeated fluctuations in the brain’s normal chemical processes creates a lasting effect that ultimately leaves the brain dependent on the drug.

The brain also has a type of “auto-adjust” mechanism, meaning it reduces its own GABA production in response to the ongoing presence of Xanax and/or alcohol. Changes in GABA processes also disrupt other neurotransmitter levels, such as those of dopamine, glutamate and serotonin.

As a result, both Xanax and alcohol carry a high potential for abuse and addiction, especially when used on a long-term basis.

Dangers of Combining Xanax and Alcohol – The Ugly

Since Xanax and alcohol both work to slow down the body’s systems, combining these two substances can be incredibly dangerous over time. The brain and central nervous system develop an ongoing tolerance for their effects, so a person must keep ingesting larger quantities to experience the same calming effects.

Over time, growing tolerance levels can drive a person to consume large amounts of alcohol while taking large doses of Xanax. According to Columbia University, this practice can be dangerous to say the least with one or more of the following symptoms taking shape:

  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Aggression
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Death


While addiction in any form can destroy a person’s life, abusing Xanax and alcohol on a regular basis can actually bring about overdose and death at a rapid rate. Once abuse turns to addiction, users lose the ability to see dangerous symptoms for what they are as the “need” for the drug starts to take over.

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