Consuming alcohol while taking medications is not recommended by doctors, anxiety medications included. There are some anxiety drugs, however, that react with alcohol to the point where a patient’s life could be in danger. It is important to know if the medications you are taking interact negatively with alcohol before combining the two.
Anti-anxiety drugs are central nervous system depressants. When you take the medications by themselves, they are relatively safe, rarely causing fatal overdoses. But when you take them with other depressants of the central nervous system, such as alcohol, the toxicity of the medication increases, changing the way the drug interacts in the system. At high enough doses, the combination can be fatal.
While lethal combinations of alcohol and anti-anxiety medications are rare, there are other side effects that are more common. Patients mixing anti-anxiety medication with alcohol often experience poor coordination and impaired thinking. Taking anti-anxiety medications with or without alcohol increases your risk of having a serious traffic accident, according to helpguide.org.
Some anxiety patients on medications have been known to experience greater anxiety and even panic attacks after imbibing alcohol, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA). It is also possible for alcohol abuse to develop as a result. The 2004 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism determined that 20 percent of Americans who had an anxiety disorder of some kind had an alcohol or substance abuse disorder as well.
Anxiety patients with a history of substance abuse must proceed with extreme caution when considering anti-anxiety medications. The anti-anxiety medications in the benzodiazepine category, like Xanax, Klonopin and Valium, have been known to have addictive qualities to them, according to helpguide.org, especially if they are used long term. Those with a drinking problem should avoid Cymbalta, because it can cause liver damage, and the use of alcohol when on this drug has been known to result in serious liver injury, according to rxlist.com. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, like Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil, may be better suited for patients who have addiction issues.
While some alcohol abuse and anxiety disorders develop independently, the symptoms of one can affect the other negatively. Another possibility is that an anxiety patient may turn to alcohol to self-medicate instead of or prior to seeking medication for his disorder, in turn making the disorder worse, according to the ADAA. Some alcohol abusers may develop anxiety problems when drinking or withdrawing from alcohol. A cycle may develop in patients with alcohol and anxiety issues; some turn to alcohol to feel less anxious, causing more anxiety as a side effect of alcohol use, resulting in more alcohol consumption, and so forth.
Cause for Concern
The ADAA says that there are certain anxiety disorders that are more likely to cause alcohol abuse than others, including social anxiety disorder (SAD), generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). SAD patients often report that alcohol aids in the lessening of anxiety, which is why abuse of the substance is common in such patients. Panic disorder is a risk factor for substance abuse relapse for patients with alcohol abuse in their past. PTSD, resulting from trauma, often leads to these patients self-medicating with alcohol to ease their symptoms, though they often experience the opposite effect.