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The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Valium

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 11, 2019

Valium is often prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia. While a helpful medication, this drug has a high potential for abuse and addiction. When Valium is taken with alcohol the risk of side-effects greatly increase and can leave the user with several adverse and dangerous health consequences.

Most commonly prescribed to control symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks, Valium is a legally attainable prescription drug in the United States. While it has been successful in treating various symptoms of anxiety, such as insomnia or panic attacks, Valium has also become an increasingly abused prescription drug.

For those in search of the calming effects that Valium has on the body, it can be a welcome relief when prescribed and taken properly. It is not uncommon, however, for individuals to abuse the dosage of Valium, take it without a prescription or medical need, or to combine it with other drugs such as alcohol.

This combination of alcohol and Valium can potentially be fatal. While mixing alcohol with Valium can intensify the calming effects of the prescription on its own, it does so at the expense of your brain and central nervous system.

How Does Valium Work?

Valium, also known by its generic name Diazepam, is a type of Benzodiazepine commonly prescribed for anxiety and other panic disorders. When used correctly, Valium can help calm individuals suffering from panic attacks, symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasms, and even seizures. When used outside of prescribed parameters, however, Valium can have dangerous and potentially deadly side effects.

Benzodiazepines such as Valium are classified as a depressant, which means they depress your central nervous system and slow activity in the brain. Valium interacts with neurotransmitters in your brain that affect emotions and arousal by suppressing these feelings and thus creating a calming effect on your brain.

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The effects of Valium can be felt as early as 1 hour after taking a dose, however, the drug can remain in your system for an extended period of time. The half-life of Valium is 20 hours, which means that even 20 hours after taking one dose there is still 50% of the drug actively in your system. Because of this extended half-life, the risk of combining Valium with other drugs is high – even if it is not done intentionally.

Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Valium

Often times, individuals who mix alcohol with Valium are in search of a more intense calming effect than either drug can provide alone. Individuals may assume that since Valium is a calming medication and alcohol can provide relaxing effects, then combining the two would result in a highly concentrated state of calmness. Unfortunately, this assumption is not only misguided, it can also be very dangerous.

Like Valium, alcohol is also considered a nervous system depressant. Alcohol slows vital functions such as speech, vision, reaction times, and fine motor skills. The higher the consumption of alcohol, the slower these vital functions become. In some cases, if enough alcohol is consumed the body’s essential functions such as breathing can become so slow that permanent brain damage or death can result.

Combining Valium and alcohol can increase the depressant effect on the body’s nervous system tenfold. Even taking a properly prescribed dose of Valium can be potentially deadly when mixed with small amounts of alcohol.

Alcohol’s ability to slow breathing and other vital functions can increase when combined with Valium by interacting with the same neurotransmitters in the brain. This decrease in activity of the central nervous system can slow breathing to a dangerous rate that prevents the brain from getting adequate amounts of oxygen. Depriving the brain of oxygen can quickly result in permanent damage or even death.

Increased Risk of Overdose

The long half-life of Valium makes it easy to overdose or mix drugs without even realizing it. With 50% of the drug still in your system after 20 hours, it is easy to assume having a drink or two the evening following a morning dose would be safe. This, however, is still dangerous as there is a significant amount of the drug still in your system.

The delayed onset of Valium can also increase an individual’s risk of overdose. For those suffering with severe anxiety, waiting 1-2 hours for the calming effects of valium to occur can make it feel like the drug is ineffective. It is not uncommon for someone to have a drink to ‘take the edge off’ while waiting for the relaxing properties of Valium to take effect.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol and Valium Overdose

Often times it is difficult to recognize the signs and symptoms of an overdose in yourself or loved one who has mixed alcohol and Valium or other benzodiazepines. As the drugs take effect on your body, your vital signs will continue to slow and eventually relax you into a state of intense rest or sleep.

Once an individual falls asleep or enters into a deep state of rest, it extremely difficult to detect an overdose without measuring heart rate or respiration (breaths) per minute. This is a very dangerous state to be in, as individuals who have overdosed can die in their sleep without anyone noticing.

If you believe a loved one has mixed alcohol and Valium, the following symptoms could be signs of an overdose:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Slurred speech
  • Memory impairment
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Blue tint on lips or cold extremities due to lack of circulation
  • Inability to be woken up
  • Coma

If you notice any of these symptoms on yourself or a loved one after consuming alcohol and Valium, get medical attention immediately.

We Can Help

For individuals suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, any type of relief from their symptoms can feel like a welcome change. However, it is possible this relief may come with extremely dangerous side effects.

Valium can become highly addictive when used incorrectly and can be exceptionally dangerous when mixed with alcohol or other drugs. If you or a loved one is abusing Valium and alcohol to get relief from anxiety or panic attacks, we can help.

Our addiction specialists are trained to help you or your loved one find the best treatment plan for their addiction and anxiety. Call our rehab center today to learn more about what we can do to help.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain

Center for Disease Control and Prevention - Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Polysubstance Abuse: Alcohol, Opioids and Benzodiazepines Require Coordinated Engagement by Society, Patients, and Physicians

WebMD - Valium

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