What Can Happen When You Mix Alcohol and Other Depressants?

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Did you know that alcohol is considered a depressant? Although alcohol may provide excitability-hyperactivity, increased socialness, and even aggression,  it is still considered a depressant because alcohol impairs the central nervous system (CNS). When the CNS is damaged, this slows down functioning in areas such as breathing, thinking, balance, coordination, and judgment. If a person takes too much of a depressant or mixes multiple substances that are also depressants, dangerous side effects can occur. This means memory loss, coma, or even death.

It is important to understand the risks associated with mixing alcohol and other substances. Let’s learn more about alcohol and other depressants, what happens when combined, and how you can seek treatment.

Please contact us if you are concerned about your health and experiencing adverse side effects from mixing alcohol and depressants. At Guardian Recovery, we believe that an effective and multi-phased program of clinical addiction treatment should be readily available to everyone in need. For this reason, our team of dedicated professionals has developed an admissions process that is simple and easy to navigate. When you call, you will speak with a Treatment Advisor willing and ready to help guide you through our admissions process. A free pre-assessment can be completed over the phone, and a customized treatment plan can be created just for you.

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The Dangers of Mixing Depressants & Alcohol

It has been discussed in previous articles the side effects of mixing alcohol and other substances. Not only does it worsen side effects of both drugs, but it can put a person at serious risk and increase the chances of life-threatening symptoms, often resulting in emergency medical care. It can have long-term side effects of organ damage, and it can increase toxicity which worsens intoxication and puts the person using alcohol and those around at serious risk for an accident or overdose.

Many people may already know that alcohol is a depressant, but it may still be unclear what depressants are and what medications fall in the same classification. What happens if someone uses too much or mixes multiple substances?

Common Side Effects of Depressants: 

  • Low blood pressure.
  • Loss of coordiantion.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Headache.
  • Reduced reaction time.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Dizziness.
  • Impaired mental functioning.
  • Slow breathing.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Loss of memory.

The Effects of Combining Alcohol With Other Depressants

Mixing substances is common and referred to as polysubstance use. This can be the intentional or unintentional act of combining substances in a short period. According to the CDC, 250+ Americans die from drug use every day. In 2019, nearly 50% of all drug deaths occurred due to mixing more than one substance.

What are depressants? They are called “downers” and can include opioids (heroin, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl)  and benzodiazepines.  Using these drugs alone will slow one’s system by slowing breathing, heart rate, and ability to think clearly.

Increasing the depressants in one’s system puts people at risk of damage to organs, overdose, or death.

Signs of Overdose When Mixing Depressants: 

  • Slow breathing.
  • Weak pulse.
  • Confusion, altered mental state.
  • Passing out.

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What Are Depressants?

Depressants or Central Nervous System depressants are drugs that reduce or impair neurotransmitters in the brain. This impacts the body by decreasing stimulation in the brain and produces symptoms that will induce sleep, prevent anxiety, and prevent seizures. Many drugs are classified as depressants, such as sedatives, tranquilizers, or hypnotics. Common brand names people may recognize are  Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and sleep medications like Lunesta.

Medications that impact the central nervous system produce GABA, a chemical that inhibits brain activity.

If a person takes CNS depressants long-term, the person may require larger doses to achieve the same therapeutic effects. Continued use can lead to dependence, and withdrawal symptoms become much more dangerous if stopped suddenly.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms of CNS Depressants: 

  • Seizures.
  • Shakiness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Agitation.
  • Insomnia.
  • Overactive reflexes.
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Severe cravings.

Additionally, overdose is likely when a person becomes dependent on CNS depressants and consumes more in one sitting. When a person overdoses on a depressant, most often, breathing stops. If a person goes without oxygen for too long, they can become hypoxic, resulting in a coma or permanent brain damage.

Why Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Alcohol is a depressant because it slows down communication in the brain and primarily impairs the central nervous system. It inhibits, delays, or depresses the system so that everything is slower, heavier, and more relaxed.

As mentioned previously, alcohol interacts with GABA, a neurotransmitter primarily responsible for inhibiting communication in the brain. This effect of slowing the body down is why people seek out depressant drugs, as it helps relieve anxiety and increase feelings of sleepiness.

However, because a person can become dependent on alcohol and other depressants, there is a risk of overdose and long-term consequences of organ damage, sleep disruptions, and neurological impairment.

If you recognize that you are becoming dependent on alcohol for CNS-depressant drugs, please seek medical attention. One will require medical assistance with detoxication as there are far too many risks associated with withdrawal.

Treatment for Depressants & Alcohol

If a person is dependent on alcohol and CNS-depressant drugs such as sedatives, tranquilizers, or hypnotics, they will require medical detoxification. Medication Assisted Treatment, or MAT for short, is the method of using medication to ease withdrawal symptoms, lessen cravings, and decrease the chances of relapse. More often than not, withdrawal symptoms can be the most uncomfortable and daunting process of a person’s recovery. Because of the high risk of relapse and the severe health risks withdrawal can pose, attending a medical detox is crucial.

We offer our patients a comprehensive and comfortable detox program at Guardian Recovery. During detox, we conduct an individualized, in-depth evaluation, which helps us determine the length of our client’s stay, what kind of medical intervention is necessary, and the next steps for our clients once they become physically stabilized.

Guardian Recovery Detox Services: 

  • Lead by the area’s top physicians, nurses, and addiction therapists.
  • Dignified treatment with open communication and caring support.
  • Use of safe, effective medical interventions to ease withdrawal symptoms.
  • Clinically sophisticated therapy for substance misuse, mental health conditions, and dual diagnosis treatment.
  • Individualized treatment plans, including stay lengths tailored to your needs.
  • Supportive alternative therapies, including exercise and recreation, spiritual practices, and strategies to control cravings.
  • Nutritional therapy and healthy chef-prepared meals.
  • Modern, well-appointed living quarters.
  • Opportunities for outdoor recreation.

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Have you ever imagined what life may be like when alcohol isn’t impacting your health? You don’t have to suffer in silence. At Guardian Recovery, our mission is to provide comprehensive treatment for anyone in need. We will take the time to assess what treatment is most beneficial for you and provide compassionate, well-informed care to help guide you in your journey toward wellness. Our caring clinical professionals have decades of combined experience providing effective substance use disorder treatment. We also can provide a no-obligation insurance benefit check at your convenience. We are ready to help you heal, so please contact us today.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/stopoverdose/polysubstance-use/index.html
  2. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Depressants-2020.pdf
  3. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants
  4. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh21-2/144.pdf

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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