Lorazepam (Ativan) and alcohol are central nervous system depressants; if you drink alcohol while taking lorazepam, your reaction time, heart rate, and breathing can slow down to life-threatening levels.
To better understand why you should not mix lorazepam and alcohol, a brief overview of the Benzodiazepine drug class is needed.
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What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, often called “benzos”, are a class of drugs that have been around for several decades.
They primarily treat anxiety, insomnia, and sometimes seizures or muscle spasms.
Here’s how they function:
Our brain has a “brake system” to help us relax.
This system is driven by a neurotransmitter called GABA, which acts as a calming agent for our brain’s activity.
Benzodiazepines boost the effects of GABA, helping the brain slow down.
This results in feelings of relaxation and sedation, making them effective for anxiety and sleep disorders.
The medical term for this process is called anxiolysis.
It is worth mentioning here that not all benzodiazepines are the same, even though they belong to the same drug class.
Certain benzodiazepines stay in the circulation longer than others due to their chemical structure and how they are processed and eliminated from the aging body.
I dive into the differences between benzos in my article, lorazepam vs temazepam.
Older adults should not take benzos due to the increased risk of falls and injuries, including hospitalization and premature death.
These concerns are magnified in people living with dementia.
Additionally, older adults take many medications due to chronic medical problems.
As such, drug interactions can occur due to polypharmacy.
There are a few things you should be aware of about Benzodiazepine use:
- Short-term use: While very effective, benzodiazepines are typically prescribed for short-term use because, over time, the body can get used to them. This means higher doses might be needed to achieve the same effect.
- Potential for dependence: Long-term use or misuse can lead to physical and psychological dependence. This means that when someone stops taking them, they might experience withdrawal symptoms.
- Interactions with other substances: Mixing benzodiazepines with other substances, especially alcohol, can be dangerous. Both alcohol and benzos slow down brain activity, and together, they can be a potentially life-threatening combination leading to overdose and death.
Important note: Alcohol and lorazepam are only used together under full medical supervision, as in individuals undergoing alcohol detox or management of withdrawal in an inpatient, outpatient, or rehab setting. In these situations, lorazepam helps manage the alcohol-associated delirium that can occur during detoxification.
Specific effects of mixing lorazepam and alcohol:
- Dangerously slowed breathing or complete cessation of breathing
- Mania, delusions
- Slurred speech
- Memory loss (Blackouts)
- Cold, clammy skin due to decreased blood circulation
- Severe drowsiness or loss of consciousness due to sedative effect
- In extreme cases, coma and death
- Anxiety and panic attacks
Ironically, while this benzodiazepine treats anxiety, taking lorazepam and alcohol together can lead to heightened anxiety or even panic attacks in some people.
The short video below provides a nice overview of why you shouldn’t mix lorazepam and alcohol:
Dependency and Addiction Risks
Over time, one may need to consume more of either substance to achieve the desired effect, leading to an increased risk of addiction.
Discontinuing the use after regular mixing can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms, from tremors to seizures.
In my clinical experience and opinion, withdrawal from benzodiazepines is a far more difficult and painful process than any other medications, including opioids or alcohol.
To get a sense of how challenging these withdrawal symptoms can be for people trying to get off Benzos in good faith, watch the video below from addiction medicine specialist Dr. Michael Bohan:
The dangers of mixing Lorazepam and alcohol are manifold and life-threatening.
It’s not just about intensifying a night out or seeking a deeper relaxation.
The risks far outweigh the fleeting benefits.
Stay informed, stay safe.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is it ever safe to mix Lorazepam and alcohol?
No. It’s always best to avoid mixing the two due to the potentially severe side effects and risks leading to risk of overdose and death.
Can I drink alcohol if I took Lorazepam earlier in the day?
It’s advisable to consult your doctor. However, as a general rule, you should avoid alcohol for several hours after taking Lorazepam.
Are there any safe alternatives to mixing alcohol and lorazepam?
Always consult with a healthcare professional for alternatives tailored to your needs.
How can I help someone who has mixed the two?
Seek emergency medical attention immediately, especially if they exhibit symptoms like difficulty breathing or loss of consciousness.
How long should I wait after drinking alcohol to take Lorazepam?
Again, consult your doctor.
Factors like your metabolism, the amount of alcohol consumed, and the dosage of Lorazepam play a role.