Ativan and Alcohol
The Dangers of Combining Two CNS Depressants
Ativan is a widely used, brand-name form of the benzodiazepine lorazepam. Alcohol is one of the world’s most popular recreational beverages. These two substances are different in a large number of ways. However, they share a couple of important things in common. First, when misused, they are both are capable of triggering dependency and addiction. In addition, both Ativan and alcohol belong to a category of substances called central nervous system, or CNS, depressants.
Why is this second fact important? Far too often, people who drink alcohol also take Ativan. This may seem like a harmless thing to do. But in reality, there are some very real dangers to using two CNS depressants and the same time. In fact, in a worst-case scenario, you can die from the combined effects of Ativan and alcohol.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?
When you drink alcohol, it affects the brain in multiple ways. By activating your brain’s opioid receptors and reward center, it triggers powerful feelings of euphoria. By interfering with your higher thought processes, it disrupts your ability to think clearly. At the same time, it also triggers behavioral disinhibition. In other words, you lose control over your behavior and may do things you would not do when sober.
Alcohol also depresses the normal rate of activity in your brain and spinal cord, or central nervous system. Your CNS is you body’s master control system. You rely on it for the normal function of your:
- Voluntary nervous system
- Involuntary nervous system
Your involuntary nervous system is responsible for controlling some of your most basic life processes. That includes the beating of your heart. It also includes your ability to breathe.
Whenever you drink, activity in your CNS drops at least a little bit. The more you drink, the greater this effect. If you drink too much at once, your CNS can lose some of its core function. Depending on the severity of alcohol’s impact, the end result can be:
- Loss of consciousness
- The unresponsive form of unconsciousness known as a coma
How Does Lorazepam Work?
Ativan and other forms of lorazepam are sedative/tranquilizers. Doctors prescribe them as treatments for conditions such as:
- Generalized anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders
- Certain types of seizures
Like all benzodiazepines, Ativan slows or depresses the normal function of your central nervous system. This slowdown has a sedating effect and makes you feel more at ease and relaxed. When taken in normal dosages, Ativan has only a relatively minor CNS effect. However, the situation changes when you combine the medication with other CNS depressants.
The Effects of Mixing Ativan and Alcohol
CNS depressants are synergistic. This means that they add to each other’s effects. It also means that they create higher levels of CNS depression in combination than they do separately.
This is a very dangerous situation. If you take Ativan while drinking alcohol, you can overload your central nervous system and slow it down too far. In any given case, the exact amount of Ativan or alcohol required to cause problems is unpredictable. This means that you can never tell for sure if any specific amount of drinking will put you in danger. In addition, you can never tell for sure what level of Ativan use will have the same effect.
Can You Overdose From Ativan and Alcohol?
Even when you use them separately, you can overdose on Ativan or alcohol. If you only have alcohol in your system, overdoses typically occur when your blood alcohol level is 0.31 or higher. Specific indicators that your CNS is shutting down can include:
- Stupor or extreme mental confusion
- Having a hard time staying conscious
- Involuntary loss of consciousness
- Convulsions or seizures
- Unusually clammy skin
- A very low body temperature
- A slowed heartbeat
- Loss of your normal gag reflex
An alcohol overdose can also include other ominous signs that your life is in danger. Examples of these signs include:
- Taking eight breaths or less per minute
- Experiencing pauses of at least 10 seconds between each breath
Why are the symptoms so worrisome? Most people who die from a CNS depressant overdose experience fatal changes in their normal breathing.
Overdoses that only involve the use of Ativan are not as common as alcohol overdoses. Still, they do still occur. Symptoms you may experience if you only have Ativan in your system include:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Slurring of your speech
- Loss of control over your voluntary muscle movements
It is rare to experience breathing problems when you overdose on this medication alone. Ativan-related comas are also rare. For these reasons, an Ativan overdose is typically not as dangerous to your health as an alcohol overdose.
However, your risks can change drastically when you combine alcohol and Ativan. That is true because the presence of alcohol lowers the threshold for a potential overdose. This means that a dose of Ativan that seems safe on its own can lead to serious problems when you also drink.
What Are the Signs of Taking Too Much Ativan While Drinking?
A combined Ativan/alcohol overdose can produce a number of potential symptoms. Things you may experience include:
- Sudden lightheadedness
- Memory disruption
- Inability to walk without stumbling
- Loss of your normal bowel control
You can also die from the combined effects of these substances.
Other Health Effects of Combining Alcohol and Ativan
Even if you never experience an overdose, the combination of alcohol and Ativan can seriously harm your health. Common short-term problems include impaired judgment and increased risks for accidental injuries. Over time, the combined effects of the two substances can also damage your:
- Gastrointestinal tract
Other long-term effects are possible if you have a preexisting history of mental illness. Things you may experience include suicidal thinking and episodes of psychosis.
How Long After Drinking Until I Can Take Ativan?
The risks of mixing CNS depressants are always present. This is true for any combination of these substances, not just Ativan and alcohol. Under no circumstances is it safe to have alcohol and Ativan in your system at the same time.
When your doctor prescribes Ativan, you will receive a warning to avoid alcohol use. Before you can safely take the medication, you must have all of the alcohol out of your system. Failure to heed this warning can put your health in jeopardy.
How Long After Taking Ativan Can I Drink?
When your doctor prescribes Ativan, you will typically take multiple doses of the medication on a given day. As a result, you will probably have Ativan in your system at all times. This means that there is no safe time to drink while your prescription is active. Instead, you must wait until your prescription ends and all of the Ativan is out of your system.
How Common Is the Combination of Ativan and Alcohol?
Unfortunately, many people who drink also take Ativan or another benzodiazepine. This is especially true for people with serious alcohol problems. If you are a heavy drinker, you are fully 15% more likely to take a benzodiazepine than:
- People who do not drink
- Those who only drink in moderate amounts
As a result, you may have higher odds of overdosing or experiencing related mental health problems.
If you are addicted to Ativan and drink alcohol, you also have increased risks. Those risks include increased odds of dying from an overdose. This is true whether or not you have any additional substances in your system. All told, alcohol plays a role in roughly 20% of all deaths linked to benzodiazepine use.
Treatment for Regular Alcohol and Ativan Use
Effective treatments are available for both alcohol addiction and Ativan addiction. The right treatment can help you stop using either or both of these substances. As a result, it also helps you avoid any problems with combined use.
Treating Alcohol Addiction
Treatment for alcohol addiction is typically medication-assisted. This means that you get help in the form of medication and psychotherapy. While detoxifying from alcohol, you receive supportive care that helps keep you safe. You also receive as-needed help for any withdrawal complications that occur. In addition, you may receive a benzodiazepine to help you cope with your withdrawal symptoms. However, Ativan is not the typical choice for this task. Instead, doctors often use diazepam, also known as Valium.
Other medications used in alcohol treatment include:
These medications can help correct some of the brain changes triggered by chronic alcohol abuse. In addition, they can help make it easier to avoid a relapse and stay alcohol-free.
Several kinds of therapy can be used individually or in combination to support your sobriety. Examples of the options that may be available to you include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT
- Contingency management interventions
- Community reinforcement
- Motivational enhancement therapy, or MET
- 12-step facilitation therapy
Therapy can help you accomplish everything from improving your recovery motivation to avoiding everyday temptations to drink alcohol.
Treating Ativan Addiction
Medication is not used to treat addiction to Ativan. In detox, you will gradually reduce the amount of benzodiazepine in your system until it reaches zero. This gradual process is used so you can avoid the full-strength effects of Ativan withdrawal. Supportive care will help you cope with the withdrawal effects that do occur.
You may also receive therapy to help you recover from an Ativan addiction. The most common choice for this job is cognitive behavioral therapy. As a rule, participation in psychotherapy will help you maintain long-term sobriety. However, therapy may or may not be required in your particular case.
Seek Help for Ativan and Alcohol Problems at The Discovery House
Ativan and alcohol are both addictive substances. In addition, they are both capable of triggering an overdose if you use them to excess. Your risks for an overdose are greatly increased if you mix Ativan with alcohol. This is true because both substances are CNS depressants.
Are you or your loved one addicted to alcohol or Ativan? Contact the treatment experts at The Discovery House. Our in-house services include both drug and alcohol detox. They also include inpatient treatment. Even if you are severely affected by addiction, we have options that support your short- and long-term recovery.
Holistic care is the hallmark of our approach to treatment. This form of care focuses not only on the immediate effects of addiction. In addition, we offer secondary treatments that support all aspects of your well-being. This full-spectrum approach, provided in luxury surroundings, helps you make the most of your time in drug or alcohol recovery. To learn more about our customized treatment plans, contact us today.