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Mixing Ativan & Alcohol: Side Effects & Dangers

Mixing alcohol with any drug is generally not a good idea, but in the case of Ativan, this combination can be particularly dangerous.

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Both alcohol and Ativan are depressants and reduce activity of the central nervous system. If the two are combined, severe sedation, depression of the respiratory system, hypoxia, coma, and even death can occur. 

How Does Ativan Work?

Ativan, known generically as lorazepam, is a benzodiazepine that works by reducing activity of the central nervous system. When consumed orally, Ativan is digested and enters the bloodstream, where it quickly penetrates the blood-brain barrier to increase the availability of the neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). 

GABA is a chemical that plays a role in calming the central nervous system and regulating mood and affect. A large amount of GABA can create a feeling of heavy relaxation. 

Ativan is commonly used to treat the following conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks and panic disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Phobias
  • Seizures
  • Spasms
  • Alcohol withdrawal

How Does Alcohol Work in the Body?

Like Ativan, alcohol is a depressant and reduces activity of the central nervous system. When consumed in liquid form, alcohol is not digested and instead delivered throughout all parts of the body. Until the liver has broken down the effects of alcohol, it continues to circulate in the bloodstream, affecting the body’s organs. 

When alcohol enters the brain, the feeling of drunkenness occurs, as alcohol depresses activity and slows down major central nervous and circulatory system functions like cognition, heart rate, and respiration. 

What Are the Dangers of Mixing Ativan & Alcohol?

Alcohol and Ativan work in similar ways, serving to reduce central nervous system activity. When combined, the two substances can lead to extreme sedation. 

In combination, the effects of each drug are magnified, which can lead to dangerously low central nervous system functioning. This can lower heart rate and respiration to dangerous levels, induce a coma, and even cause death. 

The combination of alcohol and Ativan is significantly more likely to induce an overdose than consuming either substance alone. 

Is There a Safe Amount You Can Take of Both Substances?

There is essentially no safe amount of Ativan and alcohol that you can take in combination. A dosage of 10 mg of Ativan per day is associated with a significantly higher risk of overdose. 

The liver of an adult man can break down approximately one serving of alcohol per hour. However, when combined, Ativan and alcohol have an interaction effect that exponentially increases the impact of each substance. Thus, when consuming a prescribed dose of Ativan and alcohol together, the result is as if you have consumed three or four times the amount of each substance alone. 

Overdose Symptoms & Signs to Look for

People who abuse alcohol are more likely to use benzodiazepines than the general public. As a result, overdose is also more likely.

The following are signs and symptoms of overdose to look for if you or someone you know has consumed Ativan and alcohol together:

  • Grogginess
  • Impairments in concentration 
  • Slurred speech
  • Abnormally slow respiration and heart rate
  • Weakness in the muscles
  • Poor coordination and difficulty walking
  • Loss of consciousness
  • A lack of response
  • Coma

Additionally, if you believe someone you know may be abusing alcohol and Ativan together, you can look for the following signs and behaviors:

  • Finding pill bottles and alcohol together in that person’s house or car
  • Finding pills missing from a prescription or prescriptions running out faster than scheduled
  • Social isolation and relationship difficulties
  • Disrupted performance at work
  • Excessive focus on locating and gaining access to Ativan or alcohol

Treatment Options for Overdose

Following emergency treatment and medical detoxification, inpatient and outpatient therapy will usually be recommended.

Seek medical attention immediately if you or someone you know may have overdosed on Ativan and alcohol. Treatment for polysubstance abuse and overdose associated with Ativan and alcohol is similar to that of either substance alone. 

Emergency treatment can vary but may involve the following:

  • Dialysis
  • Gastric lavage
  • Pumping the stomach to eliminate the substances from the system
  • Administration of intravenous fluids
  • Cardiac and vital sign monitoring
  • Activated charcoal to reduce absorption of Ativan

Following emergency treatment and medical detoxification, inpatient and outpatient therapy will usually be recommended to address the issues that led to substance abuse. Inpatient care involves residence at a treatment facility where you will be monitored and provided with safe medical interventions to manage withdrawal symptoms. In therapy, you’ll address thoughts and behaviors related to substance abuse and begin to build a new life in recovery. 

Outpatient therapy involves regularly scheduled psychotherapeutic and behavioral interventions in individual and/or group settings to provide you with the support, resources, and tools you need to feel well and prevent relapse. If you have a safe and supportive home environment, outpatient treatment may work well for you.

Updated November 1, 2023
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