Xanax is a prescription anti-anxiety medication marketed by Pfizer Inc. also sold in generic form under its chemical name, alprazolam. Classified as a benzodiazepine central nervous system depressant, Xanax comes with a warning label against drinking alcohol while taking it. This is because alcohol, another depressant, combined with Xanax can produce a host of unsafe, even life-threatening side effects.
Mental and Physical Side Effects
Consuming alcoholic beverages while taking Xanax impairs brain activity, according to Alprazolam.org, and also interferes with the brain's ability to communicate with the body. As a result, the combination can substantially hinder mental alertness and physical coordination, leading to side effects including pronounced drowsiness, unconsciousness, severe dizziness and problems with balance, such as stumbling or staggering.
Memory Loss and Behavior
Consuming too much alcohol by itself may cause a person to "black out," or experience a period he does not recall after sobering up. When Xanax is introduced into the mix, the risk for this dangerous occurrence is greatly enhanced. Alcohol also enhances Xanax's ability to cause confusion, greatly impair judgment and produce unusual behavior, making drinking with the drug a recipe for a potentially disastrous experience.
The Department of Health and Human Services states that Xanax has even replaced fellow benzodiazepine Rohypnol--flunitrazepam, otherwise known as "Ruffies," as a date rape drug in some parts of the U.S. due to Xanax's amnesiac properties when mixed with alcohol.
Cardiovascular and Respiratory Effects
The combination of two potent central nervous system depressants can produce serious side effects on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, reports NIDA. Alcohol and Xanax, when combined, slow heart rate as well as reduce the rate of breathing. This side effect is especially dangerous for someone knocked unconscious by the sedative cocktail, as it can lead to respiratory failure.
Dependence and Withdrawal
Both alcohol and Xanax can produce physical and psychological dependence, and both can create withdrawal symptoms when use is abruptly discontinued. Chronic use of the two drugs concurrently can exacerbate the withdrawal symptoms of each, which include intense cravings for alcohol or Xanax, irritability, insomnia, hallucinations and seizure.
Drinking with Xanax should be avoided mainly due to the risk of the combination's deadly side effect: overdose. Consuming alcohol while taking Xanax greatly raises the risk of overdose associated with alprazolam alone.
Overdose can be identified by certain side effects that produce key signs, according to MedlinePlus. These include confusion, drowsiness, seriously impaired motor coordination and coma. Should any of these side effects emerge with someone who has consumed alcohol while taking Xanax, it is vital that emergency services be contacted immediately.