Using Lorazepam with Alcohol: What Are the Risks?
Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D.
Lorazepam, the generic version of the brand-name drug Ativan, is part of a class of drugs called benzodiazepines that are commonly abused and can be habit forming.
While the drug has legitimate medical uses such as managing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, epilepsy, and delirium tremens seizures, it is associated with a potential risk of abuse and dependence that can be amplified when the medication is mixed with other substances, including alcohol.
Using lorazepam with alcohol is incredibly dangerous but can be a common occurrence, and is associated with potentially life-threatening side effects, which are outlined below.
What is lorazepam?
Lorazepam is a generic prescription drug that is commonly used for the treatment of acute symptoms of anxiety disorders, insomnia, and the treatment of certain types of seizure disorders.
Lorazepam, sold under the brand name Ativan, belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, all of which have similar applications for treatment. Lorazepam is sold in the form of an oral tablet and injection, but the injectable form of the drug is only available in a clinical setting and is used for the treatment of seizure disorders.
What are the risks of using lorazepam with alcohol?
The risks associated with using lorazepam with alcohol are due to the fact that both substances are considered central nervous system (CNS) depressants.
CNS depressants are a broad category of substances that include medications like tranquilizers, hypnotic drugs, and sedatives; the drugs are primarily used to slow down the activity of the brain.
In people with anxiety disorders, insomnia, and some types of seizure disorders, symptoms often occur as a result of increased brain activity that is not effectively inhibited by the action of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. CNS depressants slow the activity of the brain by increasing the activity of GABA, which helps to balance the levels of this chemical in the brain. As a result, the substances provide an effect that can make you feel calm or drowsy.
The combination of CNS depressants like lorazepam and alcohol causes the effects of the medications to be amplified. While lorazepam does not usually cause fatal overdoses on its own, benzodiazepines are one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the United States.
Benzodiazepines were a contributing factor in nearly 30 percent of overdose deaths in 2013. Using lorazepam with alcohol can cause the body’s major systems, including the respiratory system, to slow down to the point that they become ineffective and may stop completely, which is fatal.
Using lorazepam with alcohol can cause:
- Slowed, irregular, shallow, or difficult breathing
- Extreme drowsiness
- Unusual behaviors
- Impaired cognition
- Dizziness resulting from low blood pressure
- Impaired balance and physical control
- Memory problems
- Overdose of medication or alcohol
- Passing out
Using lorazepam with alcohol can cause a potentially life-threatening and even fatal overdose. If you or someone you know have combined lorazepam and alcohol, call 911 immediately to seek emergency treatment.
Very serious risks associated with combination of lorazepam and alcohol include:
- Increased levels of intoxication or more rapid intoxication
- Increased risk of brain damage over time due to changes in the structure of the brain
- Significantly higher risk of experiencing physical dependence and increased tolerance, which increases the chance of experiencing addiction
- Potential to experience the challenges associated with addiction, such as financial challenges, loss of relationships with loved ones, job loss, and health damage
- Increased risk of overdose caused by the similar side effects of Ativan and alcohol
- Increased risk of experiencing mental illness
- Increased risk of experiencing blackouts, loss of consciousness, and other unintended side effects
Using lorazepam and alcohol increases your risk of experiencing damage to the stomach, heart, liver, and brain. People who regularly mix the substances can also begin to experience chronic drowsiness and depressed breathing when excessive amounts of either substance are consumed.
Is using lorazepam with alcohol ever safe?
It is never safe to combine lorazepam with alcohol, even if you have a prescription for the long-term use of lorazepam. Lorazepam is typically only prescribed for short periods of time due to its potential for abuse and dependence, but it may be used long-term in patients with certain types of seizure disorders.
To be safe, you should never combine lorazepam and alcohol.
Lorazepam and alcohol should never be combined due to the potential for a serious and potentially life threatening interaction between the two substances. Because both substances are both central nervous system stimulants, the calming and sedative effects are amplified when the substances are combined.
Using lorazepam with alcohol can cause potentially life-threatening side effects like respiratory depression, chronic liver damage, impaired cognition, and overdose.
Seek immediate medical attention from your healthcare provider if you begin to experience any of these severe side effects, or if you or a loved one is seeking substance abuse treatment related to lorazepam or alcohol.