How long after drinking can I take Xanax?

How long after drinking can I take Xanax?

Xanax is a powerful benzodiazepine often prescribed to treat generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorders and sleep disorders. It is usually only recommended for short-term use due to its potency and high risk for dependence and addiction. This anti-anxiety medication works on the central nervous system to slow down brain activity helping the body to relax in order to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and panic. Because it is one of the most prescribed medications in the U.S., many users often knowingly or unknowingly mix this drug with alcohol. 

A man's hands on a wooden table is holding a glass of alcohol in one and pills in the other questions how long after drinking can you take xanax.

Xanax is often used in combination with alcohol. Studies have shown that about 40% of people who have alcohol use disorder are also regularly abusing Xanax. Mixing alcohol with benzos such as Xanax can enhance the sedative effects of both drugs and lead to dangerous outcomes. Both are depressant substances that together could lead to respiratory depression, overdose and death. The combination of Xanax and alcohol is not recommended and according to addiction specialists and medical professionals, should be avoided at all costs. So how long after drinking can a person take Xanax?

What is Xanax?

As one of the most commonly prescribed psychotropic medications in the U.S., more than an estimated 48 million prescriptions for Xanax were dispensed in 2013. It is so common that in fact, 70% of teens with a Xanax addiction got their drugs from their family’s medicine cabinet at home. Xanax can also go by its generic name alprazolam.

Xanax is a prescription sedative benzo that works by boosting the brain chemicals called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This helps slow down brain activity resulting in feelings of intense relaxation. It is also known as a “high” or feeling of euphoria.

Medical professionals continue to recommend this drug for treatment despite warnings for high misuse. Xanax can sometimes be prescribed for longer to help manage certain types of anxiety disorders. However, prolonged usage can lead to symptoms of rebound anxiety and withdrawal symptoms when drug use has eventually stopped.

Infographic showing a timeline of how long until Xanax is out of your system.

How long after drinking can I take Xanax?

Alcohol mixed with Xanax should be avoided. The combination of the two substances can result in a high risk of excessive sedation, memory loss, impaired judgment, cardiac problems and respiratory depression. Other serious side effects include intense withdrawal symptoms, drug dependence, overdose and death. Research has found that alcohol is implicated in an estimated 20% of benzos-related deaths. The majority of those benzos are prescription sedatives such as Xanax.

In general, it takes the average person about one hour to process one drink. The human body is quite effective in processing alcohol. However, this only applies when alcohol isn’t consumed so quickly and at a steady rate. If a person consumes five drinks, it would generally take about five hours for the body to process all the alcohol. 

Infographic showing the dangers of mixing alcohol and xanax and some of the major side effects.

Within 30 seconds after initial alcohol consumption, the alcohol enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain. After about 5 minutes, the alcohol enters the stomach and other small amounts can be expelled through breathing or sweating. In about 20 minutes, 90% of the alcohol will have reached the small intestine and liver in order to be metabolized.

The metabolism of alcohol and how long it stays in the system depends on factors such as how much a person drinks, what type of alcohol a person has drank, and during what time frame the person has been drinking. Other important factors include the user’s weight, gender, age, overall health, genetics and other medications being used. All of these can contribute to how fast or slow alcohol can leave the body. Generally, a person should wait until the alcohol has completely left the system before taking other substances such as Xanax.

How long after taking Xanax can I drink?

Drinking alcohol before medication completely leaves the body can cause similar effects as if you were to combine both substances. After an initial dose of Xanax, it can take the body around 6-8 hours to completely process. During this time, users will begin to experience acute mental, emotional, and physical discomfort of withdrawal. This usually happens when the user has become dependent and addicted to Xanax.

When taking Xanax, it can be quickly absorbed into the body and the effects can be felt within one hour of the initial dose. Xanax’s half-life is between 8-16 hours give or take. The substance can also remain in the body long after the user stops feeling its effects. It takes about 4-5 half-lives for the body to completely eliminate Xanax or an average of two days. It is best to wait several days or even weeks after the last dose of Xanax or any sedative benzos to consume any type of alcohol.

How long does it take to get Addicted to Xanax?

When taken as prescribed, tolerance and dependence on Xanax can develop within weeks of daily use. Tolerance to hypnotic sedatives and anticonvulsant benzos can develop quickly and users will feel the need to take more and more of the drug in order to experience the same desired effects. According to the Journal of Addictive Behaviors, an estimated 44% of regular benzos users become dependent on the drug.

Even in low doses of the drug, dependence and addiction to Xanax can develop. Over time, the duration of the sedative effects slowly decreases leading to a quicker withdrawal period. This causes the user to continue to use and at a higher dose to feel the desired “high”.

The potency of the drug, the rate at which it is prescribed by medical professionals and the availability of the drug, make Xanax addiction dangerous. In 2020, an estimated 16.7 million prescriptions for alprazolam were written. A person who is addicted to Xanax can take anywhere from 20-30 pills per day.

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Polysubstance Use: Xanax and Alcohol

Xanax and alcohol can have dangerous side effects when taken together causing serious interactions. Some of these side effects include:

  • Memory impairment
  • Seizures
  • Loss of motor control and coordination
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Erratic behaviors
  • Respiratory depression
  • Risk of overdose
  • Changes in weight
  • Liver damage
  • Worsening depression and anxiety
  • Changes in personality
  • Heart disease
  • High risk for the development of cancer
  • Psychological dependence

Both drugs have sedative effects causing extreme fatigue and drowsiness. It can affect muscle control and movement, which impacts motor coordination causing one to stumble or slur their speech. Xanax can lead to the development or worsening of depression. Mood behaviors and aggression become more prominent. On the opposite spectrum, alcohol causes a temporary mood boost to lower inhibitions and make it easier for the user to do things they wouldn’t normally do. This results in extreme mood shifts from the user who is on Xanax and alcohol. Both drugs also cause memory impairment and can lead to blackouts, in which users do not remember what happened while they were on the effects of the substances.

How to tell if Someone you know has an Addiction to Alcohol or Xanax

  • They have lost interest in day to day activities they once loved
  • They have strong cravings for the drug
  • They avoid tasks that require sustained attention
  • They have developed strained relationships with friends, families and coworkers
  • They are experiencing financial issues due to spending on drugs
  • They lack motivation
  • They experience manic-type moods

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We specialize in treating addiction and other co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD. Our Admissions specialists are available to walk you through the best options for treating your addiction.

Treating Addiction to Xanax and Alcohol

The combination of using both Xanax and alcohol can cause dangerous and deadly side effects. Despite its harmful effects, it is a very common occurrence. Users who abuse benzos such as Xanax are also often using other substances such as alcohol. One big contributor to this polydrug combination is the ease of access and accessibility to both of these substances. When a user becomes addicted to either or both of these substances, professional treatment from a behavioral health treatment program is the best option for wellness and recovery.

Hotel California by the Sea provides both Xanax addiction treatment and alcohol use disorder treatment. Clients struggling with an addiction to mind-altering drugs will be provided with a comprehensive treatment plan for recovery. Intensive therapies such as CBT, DBT and group therapy allow for the treatment of co-occurring mental health disorders that can affect addiction. Some clients may also require medication management to aid in the intense physical or psychological symptoms they experience. The combination of medication and therapy provided a well-rounded treatment plan for clients as they overcome and heal from their addiction.