A person faces an increased risk of overdose, respiratory depression, fall and injuries, motor vehicle accidents, and seizure when combining alcohol and muscle relaxants (more technically referred to as muscle relaxants).
What Are Muscle Relaxers?
Muscle relaxants are prescription medications used to relax muscles, providing relief from sprains, strains, or other injuries to the muscles. Muscle relaxants produce their effect by depressing the CNS, producing sedation and a relaxing of the skeletal muscles.
When used for these purposes, muscle relaxants alleviate pain, reduce muscle spasms, aid a person in having greater mobility, and, as an additional benefit for some, provide relief from insomnia caused by these ailments.
Muscle relaxants are not typically recommended as a first-line defense for certain concerns, such as low-back pain, due to their potential for misuse and because of their side effects. These medications are generally prescribed for short-term use to to their potential for misuse, use, and dependence.
One of the most frequently used skeletal muscle relaxants is called Soma, however, others may also be used, including cyclobenzaprine (Amrix), dantrolene (Dantrium), methocarbamol (Robaxin), metaxalone (Skelaxin), and tizanidine (Zanaflex).
The side effects of muscle relaxants will vary somewhat drug to drug, and person to person, but in general they include:
- impaired thinking
- low blood pressure
- quickened heart rate
- upset stomach
- vision troubles
- skin rash
Muscle relaxants can also make it difficult for a person to stay alert and think clearly, causing impairments to decision-making and thought processes.
It’s worth noting that certain benzodiazepine medications may also be used as muscle relaxants due to their antispasmodic properties. Examples include: alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan), all of which are heavily used.
Side effects of benzodiazepines may include:
- altered sex drive or ability
- blurred vision
- impaired motor skills
- mental confusion
- slowed reaction time
- trouble concentrating
When used properly, under caution, and as prescribed by a doctor, muscle relaxants are typically safe. However, when taken with or in close proximity to alcohol or other drugs, muscle relaxants can have dangerous, and sometimes deadly, effects.
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The Effects Of Alcohol Use
Despite alcohol’s notoriety as an upbeat, social drug, it’s actually a depressant. When consumed to excess alcohol will significantly slow down a person’s brain and body and reduce their ability to function properly.
Alcohol can cause:
- abdominal pain
- altered vision
- impaired judgement
- an inability to think clearly
- motor skill impairment
- poor decision-making skills
- poor memory
- problems with balance
- trouble concentrating
- trouble walking
As you can see, many of these effects echo those caused by muscle relaxants, benzodiazepines included, which is the main reason it is so risky to combine these drugs.
Why Do People Combine Alcohol And Muscle Relaxants?
Muscle relaxants, including benzodiazepines, can cause intense relaxation and euphoria, effects which lead some to use their own prescription or someone else’s. Some individuals may also use these medications to self-medicate as a means to induce sleep or to reduce the unpleasant feelings associated with alcohol withdrawal.
The dangers linked to this use may occur unknowingly, as a person consumes one drug in close proximity to the dose of the other. This may happen when a person is taking the muscle relaxant as prescribed and has a drink with it (without realizing the harmful interactions). It can also happen if they have a drink a short time latter while the medication is still in their system.
Most muscle relaxants last around four to six hours, so even if a person begins drinking several hours after they take their dose the medication will still be in their system. Muscle relaxants can be extremely potent; even having one drink while on one can cause uncomfortable, debilitating, and dangerous side effects.
While any combination of these drugs can be dangerous, many people face more extreme risks when they intentionally use both drugs together to create a desired, pleasurable effect. Within situations of use, an individual is far more likely to use a medication in large dosages. This means that they may take greater-than-prescribed doses of the muscle relaxer or take the pill more frequently than they should, behaviors which increase the odds of overdose, addiction, and other adverse health effects.
The Dangers Of Combining Alcohol And Muscle Relaxants
The CNS depression and sedation caused by muscle relaxants (including benzodiazepines) can become dangerous when enhanced by the effects of other drugs, including alcohol.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism writes that using alcohol with muscle relaxants like cyclobenzaprine and carisoprodol may cause the following harmful reactions:
- higher risk of seizures
- higher risk for overdose
- slowed or difficulty breathing
- impaired motor control
- unusual behavior
- memory problems
The reactions listed for benzodiazepines are the same, except for the omission of the seizure risk.
One of the biggest dangers of this combination (including benzodiazepines) is motor impairment and incoordination. Together, muscle relaxants and alcohol can make it difficult to walk and balance. This can cause a person to stumble and fall, especially when compounded by the dizziness and impaired vision which may be present from each drug. The head injuries which result from this could be grave, even to the point of being lethal.
Motor impairment also makes it very dangerous to operate heavy machinery or a vehicle. Used separately, these drugs cause an individual’s reaction time, judgement, decision-making ability, and cognition all to be adversely affected; when alcohol and muscle relaxants are used together these impacts become even more apparent and hazardous.
The sum of these adverse effects can endanger not only the person driving the vehicle, but those accompanying them as passengers, other drivers on the road, and pedestrians. Scientific American reports that “automobile drivers were much more likely to weave and speed if they were under the influence of drugs like Xanax in addition to alcohol than if they had consumed alcohol alone.”
The intense sedation and respiratory depression which results from these two drugs places an individual at a high risk of overdose, circumstances which require emergency medical services.
The most recent DAWN findings document that nearly one in five emergency department visits relating to the misuse or use of muscle relaxants involved the use of alcohol, with carisoprodol being the most frequently witnessed muscle relaxant in these circumstances, and cyclobenzaprine the second.
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Overdose from alcohol and muscle relaxants can become so severe that it’s fatal. Should you fear that yourself or a loved one is overdosing, contact emergency medical services immediately.
Muscle relaxants, especially benzodiazepines can be addictive, as can alcohol. Abusing either of these drugs places an individual at risk of addiction. Abusing both together makes this risk even more pronounced.
When a person uses one drug, their ability to reason and think properly is reduced, which can make it easier for them to use the second drug and/or to use it in higher quantities, behaviors which in turn up the odds of developing an addiction.
Lastly, should a person become addicted to benzodiazepines and alcohol, and suddenly stop using each, withdrawal symptoms can become severe. Withdrawal from these two drugs can actually become so extreme as to cause death.
Pursuing treatment for the use of muscle relaxants and/or alcohol works to protect yourself or a loved one from these risks. It also helps to protect your life.
Contact us today to learn more about addiction treatment.