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Mixing Benzos and Antidepressants: Risks and Alternatives

Home » Blog » Mixing Benzos and Antidepressants: Risks and Alternatives

When they are used as directed, prescription benzos and antidepressants can alleviate the symptoms of certain mental illnesses and help people achieve a much better quality of life. But abusing these medications, or mixing benzos and antidepressants, can expose a person to considerable harm. 

What Are Benzos?

To understand the risks of mixing benzos and antidepressants, it can be helpful to know how each of these prescription medications can affect your body and mind. Let’s start by focusing on benzos.

The term benzos is short for benzodiazepines. Benzos are a category of medications that are described as depressants. This doesn’t mean that they make people sad. Instead, “depressant” refers to the fact that benzos slow the ability of neurons to send and messages throughout the central nervous system (CNS).

Benzos are prescribed to people who have a variety of physical and mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, seizures, epilepsy, and insomnia. Benzos are sometimes also used to help people manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

The following are examples of frequently prescribed benzos (with the generic term listed first and the brand name in parentheses):

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

The ability of benzos to elicit feelings of sedation and relaxation make these drugs popular among people who are seeking a certain type of recreational high. Benzo abuse is a dangerous behavior, with potential negative outcomes that can include addiction, overdose, and death.

Facts About Antidepressants

As their name indicates, antidepressants are a class of prescription medications that are used to ease the symptoms of depressive disorders. Healthcare providers may also prescribe antidepressants to people who have anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and certain other mental health concerns.

Antidepressants work by increasing levels of various neurotransmitters, including serotonin, adrenaline, and norepinephrine, in the central nervous system. These neurotransmitters are associated with characteristics such as energy, motivation, and pleasure. 

The category of antidepressants includes several different types, including the following:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) such as doxepin (Sinequan) and clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) such as phenelzine (Nardil) and Selegiline (Eldepryl)

TCAs and MAOIs are older types of antidepressants that may cause stronger side effects. They are typically only prescribed if a person hasn’t responded to SSRIs, SNRIs, or other more recently developed medications. 

Risks of Mixing Benzos and Antidepressants

Mixing benzos and antidepressants isn’t always dangerous, but it can pose certain risks. These risks can vary depending on a variety of factors, including which type of benzo and antidepressant you are taking, if you are using other drugs, and if you are abusing these medications or taking them on a prescription basis for a legitimate medical purpose.

If you are prescribed a benzo and an antidepressant, your physician should talk to you about both their benefits and their potential for harm, so you are aware of what effects to watch for. If you are mixing benzos and antidepressants that weren’t prescribed to you, the likelihood that you will experience negative outcomes can increase considerably.

Here are a few examples of the harm that can result from mixing benzos and antidepressants:

  • Both types of medications can cause drowsiness and shallow breathing. Benzos can also slow a person’s heart rate. If these effects are heightened as a result of taking both medications at the same time, a person can be at risk for a fatal overdose.
  • Benzos and antidepressants have also both been associated with effects such as confusion, memory problems, and impaired judgement. Again, taking both drugs at the same time can exacerbate these cognitive effects, which can jeopardize your health in certain situations.
  • The long-term use of benzos and antidepressants can cause you to become dependent on them. When you try to end your use of these drugs, you may experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms. The distress of withdrawal from benzos and antidepressants can include dizziness and lightheadedness, nausea, shakiness, anxiety, panic attacks, and even seizures. 

Alternatives to Mixing Benzos and Antidepressants

Mixing benzos and antidepressants isn’t the only option to help you experience relief from the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Therapy and other services can also help you manage your symptoms and take greater control of your thoughts and actions. 

The following are examples of non-medical interventions that can be beneficial for someone who has been living with mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression:

  • Individual and group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Red light therapy
  • Trauma-focused therapies
  • Holistic therapy
  • Adventure therapy

Find Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction in Atlanta

If you or someone that you care about has become addicted to benzos, antidepressants, or another type of prescription medication, Peachtree Recovery Solutions may be the ideal place for you. 

Our addiction treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia, provides multiple levels of personalized outpatient care for adults ages 18 and older. We also offer dual diagnosis programming for patients whose struggles with prescription drug addiction have been impacted by anxiety, depression, and other co-occurring mental health concerns.

For answers to specific questions about how we can help you or your loved one, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact Us page or call our center today.