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Is It Dangerous to Mix Ativan With Stimulants Or Depressants?

It has been a long time since the accidental discovery of benzodiazepines, but many years later, these prescription medications are still among the most popular drugs that circulate in the medicinal and recreational drug world. 

Dr. Leo Sternbach discovered benzodiazepines by accident in 1954. Sternbach was an Austrian chemist employed by the giant drug manufacturer Hoffman-La Roche pharmaceutical. Originally, benzodiazepines were thought as a failed experiment only to be left on the shelf for a year after Sternbach stumbled upon them. Later on, a colleague of Sternbach’s did more research on benzodiazepines (benzo or benzos for short) and found the drug to be a highly effective alternative to then-popular barbiturates.

It wasn’t until 1959 that the first benzo called chlordiazepoxide (Librium) hit the market, and shortly after that Ativan was discovered and approved on Sept. 30, 1977, as an anti-anxiety medication. It is still used today for the same purpose, and while it can be highly addictive, it has been a useful means of treating severe disorders ranging from anxiety to seizures. All drugs hold the potential to be abused, but benzos tend to be more dangerous because of their ability to depress the central nervous system in small doses. When drugs like Ativan are mixed with stimulants or depressants, the results can potentially be catastrophic.

Stimulant drugs like Adderall are prescribed to treat disorders that relate to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but are often abused on college campuses for a boost. It is known as the competition drug, and an article released a few years ago by The New York Times touched on how Times columnist Roger Cohen’s son became trapped in an Adderall and Ativan nightmare. The son would take Adderall for class, and unable to sleep, he’d take the Ativan to counteract the stimulating effects. This can lead down a dangerous path of increased anxiety and dependence. The writer’s son mentions how he’s not sure how he is going to finish his last three credits because of the damage he’s done.

Combining drugs without a doctor to oversee the process is risky business, even when medications are used as prescribed. You can never be sure about how sedative drugs, such as Ativan, are going to interact with stimulants like Adderall or depressants like alcohol. If you’re prescribed Ativan, you should always consult with a doctor to determine what is the proper dose and report any unusual interactions as a result of consumption.

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Is It Bad to Drink Alcohol While on Ativan?

Alcohol is one of the most commonly consumed intoxicating substances in the United States. A vast majority of us drink for one reason or another, and those reasons can range from celebrating to relaxing and everything in between. Throughout history, we have struggled to manage the sheer power of alcohol addiction and come to understand that there are still many questions to be answered about alcohol. The one thing that can be certain is that alcohol on its own is a dangerous depressant, and when it is used in conjunction with another depressant, it can be fatal. These two drugs are strong on their own. When combined, they can lead to respiratory depression that is followed by coma and sometimes death.

Alcohol is a sedative-hypnotic, according to NIAAA National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Director George Koob, Ph.D. “It slows you down,” he says. The combination of drugs and alcohol can produce two different types of reactions. In a pharmacodynamic reaction, alcohol intensifies the effect of the drug or vice versa. With a pharmacokinetic reaction, the drug-alcohol interaction can affect how a drug or alcohol moves through the body.

A drug like Ativan, which inhibits respiratory function, can lead to fatal synergistic effects. A story in 1975 highlights that Karen Ann Quinlan was taking Valium for undisclosed reasons and drank alcohol later on at a party. Once the night ended, and she went home, she stopped breathing long enough to suffer extensive brain damage. She lived in a vegetative state for nine years after the incident and was eventually taken off life support. 

Ativan and Opioids: A Potentially Deadly Combination

Opioid painkillers and benzos are the two most frequently abused drugs in the world even though they are seldom prescribed together. This has been a combination that has concerned medical professionals since the 1970s when benzos become popular. Reports show that when used together, benzos increase the risk of overdose, which leads to emergency care. Benzo drugs enhance the effects of opioid painkillers which means the potential for abuse from this combination is significant. 

Drugs like oxycodone and Ativan both have the potential to become addictive when taken alone, but when used simultaneously, they only increase this factor. In 2014, there were 18,898 prescription painkiller-related overdoses in the United States. Between 1999 and 2006, there was a 250 percent increase due to a combination of opioid painkillers and another medication. More than half of those overdoses were linked to opioids and benzos being mixed. 

This combination is dangerous for a variety of reasons, which can range from how often these drugs are mixed, and the vast amount of people who do this. Since benzos enhance the high of opioids, users may develop a higher tolerance to painkillers. This happens mainly in part that if they stop using benzos, they will require much more opioids to achieve the effects they felt while abusing both drugs. This can lead to an overdose without mixing the drugs.

Ativan and Stimulants

Stimulants are the complete opposite of benzodiazepines and serve different purposes. Stimulants increase feelings of alertness, confidence, wellbeing, and heighten concentration. Benzos are meant to depress the nervous system where stimulants speed it up. The main concern of combining the drugs is that stimulants can often mask the feelings of sedation that are associated with use. The person may feel like they have not taken enough of the benzo and continue to take more until they reached their desired effect.

Once the effects of the stimulants wear off, the person may notice they are a lot more intoxicated than they had planned to be. This can lead to a few different outcomes in that they hurt themselves because they are extremely intoxicated, or they overdose. This combination is especially hard on the heart as stimulants speed up heart rate while the depressants work to slow it down. The mixed messages may result in dysrhythmias or heart failure.

Can Mixing Ativan with Stimulants or Depressants Cause Overdose

The short answer to the dangers of mixing Ativan with stimulants or depressants is yes, it is a deadly combination that can lead to permanent brain damage or death. Either class of drug that is used in conjunction with Ativan can lead to disastrous consequences. Whether the heart is fighting mixed signals or being buried by conflicting brain messages to slow down or speed up, this is what we need to avoid because of the stress on our bodies. All doctors will agree with this advice, but if you’ve become overwhelmed by addiction to any of what was mentioned throughout this article, it is time to seek professional help. The next time these drugs are used together could be the last day if you overdose.

Sources

McFADDEN, R. D. (1985, June 12). KAREN ANN QUINLAN, 31, DIES; FOCUS OF '76 RIGHT TO DIE CASE. from https://www.nytimes.com/1985/06/12/nyregion/karen-ann-quinlan-31-dies-focus-of-76-right-to-die-case.html

Drinking and Drugs: How Alcohol Can Mess With Your Meds. (n.d.). from https://medshadow.org/features/alcohol-drugs/

Cohen, R. (2013, March 04). The Competition Drug. from https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/05/opinion/global/roger-cohen-adderall-the-academic-competition-drug.html

Medical News Today. Ativan (lorazepam). Ativan and alcohol. (September 12, 2018) MNT Medical Network. Slowiczek, L. Pharm.D. from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326015.php#alcohol

Medical News Today. Ativan (lorazepam). Interactions. Ativan and other medications.. (September 12, 2018) MNT Medical Network.Slowiczek, L. Pharm.D. from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326015.php#interactions

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