Better known by its trade name Ativan, Lorazepam is a common benzodiazepine meant to assist people who struggle with anxiety disorders or intense short-term episodes of anxiety. The Mayo Clinic relays that Ativan works by slowing down the body’s central nervous system (CNS).
What if a person taking Ativan wants to celebrate a special occasion with a toast or decides to take an over-the-counter medication for an unexpected illness?
Alcohol also works as a depressant, and it could add to the effects of Ativan. Taking one drink might not be a big deal to some people, but everyone reacts to medications and alcohol differently. There are no given amounts that are universally safe for all patients.
Ultimately, it is not safe to mix Lorazepam and alcohol.
How Does Ativan Work?
Ativan is a popular depressant drug, but how does it work, and why does it interact with alcohol? As a benzodiazepine, Ativan works by influencing a natural chemical in your brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). This chemical is responsible for rest and relaxation in your nervous system. When it binds to its receptors, it opens a channel for a negative charge that slows down nervous system activity. Ativan also binds to these same receptors and works to keep that channel open for longer. When GABA is released to bind to its receptors, Ativan makes it much more potent.
This can be helpful in treating several disorders involving overactivity in the nervous system, including insomnia, anxiety, panic, muscle spasms, and seizures. However, Ativan can also cause some intoxication effects and a relaxing sense of euphoria when it’s used in high enough doses. However, high doses also risk side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, impaired motor function, and memory issues. It can be even more dangerous when mixed with alcohol.
Some drugs can mix together in the body to create toxic combinations. For instance, alcohol and cocaine mix to release a toxic chemical in the liver called cocaethylene. The problem with mixing Ativan and alcohol is not that they conflict with one another but that they work together. Alcohol also works by interacting with GABA in a very similar way that benzodiazepines do. When they are taken together, they can intensify the depressing effects on your nervous system, leading to an overdose.
Effects When Mixed with Common Drugs
Ativan is a benzodiazepine, a family of drugs known as minor tranquilizers. Psychology Today mentions that these medications are sometimes used to treat sleeping disorders.
Below are effects of Ativan and benzodiazepines when mixed with other common drugs:
- Opioids: A 2017 article published in Tonic found that opioid painkillers are often prescribed along with benzodiazepines even though they are dangerous when taken together. The report says that between 2000 and 2013, the number of patients prescribed both of these medications rose 80 percent.
Like benzodiazepines, opioids are known to slow down the nervous system. Taking both types of drugs at the same time could cause problems with breathing
- Common CNS depressants: People who take allergy or fever medication, sleep medication, or medicine that numbs a person to pain should not take Ativan. In fact, even patients who take Ativan should tell their dentist about their use.
Depressants slow down the body’s central nervous system. The Mayo Clinic states that they increase other medications’ ability to slow down the body
- Marijuana: Extensive research on the effects of Ativan and marijuana is still needed, but Healthline mentions that taking Ativan with marijuana could increase sleepiness.
- Alcohol: Like Ativan, alcohol is also a depressant. Many people are unaware that alcohol and Ativan add to each other’s effects. Taking Ativan and then drinking increases the impact of each drink.
Effects of Ativan (Lorazepam) and Alcohol
Alcohol and benzodiazepines have a complicated relationship because they are often prescribed to people who are dealing with alcohol misuse disorder.
A 2012 study from the Stanford University School of Medicine says that a subject who took lorazepam for alcohol withdrawal became too sedated and suffered from a minor fall.
Ativan and alcohol have made headlines due to the deaths of popular rock stars, such as Chris Cornell. A May 2017 article on Rolling Stone confirms that Cornell admitted taking extra Ativan to his wife the last time she spoke to him.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism States the Following Issues Can Occur if Ativan and Alcohol are Mixed:
- Problems with memory
- Risk of overdose
- Slower breathing
- Loss of coordination
- Erratic behavior
Rolling Stone also interviewed Dr. Stuart Gitlow, who currently works at the Annenberg Physician Training Program in Addictive Disease. Dr. Gitlow confirmed that Ativan could cause blackouts that lead a person to make decisions they will not remember later on.
It is also relatively easy for a person to become tolerant of Ativan. This means a person will seek larger doses of Ativan so it can keep working.
Below are signs that a person has taken too much Ativan. These could be more prominent if an individual also drinks alcohol.
- Slurred speech
- Shakiness or twitching
- Atypical behavior
Gitlow also confirmed that Ativan might play a role in a person’s suicide. In the case of Cornell, he was open about his past problems with depression over the years. It is likely that he should not have been prescribed the medication at all.
Rolling Stone also confirms that data shows misusing benzodiazepines could increase a person’s risk of suicide.
Can You Have One Drink On Ativan?
It’s clear that mixing alcohol with depressants is potentially dangerous, but how dangerous is it? If your doctor has prescribed Ativan, does it rule out alcohol until you’re off the medication?
Studies and data across the board do not explicitly mention a safe amount of alcohol and Ativan that can be taken together. Everyone reacts differently. When it comes to doses, several factors can affect what is safe and what is dangerous. Your size, weight, sex, and age can all play a role in the amount of Ativan and alcohol you can take.
Having just one drink may not necessarily end in a trip to the emergency room, but it could lead to some uncomfortable side effects, such as heavy sedation, next-day drowsiness, memory impairment, blackouts, and loss of consciousness. If you drink a single drink while taking Ativan, it’s likely that you will be able to tell the difference. You may feel like the drink is affecting you more than usual.
It’s also important to consider the health of your liver when taking these drugs or mixing alcohol with other drugs. When you’ve gone through treatment with a drug processed in the liver like a benzodiazepine, it’s often good to monitor the health of your liver. Mixing alcohol and Ativan can put more stress on your liver than taking the drug on its own.
Ativan is a prescription medication that comes with a black box warning from the FDA. Mayo Clinic informs people that they should discuss anything they will take along with Ativan with their doctor. This includes herbal supplements, over-the-counter medication, and even vitamins.
People who take Ativan should discuss their use of alcohol with their doctor. Drinking alcohol while on Ativan is inherently risky and should be avoided unless you discuss it with your doctor.
How Long After Taking Ativan Can I Drink?
If you’ve recently stopped taking Ativan, how long do you have to wait before you can have a drink again? You may feel the effects of Ativan for up to 24 hours after taking a dose, depending on the size of the dose and other factors. The drug may still be detected in your system for a few days after your last dose, but you likely won’t be able to feel the drug’s effects after a day.
It’s important to consult your doctor or pharmacist about when it’s safest for you to start drinking alcohol again, but it’s generally safe to drink 24 hours after your last dose. If you’re concerned about your liver health, you may need to wait longer. Your liver can heal quickly, with significant regeneration after a few days. But you should work with your doctor to determine your liver’s health before drinking if you have a history of liver problems.