Two of the most commonly abused prescription drugs worldwide are benzodiazepines and opioid painkillers. Abusing each of these medications on their own can be dangerous, but they are often prescribed together, which can be a recipe for disaster.

Although researchers have been aware of the dangers of combining benzos and opioids for some time, doctors still do it to this day. While these drugs are vastly different, both are addictive and can be fatal if used against a doctor’s instructions. The good news is, with a strong support system and a solid plan, recovery is possible.

What Makes an Opioid an Opioid?

Opioids are a classification of drugs that are derived from the opium poppy plant. These include many prescription painkillers, as well as illicit substances such as heroin. The main use of most opiates is to block the pain signals between the body and brain, helping to diminish moderate to severe pain in patients.

To relieve pain, opioids attach to opioid receptors located throughout the body, spine, and various organs. Once bonded and activated, they block the pain signals and give the user a rush of dopamine. The release can make the user feel so euphoric and painless that they want to recreate the experience.

Some of the more common opioids:

  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Codeine
  • Morphine

When taken under the direction of a physician, prescription opioid pain relievers are generally safe. Unfortunately, one of the effects that often accompany the pain relieving effect, is a feeling of euphoria. The combination of these effects can result in addiction, overdose, and even death.

When a patient becomes addicted to their prescription opioids, they are more likely to transition to a more accessible equivalent; oftentimes, this replacement is heroin. The similarities in the chemical makeup of the prescription and street version typically produce a very similar high. Most of those that have used heroin started with opioids prescribed by a physician.

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Is Xanax an Opioid?

Xanax is regularly prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorders, and sometimes for alcohol withdrawal and severe insomnia. Being the most commonly prescribed psychiatric medication and being extremely addictive when used long-term makes it very dangerous. Unlike prescription painkillers, Xanax is a benzodiazepine rather than an opioid.

Xanax, and other benzodiazepines, bond to the gamma-aminobutyric acid-A (GABA-A) receptor, which calms the brain. Xanax is commonly prescribed to those with anxiety because it takes effect very quickly. For many people, the best long-term anxiety management system is other medications as well as therapy, although they are not quick solutions.

The trend of prescribing them jointly in the 1970s led to a long list of problems, from unsavory side effects to dependency and overdoses, many leading to death. Medical researchers became concerned after they saw the correlation in complications with the pair of drugs being prescribed together.

Side-Effects of Xanax and Opioids

The use of prescription medication is generally safe when done under the supervision of a physician. The problems typically come in when these medications are misused. People misuse prescription medications by:

  • Taking another person’s medication
  • Taking the medicine for recreational purposes or to get “high”
  • Using the medication in any way other than how it was prescribed

People misuse pills in many ways. Some people stick to swallowing them, while others open capsules or crush pills and snort the powder. Some choose to mix the powder with water and use the drug intravenously.

Mixing drugs under the care of your psychiatrist or physician is typically fine since they and your pharmacist check for dangerous drug interactions. However, when the dosage is altered or the dosage schedule is changed problems can arise. 

Combining benzodiazepines and opioid painkillers can amplify the opioid’s euphoric effects, but it can also lead to dangerous side effects. The depressant effects of both on the central nervous system can cause users to slip into a coma.

On their own, opioids and benzodiazepines can be dangerous, as they are two of the prescriptions that lead to the most overdoses and deaths. When combined, the effects can be even more hazardous. Between 1998 and 2008, about half of the people hospitalized for benzodiazepine overdoses took opioids as well.

Combining benzodiazepines and opioids is especially dangerous because of two primary problems:

  • Enhanced drowsiness and sedation
  • Depressed breathing

Overdosing on painkillers and benzodiazepines happens more easily than many people may expect. Because of this, it is important to follow the dosage instructions. The over-sedation makes the user more likely to fall asleep and be unable to be woken up while the change in breathing patterns can deprive the brain of oxygen, leading to brain damage, organ damage, and death.

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Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Overdose:

  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Confusion
  • Unresponsiveness while awake or unconscious

It can be easy to overdose on benzodiazepines, particularly because many users mix them with other drugs to enhance or change their effects. Some use stimulants with benzodiazepines to combat the drowsy feelings, which can cause them to take more of both than initially planned. When combined with alcohol, they can cause respiratory depression and even death.

Symptoms of Opioid Overdose:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Irregular, slowed, depressed, or stopped breathing

Overdosing on opiates is common among users that are both new and experienced. New users are unlikely to know proper dosages of illegal drugs, while long-time users often build up a significant tolerance and take more than intended. Overdose is also common among relapsing users, who have recently shed their tolerance and take too large of a dose when they relapse.

What is The Best Treatment Option When Detoxing From Xanax or Opioids?

For many people that are dealing with addiction, the hardest step for them to take is acknowledging that there is a problem and making the decision to change things. Feelings of uncertainty are common, and it is okay to feel nervous. Sobriety comes with changing most aspects of your life. But with a strong support system, a well thought out plan, and the help of a treatment center, sobriety is possible.

Please reach out if you or a loved one is struggling with any form of drug/alcohol addiction. The time to get help is now. Don’t let another precious second of your life pass you by while gripped in the devastating cycle of addiction.