Typically known as polydrug abuse, opioids such as Heroin are frequently taken with prescription benzodiazepines like Xanax (alprazolam) or Valium.
Opioids and benzos lower breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure. Taking benzodiazepines in higher dosage, and variations in heroin purity, increase overdose risks. Dangers of Xanax and heroin overdose can include cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, and coma.
Treatment programs for polydrug abuse can help people stop drug abuse, manage addiction, and reverse some of the long-term health effects.
Risk Of Fatal Overdose
Overdoses from heroin, prescription opioids, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl have caused a shocking amount of fatal overdoses in the United States.
Opioid And Benzodiazepine Abuse In The United States
Since 2001, there has been an 80 percent relative increase in polydrug abuse of opioids and benzodiazepines.
This increase has been largely attributed to people who abuse opioids only sometimes, and not chronic opioid users.
Still, the risk of overdose increases with polydrug use of benzos and opioids, since 30 percent of all “opioid overdose” deaths involve benzos like Xanax.
How Heroin And Xanax Abuse Can Lead To Overdose
The FDA has issued the strongest warning possible when it comes to the use of opioids and benzodiazepines. This “black box” warning shows that combining these depressants may result in death.
When used together, Xanax amplifies and prolongs the good feelings that heroin produces through increased serotonin production.
Xanax enhances GABA neurotransmitter activity, which decreases anxiety. In general, these drugs combine to depress vital central nervous system functions, like breathing and heart rate.CNS depressants also produce drowsiness and a euphoric, calm feeling.
The risk of fatal overdose from this polydrug abuse is increased when:
Drug use stops, then restarts:
If a person stops using heroin and Xanax, their tolerance becomes lower than when they used it at a more regular interval (it takes less of a drug to achieve the same desired result).
Overdoses commonly happen after relapses from attempted rehabilitation or prolonged sickness without substance use followed by drug use that doesn’t account for a lower tolerance.
The body simply can’t process the volume of substances, and respiration or heart failure occurs from the drug overdose.
Drug use varies:
If the heroin quality is altered to be more potent, or it is laced with stronger opiates like fentanyl, the “calculation” is off, and an overdose can happen.
People may also abuse a higher dosage of their prescription benzodiazepine pills like Xanax to get a stronger opioid high. This may result in an overdose when the person underestimates their tolerance level.
Increased Addiction And Chemical Dependency Risk
Continuing to abuse heroin and Xanax creates a real risk of addiction and dependency. The feelings of well-being associated with heroin are amplified by Xanax.
Xanax also works to suppress anxiety, sleep deprivation, and other negative heroin withdrawal symptoms like irritability.
Because of this, some people may mix heroin and Xanax to reduce heroin withdrawal effects.
However, this can introduce some side effects of Xanax, such as memory changes, concentration troubles, and impulse or emotion control.
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Mixing Xanax and heroin may cause drug-seeking behavior and irritability when the drugs are not available.
Yet both drugs are highly addictive, and abusing the two together increases the risk of addiction for each.
Long-Term Effects Of Polydrug Abuse
The physical effects of polydrug abuse involving Xanax and heroin include:
- heart disorders (blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, increased risk for heart attack and stroke)
- liver and kidney failure
- respiratory issues leading to infectious diseases
- anxiety and depression
- early mortality risk
- concentration and memory problems
- physical dependence and cravings
People who are addicted to heroin or other opiates may turn to benzos like Xanax to reduce negative symptoms of opiate abuse, like anxiety and sleep disorders.
Because the benzos amplify the high, perceived tolerances can change and people can lose track of their typical usage dose.
Drug combinations like heroin and Xanax work together to:
- reinforce the desired highs
- create dangerous scenarios for likely overdose
- make the body dependent on two substances with highly addictive properties
Once a person becomes addicted to or chemically dependent on a drug, it is very hard to quit use of it. When they become addicted to more than one substance, quitting without professional help becomes even more difficult.
Long-term or chronic addiction can have a number of effects on a person’s health, relationships, finances, and other aspects of their life.
Opioid withdrawals from detox mimic the symptoms of a bad flu. Typical withdrawals may last for between one to three weeks, depending on the person.
Withdrawals from heroin last up to 10 days and begin more immediately than with longer-lasting opioids.
Some treatment facilities may prescribe clonazepam (Klonopin) to help treat these symptoms, but this would not be possible where Xanax use is present.
Expected symptoms of both Heroin and Xanax withdrawals are unpleasant and include:
- muscle pain/spasms
- heart palpitations
- light and sound sensitivity
- cold and hot sweats
- runny nose
- watery eyes
Worsened Mental Health Symptoms
Xanax abuse is associated with a range of mental health issues, which can be complicated by prolonged heroin use.
Some mental health symptoms may include:
- mood swings
- suicidal thoughts
Other Health Risks
Along with the increased risk of mental health disorders, long-term physical risks, and dangers of overdose death, a person who misuses Xanax and heroin together may become a changed person.
Subtle changes in the ability to solve problems, retain information, and make good judgments can frustrate those who have a history of heroin or Xanax drug abuse.
Other risks range from increased risk of cancer to the general vulnerability that occurs when an addicted person cannot function appropriately in society.
Physical and emotional dependence on substances only creates barriers to good health in both the short-term and long-term.
Find Treatment For Heroin And Xanax Abuse
Opioids and benzodiazepines can cause serious harm. The time to seek help for recovery is now. If you or a loved one struggles with Xanax addiction and heroin use, it should not be taken lightly.
Addiction does not consider the dangers of overdose and long-term health risks—especially with substances of abuse like heroin and Xanax. But we care about the life-threatening condition that results from sustained drug or alcohol abuse.
Contact one of our addiction recovery specialists to get you on the path to a better future. With a variety of treatment programs and treatment centers to choose from, we can ensure the best fit for your needs.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created an environment of isolation where substance abuse and relapse are primed to take hold.
Combined with Xanax abuse, the risk of heroin overdose skyrockets. For the sake of you and your loved ones, reach out to us now. Help is available.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Drug and alcohol dependence—Polydrug abuse: A review of opioid and benzodiazepine combination use
- National Harm Reduction Coalition—Overdose Risks & Prevention
- Journal of Medical Toxicology—Concurrent Use of Benzodiazepine by Heroin Users—What Are the Prevalence and the Risks Associated with This Pattern of Use?