Alcohol And Central Nervous System Cns Depressant Medicines

Alcohol and medicines that by themselves depress the CNS, when combined with each other, may depress the system more than either does by itself. Much controversy exists as to whether the combined effect is merely additive (what one would expect by adding the two effects together) or whether it is synergistic (greater than the sum of its two parts), whether each somehow reinforces the action of the other as well as adding its own action. When combined with CNS depressants, alcohol— even in small quantities—produces undesirable and sometimes dangerous effects. The interaction of alcohol with benzodiazepine drugs, however, may be much greater in the elderly than in the other age groups. This is especially true for diazepam (Valium) and chlordiazepoxide (Librium). Commonly observed side-effects include high blood pressure, sleepiness, confusion, and depression of the CNS that may lead to slowing down of breathing, or even to stopping it. Two drinks can bring about a drug-alcohol interaction with a medi cine that depresses the CNS (Hartford & Samorajski, 1982). Therefore, as a general rule, elderly patients should be instructed to stay away from alcohol while taking such medicines, including benzodiazepines, barbiturates, muscle relaxants, and antihistamines (both by prescription and as over-the-counter cold remedies or sleeping aids). Alcohol increases the clinical effects of these drugs, which already are hazardous in a segment of the population with decreased agility and greater danger of serious complications from falls and other accidents.

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