Confession: I have been watching the reality show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Quite frankly, I don’t take shows like that seriously and often wonder if it is bordering on obscene to have such lavish lifestyles displayed on the televisions of homes across America (and around the world) during these hard economic times. But I was particularly disappointed in some of the footage that was shown on a recent episode. On the show, one of the cast members took an unknown amount of Xanax (a prescription drug that can cause drowsiness and is used for particular types of anxiety) for a flight and was also filmed drinking alcohol (also an unknown amount, though it appeared to be more than one drink) while on it.
She was clearly affected by the combination, exhibiting psychomotor slowing and slurred speech that was surprisingly more inappropriate than usual for this particular person. What’s worse is that her friends found her all the more entertaining while overly intoxicated and never once cautioned her (or the audience) against combining Xanax and alcohol. As a matter of fact, I would argue, this combo seemed to be promoted by portraying this person as entertaining and funny and by devoting a fair amount of air time to her intoxicated state.
The risks of Xanax plus alcohol were dangerously downplayed here. Both substances depress the central nervous system and can cause coma and death when taken in excess quantities or used together. The combination of even small amounts can lead to dangerous levels of sedation, poor judgment, and unsafe situations.
I did a web search on the topic of Xanax and alcohol and this particular episode to see if anyone else had commented on the high risk behavior depicted in the show. None of the search results explicitly pointed out the dangers of mixing the two drugs. In fact, most blogposts and articles painted it as “awesome entertainment.” The unfortunate fact is, though, that we now live in a time where more Americans die from prescription drugs than from car crashes. So what makes for good television ratings makes a doctor like me cringe. Xanax is a high-risk medication. Irresponsible use of high-risk prescription drugs should not be glorified on television.
Dear producers, if you want to put that sort of behavior on TV – which I would rather you didn’t – then at least include a stern cautionary warning about it, even if it is only in writing at the end of the episode.
Hopefully, this particular castmember’s own doctor is watching the show and reminds her at her next appointment not to mix Xanax and alcohol. Hopefully.
-Linda Pourmassina is an internal medicine physician who blogs at Pulsus.