Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Ambien

Ambien is the brand name of the medication zolpidem, which is used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic sleep aid, which does not force the individual to fall asleep, but helps put the person’s brain into an “in-between” sleep and waking state, which should help lull the person to sleep. Many people who suffer from sleep disorders, like insomnia, have difficulty getting into this brain state.

Because of the strength of this medication and its potential for long-term abuse, Ambien prescriptions are typically limited to 1-2 weeks. During that time, doctors will carefully observe patients for signs of potential addiction or abuse. If a person takes an Ambien prescription for more than two weeks, it might not work as well.

PillsThere are many intoxicating substances that can interact with Ambien in dangerous ways, and one of the most commonly abused, even unintentionally, is alcohol. Alcohol by itself can lead to serious side effects, and when Ambien and alcohol are ingested together, many of the more dangerous physical side effects of Ambien are enhanced. This is because Ambien acts on some, but not all, of the benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. Although it is not a benzodiazepine medication, it can have similar central nervous system (CNS) depressant effects. Alcohol is a CNS depressant.

Physical Risks and Side Effects of Combining Alcohol and Ambien

When mixed together, Ambien and alcohol can enhance each other’s intoxicating effects. The following effects may be felt:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired cognition
  • Loss of physical coordination
  • Impaired judgment
  • Sleepiness or drowsiness
  • Somnambulance (sleepwalking)
  • Depressed breathing
  • Sleep apnea
People who consume alcohol and Ambien together are more than twice as likely to end up in intensive care, compared to people who took Ambien but did not also drink.

Ambien by itself carries the risk of suffering side effects the morning after sleeping, which is why doctors are careful to limit doses to the lowest required amount. It is not recommended for people with Ambien prescriptions to take this medication unless they are able to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep at night, which helps relieve some of the strongest next-day effects, like fatigue. It is dangerous for individuals on Ambien, especially those who have just taken Ambien or who did not get enough rest while on Ambien, to operate vehicles or heavy machinery.

These effects are all enhanced when a person drinks alcohol and takes Ambien. This mixture also increases the risk of an Ambien overdose – not because the individual takes too much Ambien while drinking alcohol, but because dangerous side effects are more likely to occur when these two drugs are mixed together.

Symptoms of Ambien overdose include:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Slurred speech
  • Inability to wake up
  • Coma
  • Death
  • Depressed, slowed, or stopped breathing

The Worst Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Ambien

Any time drugs mix in the system, serious and dangerous side effects can occur. Somnambulance is one of the most dangerous and surprisingly common side effects of ingesting alcohol and Ambien together. A study that looked into the effects of “z-drugs” like zolpidem on driving found that, when Ambien and alcohol were combined, the potential for “parasomnia,” or performing task while asleep, was dramatically increased.

In fact, due to the potential dangers of Ambien alone, and the increased dangers of combining alcohol and Ambien, the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety (ICADTS) classified zolpidem as a Schedule II substance (one that impairs a person’s driving comparable to a blood alcohol content of 0.05-0.08 percent).

The potential for sleepwalking, sleep-eating, sleep-shopping, and other somnambulistic activities increases when small or moderate amounts of alcohol are combined with a typical prescription dose of Ambien.

Because Ambien and alcohol both lead to mental and physical impairment, especially when combined, over half of the emergency room visits involving zolpidem involve other drugs, particularly alcohol. According to a report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), in 2010, about 57 percent of ER visits and hospitalizations caused by taking too much Ambien also involved other drugs. Ambien combined with alcohol accounted for 14 percent of those visits, or 2,851 people total. Combining alcohol and Ambien increased the person’s likelihood of requiring transfer to an intensive care unit due to overdose.

The Importance of Professional Help

It is important for doctors to monitor their patients for symptoms of drug abuse or addiction, and it is important for patients to inform their doctors if they have a history of drug addiction or abuse. Additionally, it is important for doctors to stress that consuming alcohol and Ambien together, even a few hours apart, is dangerous and can lead to serious physical problems.

Sometimes, an individual becomes addicted to Ambien and begins to take larger and larger doses of this medication, especially in combination with alcohol. It is very important for people in this situation to get help as soon as possible. Inpatient rehabilitation can help these people in many ways. They will receive medical supervision while they detox from these drugs, and they will be removed from sources of both alcohol and Ambien. They will also receive social support from therapists and group support, which can help them discover underlying psychological reasons or triggers for their drug addiction or abuse.

Combining alcohol and Ambien is incredibly dangerous, so it is important to seek help for this type of abuse.

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