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What Happens When You Mix Ambien and Alcohol?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 70 million people in the United States suffer from chronic sleep problems.1

Ambien (known under the generic name zolpidem) is a prescription medication used for the short-term treatment of insomnia.2 Like other sedative-hypnotic drugs, Ambien works by depressing the central nervous system (CNS), causing sedation that is helpful for people who struggle with falling asleep and staying asleep.2

When Ambien is combined with other CNS depressants, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and narcotic pain relievers, the substances may have cumulative depressant effects on the brain.2, 3 This can lead to potentially dangerous outcomes including significant drowsiness, respiratory depression, coma, and even death.2, 3

What Is Ambien?

Ambien is a non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the short-term treatment of insomnia.2 It can improve sleep latency and duration, which can help people who have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.2

Sleep medications like Ambien help treat insomnia by interacting with and influencing activity at the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor. GABA is the primary inhibitory molecule in the central nervous system (CNS). Ambien increases inhibitory tone throughout the CNS, producing calming effects as a result.4, 5

The most common side effects of Ambien include:2

  • Drowsiness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Feeling “drugged.”

Some people may experience other possible side effects of Ambien including complex behaviors while not fully awake, such as sleep-driving, sleepwalking, eating, talking on the phone, and having sexual intercourse.2

Mixing Ambien and Alcohol

Ambien and alcohol are both CNS depressants.2, 6 Like Ambien, alcohol facilitates the activation of GABA, which decreases excitation in the brain. This produces calming effects, including drowsiness, impaired coordination, relaxation, and slowed breathing.2, 6

Alcohol has other effects on the CNS as well and can stimulate the brain’s reward system. This can impact a person’s behavior, coordination, mood, and thinking and may play a role in the development of addiction.6, 7 Alcohol also inhibits the metabolism of sedative-hypnotics, so when a person mixes alcohol with Ambien, the sedative effects of both substances are intensified.8

Ambien and Alcohol Effects

Mixing Ambien and alcohol is never safe, and the label warns against it due to the risk of experiencing enhanced CNS depressant effects.2 Combing Ambien and alcohol can have several effects, including:8, 9, 10

  • Profound drowsiness and sedation.
  • Decreased motor skills.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Confusion.
  • Memory problems.
  • Disorientation.
  • Incoherence.
  • Unusual behavior.
  • Coma.
  • Increased risk of overdose.

People are also more likely to experience the previously mentioned complex behaviors when Ambien and alcohol are combined.2

Dangers of Mixing Ambien and Alcohol

In addition to the effects above, mixing Ambien and alcohol can make a person more susceptible to accidents or injury due to sedation. It can also increase the likelihood of overdose, which can be fatal or cause permanent brain damage.10

According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), there were 20,793 zolpidem-related emergency department (ED) visits involving over-medication in 2014. Of these visits, 14% also involved alcohol.3 Studies show that ED patients who combine Ambien with alcohol are more likely to be admitted or transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU).11

The use or misuse of Ambien can also lead to addiction. Addiction, also known as a substance use disorder (SUD), refers to the compulsive, uncontrollable use of a substance despite the harm that it causes. Addiction may entail not only physiological changes (such as tolerance and dependence) but several harmful behavioral changes adversely impacting every aspect of an individual’s life. Addiction development is accompanied by functional changes within the brain that can impact an individual’s drive, motivation, thought processes, and behaviors so much that drug use becomes prioritized over all else. The development of addiction is influenced not only by repeated substance use itself, but also by genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors.2, 12 Chronic alcohol use can also lead to addiction, known as an alcohol use disorder (AUD).13

When a person has 2 SUDs at the same time (e.g., co-occurring Ambien addiction and alcohol addiction), they are more likely to experience higher rates of arrests and incarceration, financial and legal issues, overdose, suicide attempts, and more severe medical and mental health disorders.10

According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 6.2 million people aged 12 and older misused tranquilizers or sedatives within the last year.14 Meanwhile, 1.2 million people reported a past-year prescription tranquilizer or sedative use disorder and 28.3 million people reported a past-year AUD.14

Unfortunately, people who misuse alcohol on a regular basis often struggle with insomnia and other sleep-related disorders as alcohol is known to decrease sleep latency.15 This is one reason why a person may mix Ambien and alcohol. However, even if a person does not misuse alcohol on a regular basis, they may combine the substances to achieve a deeper sleep, putting them at risk of experiencing several adverse health consequences.

Prevention and Finding Help

It is important to remember that Ambien is a fast-acting medication and should only be taken before bedtime.2 The best way to prevent adverse health effects is to take Ambien exactly as prescribed by your doctor and to not use Ambien in combination with alcohol at all. If you are prescribed Ambien and still wish to drink alcohol, talk to your doctor ahead of time.

If you are struggling with Ambien use, alcohol use, or both, you should know that treatment is available. Ambien addiction treatment, alcohol addiction treatment, and treatment for polysubstance use can help you regain control of your life. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, but many options have been successful in treating addiction, including behavioral counseling, medication, evaluation for co-occurring disorders, and more.16

If you are ready to learn more about addiction treatment, American Addiction Centers (AAC) is ready to help. AAC is a leading provider of evidence-based addiction treatment with facilities across the U.S. You can call our free, confidential helpline at for more information about rehab, and easily verify your insurance by filling out the form below.

 

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