About one in four Americans experience bouts of sleeplessness each year.1 That's roughly 81 million people. Naturally, a large subsection of that 81 million will look to address its sleep issues with a medication. That's completely understandable: sleep deprivation affects our mood, memory, concentration, blood pressure, immune system, relationships and so on. Good sleep is a huge part of healthy, happy lifestyles. But certain sleep medications pose distinct risks to your health.
We interviewed clinical experts here at Hazelden Betty Ford about the addictive potential, hidden side effects and dangerous consequences involved in the use of Ambien and other sleep aids—and why the mixture of alcohol and sedatives is such a deadly combination.
Ambien is the brand name for a pharmaceutical known as Zolpidem. The same drug can also be found in medications such as Zolpimist, Edluar, Intermezzo and Ambien CR. Zolpidem products are generally prescribed for people with sleep disorders because the drug acts as a sedative on the central nervous system, slowing down brain activity.
In fact, Ambien's effects on the mind and body are similar to alcohol's effects. That's partly why a mixture of the two substances is so deadly: their combined depressant effects can create an overdose, where heart rate and breathing slow and potentially stop altogether.
Both Ambien and alcohol are in the depressive class of drugs, meaning their primary effects are sedating: lowered heart rate and blood pressure, a relaxed mind and drowsiness. The sedative nature of Zolpidem makes the drug very effective for inducing sleep states.
But mixing Ambien or Zolpidem with alcohol enhances the consequences of both. Taken together, the substances are "potentiating"—meaning the depressant effects are exponential when mixed rather than linear—and the withdrawals are amplified. Because the mixture can lead to overdose and death, combining any amount of the two is unsafe.
Side effects of mixing Ambien with alcohol include:
Individuals who drink and plan to take Ambien or Zolpidem should always ensure alcohol is completely out of their system before taking any prescribed dose of the drug. The metabolism period for alcohol depends on the body size and the type of drink. The following table are estimates on the time it takes to metabolize certain alcoholic beverages.2
|Type of Alcoholic Drink||Time to Metabolize|
|shot of liquor||1 hour|
|pint of beer||2 hours|
|glass of wine||3 hours|
|a few drinks||several hours|
Again, medical professionals emphasize that mixing Ambien or other Zolpidem-based medications with alcohol is never safe and always risks an overdose. If you've been prescribed Ambien and you drink frequently, discontinue your use of Ambien or other Zolpidem-based sleep aids immediately and contact your doctor about any negative side effects.
Absolutely. Although marketing literature might claim otherwise, the use of Zolpidem and Ambien can prove both habit-forming and addicting. Although many people use Zolpidem safely, people who drink frequently, people in addiction recovery or those with a history of substance use disorders should tread especially carefully. For some individuals, Ambien abuse can trigger the desire to use other depressant drugs.
Although Ambien may seem to safely dampen the side effects of sleeplessness or withdrawal from other drugs, use of the sedative can actually make the situation worse by introducing a secondary dependence and withdrawal. Below are just a few of the symptoms:
If you experience any side effects of withdrawal, consult a doctor to find a safe environment for the withdrawal process. You and your doctor can also discuss a healthier approach to coping with stress, sleeplessness and substance use.
In addition to Zolpidem's addiction-triggering potential, people with other addictions tend to experience sleeplessness during withdrawal. In looking to remedy their lack of sleep with a medication like Zolpidem, they can become dependent on the secondary drug.
People with substance use disorders also generate high drug tolerances very quickly, which leads to an increased likelihood of dependence on Ambien as well as another withdrawal to manage.
Becoming simultaneously addicted to and using two or more substances is known as polysubstance abuse. Tragically, the polysubstance abuse of Zolpidem and alcohol could prove life-threatening.
Definitely. Sleeplessness can be safely and effectively managed in a number of ways. Healthy and natural practices for better sleep are typically taught as a part of addiction treatment because sleep problems are extremely common for people with alcohol addiction or other substance use disorders.
Although these techniques and practices aren't specific to addiction treatment, they are particularly important for people in recovery in order to avoid triggering medications or addicting prescriptions (and to stay healthy and happy). Here are a few tactics to maintain a strong sleep hygiene:
If you become addicted to a sleep aid such as Ambien, or if you experience withdrawal effects when abstaining from use, consult a doctor or an addiction specialist for a number of reasons:
Concerned about problematic substance use? Reach out to Hazelden Betty Ford for answers and help: 1-866-831-5700. You don't need to manage the situation alone. Substance use disorders of all varieties are common and treatable, and there is no shame in needing help. We're here for you.