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Ambien and Alcohol

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Mixing Ambien and Alcohol, Risks, Side Effects, Overdose, Withdrawal Symptoms & Treatment Options

What Is Ambien?

Ambien (Zolpidem) is a non-benzodiazepine receptor modulator primarily used in the FDA-approved short-term treatment of insomnia aimed at patients with difficulty starting sleep. It improves measures of sleep latency, and sleep duration and reduces the number of awakenings in patients with transient insomnia [1]. It also improves sleep quality in patients with chronic insomnia as well and can act as a minor muscle relaxant. [2].

Many people misuse Ambien by taking more than prescribed to help them sleep when they are tolerant of it. Others abuse it by taking it and purposefully staying awake. his produces a euphoric, out-of-body effect, accompanied by strange behavior and short-term memory loss. Ambien addiction can damage a person’s health and may lead to physical dependence and addiction. Ambien may be used as a sleep aid or a euphoric drug by people who take it and intentionally stay awake. Either form of abuse can lead to physical dependence and addiction and increase a person’s risk of overdose.

The World Health Organization (WHO) considered that the frequency of zolpidem abuse and dependence was similar to that of benzodiazepine; on 15 July 2002, zolpidem, the generic name of Ambien, was transferred to Schedule IV of the 1971 Convention (for drugs inducing dependence such as benzodiazepines). This convention aims to control both traffic and abuse of psychotropics. Prescribers should consider the possibility of Ambien addiction and withdrawal symptoms when starting patients on this drug. Without proper management, significant drug-drug interactions may occur.

Mixing Ambien and Alcohol

What are the effects of combining Ambien and alcohol? Does drinking alcohol while taking Ambien cause overdose? Ambien is a potent prescription drug that has a high potential for abuse and addiction. In fact, this prescription drug can be habit-forming after only two weeks of use. Because of this, individuals are rarely if ever prescribed Ambien for long-term use and are monitored closely by medical practitioners while taking the medication.

This form of sedative is identified as a hypnotic drug that comes in several formulations. The first is an immediate-release tablet that helps the person taking it to fall asleep right away. The second is an extended release (Ambien CR). The outer layer dissolves fast to help the person fall asleep fast. The inside later dissolves more slowly and helps the person taking the medication to stay asleep.

Ambien and Alcohol
 Somnambulance (Sleepwalking) is one of the fatal effects of taking Ambien and alcohol together. 

You shouldn’t try to share your Ambien prescription with anyone else. Even if that individual suffers from the same symptoms, giving them your Ambien may be dangerous. For instance, dosages for men are higher than they are for women. Children should never take this medication because they may suffer dangerous side effects. Your doctor has prescribed a formulation and dosage appropriate for you, not someone else.

One of the bigger issues seen in alcoholism treatment is when people combine alcohol with other substances, either on purpose, or by accident, resulting in physical harm, and often, overdose. In many instances, individuals don’t understand that alcohol and prescription drugs such as Ambien can cause a severe reaction in the body. In other situations, individuals who abuse drugs may mix alcohol and medication on purpose to experience euphoria or to self-treat physical conditions like anxiety or insomnia, without checking with a doctor first to understand the risks.

Ambien and Alcohol Interaction

Do not drink alcohol while you are taking Ambien. Drinking alcohol makes the central nervous system (CNS) effects of the drug even stronger. Common side effects, such as difficulty with concentration, dizziness, or sleepiness are likely to become even worse. Moreover, you may have difficulty thinking and making good judgment calls. Whether you combine Ambien and alcohol accidentally or intentionally, you may develop a series of dangerous physical symptoms that can be life-threatening.

Because this prescription drug is a hypnotic sleep aid, it acts most strongly on your brain and spinal cord, depressing the nerve activity. Alcohol is also a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, which slows down your heart rate, breathing, and ability to think clearly and make good decisions. By combining two CNS depressants, you’ll most likely multiply the effects of your medication if you mix it with alcohol.

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Ambien and Alcohol Side Effects 

Ambien can negatively interact with a number of other substances. One of these substances is alcohol. When combined, Ambien and alcohol can have a number of side effects and potentially dangerous interactions. Alcohol can worsen the negative side effects of Ambien, and once both substances have been ingested, it’s impossible to control the effects these drugs will have.

Potential physical side effects of mixing Ambien and alcohol include:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Coordination problems
  • Impaired thinking and judgment
  • Sleep apnea
  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Memory loss
  • Sleepwalking

Taking Ambien alone can result in a number of side effects, especially if someone is taking a higher dose than required. In fact, medical professionals do not recommend taking Ambien unless a person is able to get at least seven hours of sleep. Ambien can cause strong effects the following day after taking it. Individuals who take this medication and do not get enough sleep should not operate machinery or motor vehicles. Alcohol can exacerbate all of these side effects and more. In fact, people who mix Ambien and alcohol are more than twice as likely to require medical attention than those who only take Ambien.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Ambien and Alcohol 

People who take Ambien in doses higher than the prescribed amount are likely to become addicted to it and experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it. It can lead to permanent damage to the respiratory system and liver. This can also have long-lasting effects on the individual’s cognitive state. 

Ambien withdrawal symptoms usually start within 48 hours after the last dose was taken. They end within a week or two. It is also important to know that Ambien’s withdrawal symptoms can be exasperated by the effects of other substances, like alcohol, if a person ingests it with Ambien.  

  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Severe anxiety
  • Hyperventilation
  • Racing pulse
  • Severe nervousness
  • Panic attacks
  • Lightheadedness
  • Speech difficulties
  • Seizure
Ambien and Alcohol
Individuals who mix Ambien and alcohol are more than twice as likely to require medical attention than those who only take Ambien.

As mentioned above, Ambien was created for the short-term treatment of insomnia. It is not designed for long-term or chronic insomnia. Its sedative qualities may lead to rebound insomnia symptoms if the brain becomes reliant on this drug, to coax it into sleep and relaxation. The psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as panic attacks and anxiety, could last longer than the physical withdrawal symptoms.

People experiencing acute alcohol withdrawal could experience severe withdrawal symptoms in the first few weeks after they stop drinking. At this point, the person is at the highest risk of developing delirium tremens (DTs), temporarily losing consciousness, or having seizures. All of these can be fatal if not treated by medical professionals.

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Ambien and Alcohol Blackout

Despite the benefits for individuals who suffer from insomnia, Ambien’s dangers can be significant or even deadly. Quite often, there are cases dubbed “Ambien blackouts” that happen, and Ambien can cause a range of other adverse side effects.

Ambien blackouts can be very scary, but they’re not entirely uncommon with the use of this prescription drug. There are countless anecdotal reports of individuals doing everything from preparing meals to having sex while on Ambien, then having no memory of it the next day.

Sleepwalking (somnambulance) and sleep eating is also common when under the influence of Ambien. When a user combines Ambien and alcohol, these risks are even more significant. The risk of a ambien and alcohol blackout becomes especially dangerous when individuals do things like driving while on Ambien.

There have even been serious crimes committed during which people say they were using Ambien, and they claim to have no memory of what happened. The risk of an Ambien blackout is highest in people who take the drug and then don’t go straight to bed.

Ambien and Alcohol Liver Damage 

Mixing Ambien and alcohol can cause severe and permanent liver damage over time. It can also cause liver cancer, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis. Ambien and alcohol abuse may lead to respiratory system damage, such as an enlarged, weakened heart, irregular heartbeat, or respiratory arrest. 

Problems associated with concurrent abuse of Ambien and alcohol include:

  • Liver cancer
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Enlarged, weakened heart
  • Stroke
  • Hallucinations
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Confusion
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Coma
  • Death

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Ambien and Alcohol Overdose 

Sometimes, people mix drugs with alcohol on purpose to get a specific effect. For example, some people combine sleep aids and alcohol to sleep more soundly. This is a misconception because sleep that results from overuse of alcohol is not typical sleep, and the person does not engage in a normal, restful sleep cycle. If this is done with Ambien, it can result in dangerous behaviors or potential overdose.

Others may use the two together to experience a euphoric or hallucinatory effect. This type of drug abuse can have its own risks, especially if it is done regularly. Not only are there physical and behavioral risks, but there is also the potential of the person developing an addiction to either or both substances, resulting in continued use, abuse, and potential for overdose.

Overdose Symptoms

Too much alcohol causes alcohol poisoning and too much Ambien can result in an overdose. Taking both at the same time increases these risks exponentially.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning:

  • Lowered body temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Passes out
  • Mental confusion
  • Pale or bluish skin
  • Conscious, but unresponsive
  • Extremely slowed breathing
Ambien and Alcohol
When mixing Ambien and alcohol, the risks are aggravated

In severe alcohol poisoning:

  • Breathing ceases totally
  • Hypothermia
  • May have a heart attack
  • May choke on their vomit
  • Brain damage from severe dehydration
  • Seizures due to low sugar level

Symptoms of Ambien overdose:

  • Very tired
  • Lightheaded
  • Hallucinations
  • Mentally confused
  • Loss of memory
  • Drowsy
  • Falling
  • Unable to work, understand, or drive
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slow heart rate

Ambien and Alcohol Death

Alcohol is one of the most prevalent drugs used in combination with Ambien that can cause death. Because of the increased likelihood of sleep-driving and other dangerous behaviors, even normal doses of Ambien are too dangerous to take with alcohol. Not drinking alcohol is the only way to stay safe while taking Ambien. Overdose or lethal dose of these two can lead to the deathbed. Due to extreme effects like slow breathing and heart rate you can be unconscious or can have a coma which can cause death.

Treatment for Ambien and Alcohol

Alcohol is the most abused addictive substance in America, as more than 17 million people in the United States are considered to suffer from addiction to alcohol. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) [3], publishes that over 1.5 million American adults were considered to be currently abusing a prescription drug.

Mixing Ambien and alcohol magnifies the side effects of both and may promote more use of both. A wide variety of options are available to help the person stop taking Ambien and alcohol and avoid serious side effects from polysubstance abuse. Many Ambien users respond well to residential rehab programs. 

If you are experiencing Ambien and alcohol addiction, it’s crucial to first get an accurate assessment of all the symptoms. When the symptoms have been evaluated by a mental health professional, it may be determined that another form of mental condition is present and needs a particular type of treatment. Very often, some combination of psychotherapy, medication, and/or lifestyle changes are effective for coping with functional. 

Medically-Assisted Detox

Detox is often considered the first stage of treatment. It will help you navigate the complicated process of Ambien and alcohol withdrawal, but it doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to drug use. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can provide necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of withdrawals.

Psychotherapy 

Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of mental health disorders along with addiction, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves making changes in both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Person-Centered Therapy – is a strategy that allows and encourages clients to understand and resolve their concerns in a safe, supportive environment.
  • Solution Focused Therapy – is an approach interested in solutions that can be quickly implemented with a simple first step leading to further positive consequences.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Drug abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorder and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis rehabilitation treats both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. In this strategy, both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder are treated simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider.

Medication-Assisted Treatments

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use disorders and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

 If you or a loved one are struggling with long-term drug abuse and a co-occurring mental health condition such as depression, contact one of our helpful treatment specialists today. We Level Up can provide information on dual diagnosis and detox programs that may fit your specific needs.

Ambien and alcohol
Polydrug abuse (Ambien and alcohol) is an increasingly common — and deadly — issue in America, but it is highly treatable.

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Sources:

[1] NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK442008/

[2] NIH – https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=c36cadf4-65a4-4466-b409-c82020b42452

[3] SAMHSA – https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt35325/NSDUHFFRPDFWHTMLFiles2020/2020NSDUHFFR1PDFW102121.pdf