Ambien and Alcohol: The Dangers Involved When Mixing the Two

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Getting enough hours of good quality sleep without disturbance is crucial in living a healthy and productive lifestyle. Not only will insufficient sleep put a person in a bad frame of mind, but it can also negatively impact their performance at work and put them at higher risk of being in a car crash, among other things. However, this desire to get a solid night’s sleep shouldn’t cause a person to put their health at risk and turn to dangerous combinations - ambien and alcohol being one of them.  

Individuals who combine ambien with alcohol do so with the misguided belief that alcohol will enhance the effect of the ambien, making it more effective and allowing them to fall asleep sooner. In reality, this is a dangerous combination, and medical professionals advise waiting several hours after drinking alcohol before consuming ambien so that it is totally out of the system.

What is Ambien?

Ambien (the brand name of the pharmaceutical Zolpidem tartrate) is a nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic. The medication causes sedation and muscle relaxation and is used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. John Stallcup, the author of How to Sleep on Airplanes, explains that “ambien creates a different state of consciousness called sedation which is not the same as natural sleep.” Instead, it works by activating the GABA neurotransmitter to slow brain activity and produce a drowsy effect that initiates the sleep process. As a result, ambien helps individuals fall asleep in as little as 15 minutes, and it lasts four to five hours, though individuals are advised not to take it unless they can stay in bed for seven to eight hours. 

Effects of Mixing Ambien and Alcohol

Mixing alcohol and ambien can be extremely detrimental and has many risks. Since both alcohol and ambien are depressants, together they can cause damaging effects on the central nervous system. Here are some things to keep in mind before you decide to mix the two.

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Overdosing on Ambien and Wine

Research shows that most fatal drug overdoses involve the use of more than one type of drug (known as poly-drug or poly-substance use [1]). Although we don’t typically think of alcohol as a drug, it is, in fact, a depressant. Like benzodiazepines, alcohol works by depressing the body's central nervous system. The CNS controls breathing, heart rate, and brain function, and ambien and alcohol both work by reducing the activity of several mental functions, such as thought, memory, coordination, and respiration. As a result, mixing ambien and alcohol intensifies the effect of both drugs, which is known as having an additive effect. This can slow down or compromise one’s breathing and lead to unconsciousness or even death. Mixing ambien and wine, or any other alcoholic beverages, can also have other adverse psychomotor effects, such as dizziness, drowsiness, and impaired motor control.

Common Psychological Effects that Can Occur When Consuming Ambien with Alcohol

Other negative psychological effects of combining the two drugs include:

  • disorientation, 
  • confusion, 
  • hallucinations, 
  • impaired motor control, 
  • memory problems. 

Memory Loss

In some instances, ambien causes a special type of memory loss known as drug-induced amnesia. Stallcup explains that “the impact of ambien is like taking a Valium, Xanax or Ativan. You tend to become very relaxed and disinhibited. A common side effect of ambien is that you don’t remember what you were doing while you were ‘under the influence’” which can be several hours after taking the medicine.

Unusual Behaviors

In addition, ambien can sometimes cause strange behavior such as sleepwalking, sleep-eating, sleeptalking, and hallucination. A person might think that they had a regular night's sleep and have no recollection of such unusual behavior occurring. Of course, these adverse side effects are exacerbated when the drug is misused over a prolonged period.  

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A Gateway to Drug Abuse and Addiction

In addition to the potential medical complications caused by combining alcohol with ambien, even when a regular dosage is taken, there is a further problem when the drug is abused in other ways. This can mean exceeding the recommended dosage, taking it without a prescription, or taking it in a way it is not intended to be used, all of which can have severe consequences. For some individuals, ambien addiction can trigger the desire to use other depressant drugs. While some drugs are widely used and may appear harmless, they can act as a gateway to other risky drugs and behaviors when used incorrectly and cause addiction. Taking the drug in excess can also build up one’s tolerance to it, where they feel the need to increase their dosage to experience the same effectiveness.

In some instances, the effects of combining ambien with alcohol can lead to overdose, which will, in turn, cause coma, cardiovascular and/or respiratory compromise, which can be fatal.

How Long After Consuming Alcohol Can You Take Ambien?

Ambien should only be taken once the alcohol has completely exited the individual’s system. This can take anywhere between 1 hour to several hours. The amount of time it takes for alcohol to leave one body is dependent on a variety of factors. Body size, amount consumed, and type of drink all contribute to the metabolic rate of alcohol. Therefore, individuals who have alcohol addiction should caution themselves from taking ambien until the alcohol has left their system.

Mixing Ambien and Alcohol is Not the Only Way to Treat Sleep Problems

50 million to 70 million people in the U.S. have ongoing sleep disorders, and the CDC reported in 2020 that 8.4% of adults (approximately 27 million people) took sleep medication in 30 days prior to the survey, either daily or most days, to help them fall or stay asleep [2].

Nevertheless, if you are experiencing difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, there are several options to explore before looking into medication.


Physical Solutions

The first step is to ensure that your physical environment is conducive to a good’s night sleep. That means considering the following questions: Do you find your mattress and/or bedframe uncomfortable to sleep on? Are you too hot or too cold in your bedroom? Do you find yourself being disturbed by noises or other stimuli from either outside or inside your house? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, the course of action would be to set about working to improve your sleeping environment.

Mental Strategies

If you answered no to the above questions but still experience insomnia or another form of sleep disorder, the problem likely doesn’t have to do with your external environment but your internal state of mind. Perhaps you feel that despite your body being exhausted, your mind is wide awake and full of energy when you try to get to sleep. If this is the case, sleep podcasts are a great possibility worth trying. Using a combination of gentle music, stories, guided meditation, and mindfulness techniques, these podcasts can help you relax, unwind and get your mind into the right headspace to have a peaceful night’s sleep. In addition, sleep-tracking apps can be used in tandem with sleep podcasts, and these monitor your sleep duration, patterns, stages, and quality to help you optimize the sleep you’re getting.

Emotional Considerations

If this doesn’t create a marked difference, then perhaps you are consumed with feelings of fear and anxiety that you can’t put aside. If this is the case, it would be advisable to meet with a therapist who can work you through these anxieties so that they are relatively more contained and don’t impede your functionality. Your therapist might also recommend making healthy changes to your lifestyle, such as eating a better diet and exercising more to help improve your sleep.

How to Recover from Ambien and Alcohol Addictions

Addiction treatment programs involve weaning oneself off of ambien and alcohol in the form of drug detox treatment. Because addiction is severe, if treated incorrectly, it can lead to fatal consequences. Therefore, the best course of action will be for a person to recover in an inpatient facility. This setting will mean that their drug withdrawal can be closely monitored to ensure that professionals are at hand to help the individual work through any side effects they may be experiencing.

Other forms of treatment include individual and group therapy, which help address the issues that led to the addiction in the first place and develop strategies to prevent relapse.

Treatment at Avenues Recovery

If you or a loved one are experiencing ambien and alcohol addiction, don’t hesitate to contact Avenues Recovery, where a trained professional can discuss the treatment options available. At Avenues, we believe that your past doesn’t determine your future. No matter what might have happened or where you are now, it’s never too late to set your life back on the right course. Reach out to us and begin your journey to recovery today.

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