If you grapple with a sleep disorder, you’re not alone. The United States population struggles with a significant number of issues caused by sleep problems, and the public health consequences can affect others who don’t have sleep problems.
The most recent statistics estimate that anywhere from 50 to 70 million people have a sleep disorder. While some of us may have a stressful day and have problems falling asleep on occasion, others deal with something much more sinister. After a long day, all we want is to sleep. Not only that, our bodies need sleep to promote better health. However, those with chronic sleep disorders will lie in bed and not get the rest they need, leading to car accidents, workplace incidents, or other sleep-related issues.
Drowsy driving is responsible for 1,550 deaths and 40,000 nonfatal injuries in the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 25 adults has fallen asleep at the wheel in the past month. When you’re sleepy, you’re less alert, and it can lead to poor decisions, like driving too fast or not leaving enough room in front of you.
At a certain point, people get frustrated by feeling groggy throughout the day without getting the proper rest. It’s common for individuals to turn to alcohol as a means to treat their insomnia. Although it might work short-term, it can lead to dependence and other severe conditions. For others who go about it the right way, their doctors could prescribe benzodiazepines or Z-drugs like Ambien.
Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic sleep aid. The drug doesn’t force a person to fall asleep, but it helps put the individual’s brain into an “in-between” waking and sleep state. By doing this, it helps them fall asleep. Many of those who suffer from sleep the most common sleep disorders, such as insomnia, find significant challenges getting into this brain state.
Ambien is a potent drug, and because of that, the potential for long-term abuse is high, so prescriptions are usually limited to one to two weeks. In that time, doctors will observe the patient for signs of addiction or abuse. When someone uses Ambien every night for two weeks, they might notice the effects start to diminish.
Both alcohol and Ambien are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and using the two in conjunction with one another can be dangerous. Despite there being many intoxicating substances that interact with Ambien, the most common is alcohol. By itself, alcohol is one of the most deadly substances on the planet, despite its legality. So when the two are ingested together, many of the more dangerous physical side effects of Ambien are enhanced.
Unlike benzodiazepines that act on all GABA receptors, Ambien works on specific receptors in the brain. It was created to be less addictive than benzodiazepines, but it has very similar central nervous system depressant effects.
Physical Risks And Side Effects Of Combining Ambien And Alcohol
Ambien and alcohol are potent drugs by themselves. When using the two in conjunction with one another, they can enhance the intoxicating effects of each other.
The most common effects that could be felt include the following:
- Impaired cognition
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired judgment
- Loss of physical coordination
- Extreme drowsiness or sleepiness
- Depressed breathing
- Somnambulance, otherwise known as sleepwalking
- Sleep apnea
Those who consume Ambien and alcohol together are more than twice as likely to end up in the emergency room compared to those who took Ambien by itself without any alcohol.
Ambien alone carries the risk of enduring side effects the morning after sleeping. This is one of the various reasons why doctors limit a person’s dose to the lowest required amount. Ambien is not recommended for anyone unless they’re able to get seven or eight hours of sleep a night, which helps to ease some of the stronger next-day effects, like fatigue. It’s dangerous for someone on Ambien, especially those who just ingested the drug or didn’t get enough rest the night before, to operate heavy machinery or motor vehicles.
As was mentioned above, these effects are only enhanced if a person consumes alcohol before or after ingesting Ambien. The mixture also increases the chances of an Ambien overdose. This isn’t because a person takes too much Ambien while drinking alcohol; it’s because the dangerous side effects are more likely to happen when the drugs are mixed.
Symptoms of an Ambien overdose include the following:
- Slurred speech
- Pinpoint pupils
- Inability to wake up
- Depressed, slowed, or stopped breathing
The Worst Dangers Of Mixing Ambien And Alcohol
Any time drugs are mixed in your system, severe and potentially dangerous side effects can result. Somnambulance, also known as sleepwalking, is one of the most common and harmful side effects of using Ambien and alcohol together. A study that examined the effects of “Z-drugs” like Ambien found that when both alcohol and Ambien were combined, the potential for “parasomnia,” which means to perform tasks while asleep, increased dramatically.
The potential for sleep-eating, sleepwalking, sleep-shopping, and other somnambulistic activities increase significantly when low or moderate amounts of alcohol are used in conjunction with a prescription dose of Ambien. Since alcohol and Ambien both lead to physical and mental impairment, especially when combined, more than half of emergency room visits involving Ambien involve other drugs, particularly alcohol.
A Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report found that 57 percent of ER visits and hospitalizations caused by too much Ambien also involved another drug. Alcohol and Ambien accounted for 14 percent of those visits, translating to 2,851 people. Combining Ambien and alcohol increases a person’s chances of requiring a transfer to the intensive care unit (ICU) because of an overdose.
When Can You Safely Take Ambien After Drinking?
Those who are prescribed Ambien and plan on drinking one night should always make sure that the alcohol is entirely out of their system before taking Ambien. The metabolism period for alcohol depends on several factors, including your weight, age, and the type of drink consumed. Below, we’ve listed estimates of how long it takes to metabolize specific alcoholic beverages.
- Shot of 80 proof liquor: One hour
- Glass of wine: Three hours
- Pint of beer: Two hours
- A few drinks: Several hours
Again, medical professionals will advise you not to drink and use Ambien. We’ve listed the dangers above about the two drugs enhancing each other’s effects, and combining the two can cause an Ambien overdose. If you’ve recently been prescribed Ambien but drink frequently, you should discontinue your Ambien sleep aids or stop drinking.
If you experience adverse effects, reach out to your doctor right away. They might have you stop using the medication. However, before doing so, you should find out what is the safest way to do so.
Is Ambien Addictive By Itself?
The short answer to that question is yes. Although marketing materials might claim otherwise, using Ambien for long-term relief of your sleep issues can lead to addiction. Although many people use the medication responsibly and as prescribed, the statistics above show that many people will still drink frequently and use other drugs while on Ambien. In some cases, Ambien may also trigger the desire to use other depressant drugs like benzodiazepines or opioids.
Although Ambien might seem safe because it’s prescribed by a doctor to treat insomnia or other sleep disorders, using sedatives can sometimes make the situation worse by introducing a secondary dependence. Below are a few symptoms of Ambien withdrawal worth noting:
- Increased heart rate
If you experience any side effects from Ambien withdrawal, you should immediately reach out to a doctor for guidance on your next step. Since the withdrawal symptoms can be severe, it might be in the individual’s best interest to check into a medically monitored detox.
If the person has become dependent on both alcohol and Ambien, medical detox is crucial. Alcohol withdrawal is among the most dangerous of all drugs, and adding that to another depressant like Ambien can be a recipe for disaster.