Ambien (zolpidem) is a sedative/hypnotic available only by prescription. It is typically used to treat insomnia and other sleep disturbances. Ambien helps put the person’s brain into the hypnagogic state that is between waking and sleeping. Of great relevance, individuals who experience sleep disorders tend to have difficulty achieving this on their own.
Some people have reported engaging in dangerous activities after taking Ambien, such as sleepwalking and sleep-driving, which have led to many accidental fatalities. Beyond the potential for sleep-related injuries, another potential consequence of Ambien use is overdose, which may occur when the drug is abused in excess.
Overdosing on Ambien
Whenever potent sedatives are involved, there is always a risk of adverse complications, and Ambien is no exception. That said, a very high amount of Ambien is required to result in death. Ambien acts rapidly and remains effective for only a few hours, meaning that very high amounts are needed in a brief period to be fatal.
How Many Ambien Does it Take to Cause Overdose?
Medically-prescribed Ambien doses start in the 5–10 mg range. When a person passes this recommended amount, the potential for negative health consequences increases exponentially.
Recreational or non-medical users have reported taking 400–600 mg doses, which will likely result in an overdose, although this amount would not necessarily prove lethal. Experts estimate that a potentially deadly amount of Ambien is approximately 2,000 mg. Of note, however, detrimental outcomes can occur far before this level of use has been reached.
At 2,000 mg, an individual would have to consume 200 pills at 10 mg each. Moreover, an overdose is not really possible unless it’s purposeful. However, other unsafe practices regarding substance use can increase a person’s risk of overdose, such as tampering with Ambien and abusing it through non-prescribed administration routes such as chewing, snorting, or injecting. In fact, tapering with Ambien tablets in any way invalidates innate safeguards, as this rapid-release drug enters the bloodstream almost immediately.
Overdoses are also more likely to occur if Ambien is used in combination with other substances, particularly benzodiazepines, opioids, or alcohol. Ambien and alcohol, when used concurrently, are exceedingly dangerous and are, unfortunately, a commonly abused combination.
Ambien overdose symptoms include the following:
- Slurred speech
- Profound drowsiness
- Inability to be roused
- Irrational thoughts
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Abnormal or slow breathing
- Respiratory arrest
If you believe that you or a person you know are overdosing on Ambien, please call 911 immediately. Emergency medical staff may administer an antidote called flumazenil to counteract the individual’s level of sedation.
Dangers of Combining Alcohol and Ambien
Due to this drug’s potency and potential for abuse, Ambien prescriptions are often limited to 1-2 weeks. During that time, health professionals will carefully monitor patients for evidence of abuse or addiction. If a person uses Ambien for longer than two weeks, tolerance can develop, and the medication may no longer be as effective at the usual prescribed dosage.
As noted, many intoxicating substances can adversely interact with Ambien in unexpected and dangerous ways, and among the most commonly abused is alcohol. Heavy alcohol consumption on its own is associated with severe side effects. When Ambien and alcohol are used together, many of the most dangerous side effects of either substance are intensified. The amplified effects occur because Ambien attaches to GABA receptors in the brain, acting to decrease CNS (central nervous system) activity, as does alcohol.
Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Ambien
When used in combination, Ambien and alcohol can compound each other’s intoxicating and psychoactive effects and result in the following:
- Impaired cognition
- Poor judgment
- Impaired motor skills
- Profound sleepiness
- Somnambulance (sleepwalking)
- Severely depressed breathing
- Sleep apnea
According to studies, individuals who combine Ambien and alcohol are more than two times as likely to require intensive care than those who took Ambien but did not drink alcohol.
Ambien, when used independently, can result in side effects. For this reason, it is not recommended that those who use this medication do so if they are unable to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep. In doing so, this can help relieve some of the potential next-day aftereffects, such as grogginess fatigue. It can be very hazardous to use Ambien while operating a motor vehicle or machinery, especially it was just taken, or the person did not get enough rest.
The above is especially true for persons who consume alcohol and use Ambien concurrently. This combination increases the risk of an Ambien overdose, and dangerous side effects are also more likely to occur.
The likelihood of sleepwalking and engagement in other somnambulistic activities increases even when small amounts of alcohol are consumed with Ambien. Ambien and alcohol both lead to mental and physical impairments, and more than half of emergency department visits involving Ambien involve other intoxicating substances, especially alcohol.
Getting Professional Help
It is critical that individuals who are using Ambien while also using alcohol report this activity to their doctor. Consuming alcohol with Ambien, even a few hours apart, is dangerous and can lead to severe and life-threatening complications.
People in this situation are urged to seek professional help as soon as possible. Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers specialize in substance abuse treatment and addiction. Our programs use a comprehensive approach that includes clinically-proven services such as behavioral therapy, peer group support, individual and family counseling, aftercare planning, and much more.