One of the most significant challenges in treatment for alcoholism is when an individual is regularly mixing alcohol with other substances, either doing so unaware of the consequences or deliberately intensifying intoxication.
Moreover, in many cases, patients don’t realize that alcohol and certain medications can lead to a severe reaction. In other instances, those who abuse drugs may drink alcohol and use it simultaneously to experience euphoria or self-medicate for mental illness, such as insomnia or anxiety, without understanding the risks. Clinically, this is known as polysubstance abuse.
One drug that is particularly dangerous to use in conjunction with alcohol is Ambien, the brand name for the drug zolpidem—combining Ambien and alcohol, regardless of why it can result in a severe, life-threatening reaction. Understanding what occurs when an individual mixes Ambien and alcohol can help deter this behavior and let people know when it’s likely time to seek professional treatment for polysubstance use disorder.
Mixing Ambien and Alcohol
Doctors almost always advise against using any medication simultaneously with alcohol. This is because the properties of many prescription drugs, alcohol, and other substances can interfere with each other, leading to unpredictable and adverse reactions that can render the medication ineffective. More critically, mixing medications can result in physical harm, including life-threatening complications, such as an overdose or risky behavior that causes an injury.
Both Are CNS Depressants
As a hypnotic and potent sedative, Ambien is a CNS (central nervous system) depressant, meaning that it mitigates activity in the body and brain. Alcohol is also a CNS depressant and a very effective one. Understanding how depressants work can help us understand why combining alcohol and medications such as Ambien can be hazardous. Specifically, these substances slow down messages transmitting throughout the body.
Decreasing activity in the CNS can lead to the following symptoms:
- Reduced anxiety
- Impaired coordination
The effects of depressants are cumulative. This means that using two or more can intensify associated symptoms, and therefore cause profound drowsiness and perilously slow respiration and heart rate.
How Ambien Works
Ambien does not usually induce sleep immediately. Instead, it is a sedative and hypnotic that simulates the sleep-wake cycle, which can sometimes cause the person to sleepwalk. This effect may enable him or her to be active without conscious memory of what occurs while using this medication. In rare cases, people have engaged in risky, life-threatening activities, such as driving, while under the influence of Ambien.
Sleepwalking (somnambulism) is among the most dangerous potential effects of Ambien use. In fact, a user is probably not even aware of their actions while sleepwalking. This situation can be especially hazardous if the person drinks alcohol and engages in activities that can cause injury to both the individual and others.
Why People Use Ambien and Alcohol
Some people will combine drugs with alcohol intentionally to get a more intense effect. Others combine alcohol with sleep aids, falsely believing that it will help them sleep more soundly. This is a big misconception, however, because sleep that is caused by alcohol use is not normal, restful sleep, and the individual will not experience a healthy sleep cycle. Also, as mentioned above, if alcohol is used in combination with Ambien, it can lead to dangerous behaviors or overdose.
Others may use these two substances in conjunction to experience a euphoric or a hallucinogenic effect. Ambien use is associated with its own set of risks, especially if it is used long-term. There is likewise the potential for addiction to one or both substances, resulting in persistent abuse and an increased risk of overdose.
Effects of Combining Ambien and Alcohol
Combining Ambien and alcohol can lead to the following severe symptoms:
- Depressed breathing
- Profoundly slowed heart rate
- Severe drowsiness
- Impaired coordination
- Clumsiness and falls
- Visual hallucinations
- Impaired memory
If someone you know has used Ambien with alcohol and is encountering the above symptoms, he or she could be overdosing on one or both substances and be in imminent danger of injury or death. Please contact emergency medical services immediately.
What’s more, alcohol and Ambien can have unpredictable interactions include erratic behavior, mood swings, and the inability to remember activities engaged in while intoxicated by both substances. It is critical to note that these effects can sometimes lead to death, either by using enough of either substance to stop their breathing entirely or through engagement in hazardous activities such as driving while under the influence.
Studies have shown that those who drink alcohol and use Ambien together are more than twice as likely to be transferred to intensive care, compared to those who used Ambien but did not consume alcohol. According to a 2010 report by DAWN (Drug Abuse Warning Network), about 57% of emergency room visits and hospitalizations related to taking too much Ambien also involved the use of other substances. Ambien mixed with alcohol use accounted for 14% of those visits.
Prescription Drugs Are Not Always Safe
Some individuals assume that obtaining a prescription from a health provider guarantees that the medication is safer to use than other substances. However, this is a dangerous misconception that has lead to many accidental overdoses and other complications when people have engaged in routine activities without being aware of what reactions the substances can have. Moreover, prescription drugs are not safer to use, misuse, or abuse just because they are legitimately obtained.
Medications work by altering specific conditions in the brain and body. In the case of Ambien, such conditions can lead to dangerous situations if the individual attempts to operate heavy machinery or an automobile after taking the drug. The related drowsiness and impaired coordination are highly likely to result in an accident.
In fact, due to the possible risks of Ambien alone, ICADTS (International Council on Alcohol, Drugs, and Traffic Safety) classifies zolpidem as a Schedule II substance. They also say that it impairs a person’s driving comparable to a blood alcohol level of 0.05-0.08%, which is the equivalent of about two standard drinks.
Getting Help for Substance Abuse
If you suspect that someone close to you is engaging in the combined use of Ambien and alcohol, it is critical to get the individual professional help as quickly as possible. This step can prevent accidental overdose or other complications from occurring. If you are mixing these two substances, you should seek treatment immediately.
Just Believe Recovery offers help for those who are struggling with alcohol and/or drug abuse in the form of an evidence-based, certified substance abuse treatment program. Through psychoeducation, behavioral therapy, counseling, and support groups, individuals can learn why mixing drugs and alcohol is dangerous and develop the skills they need to achieve abstinence, prevent relapse, and sustain longstanding sobriety.
If you or someone you love is misusing Ambien and alcohol or other substances, we urge you to contact us as soon as possible to discuss treatment options. Our centers offer treatment in both partial-hospitalization and residential formats. We are dedicated to helping people by providing them with the knowledge, support, resources, and tools they need to fully recover and break free from the shackles of substance abuse for life!