Combining sleeping pills and alcohol can have fatal effects. Increasing numbers of individuals in the U.S. are relying on sleep medications that, when combined with alcohol, can cause dangerous side effects.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Sleeping Pills and Prescription Sedatives
By some estimates, almost half of the people in the U.S. have suffered from some symptoms of insomnia, including failing to get sufficient sleep. Many of these Americans turn to either over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pills for help with their problem, and the following statistics suggest that the use of sleep aids is indeed prevalent:
- 10-20% of Americans use over-the-counter sleep aids every year, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
- Nearly one-third (30%) of American women reported using some form of sleep aid every week.
- 4% of Americans have been prescribed a sedative/hypnotic medication for sleep within the last month, and prescriptions for sleep remedies have increased three-fold among Americans aged 18-24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Even when taken occasionally and as directed, these sleep aids can have unpleasant and potentially severe side effects. Also, a shockingly large number of persons in the U.S. reported abusing these pills, taking them far longer than initially intended or not as prescribed by a doctor.
Moreover, a study from Brown University and the University of Rhode Island revealed that 60% of those using prescription drugs that are not to be combined with alcohol (including sleep aids) still drink. Mixing sleeping pills and alcohol is, in fact, a common form of abuse, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The number of emergency room-related incidents that involved zolpidem, the active ingredient in Ambien and other sleep aids, nearly doubled between 2005-2010. Referred to as “overmedication” – or using too much zolpidem or taking it in conjunction with alcohol and other drugs—this misuse of substances was reported as the cause of this significant increase.
Also, 14% of all zolpidem-related emergency room visits involved alcohol in combination with the drug.
Risks of Combining Alcohol and Sleeping Pills
Combining alcohol and sleeping pills with other prescription or illegal drugs is not to be minimized. For example, a study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics found that using alcohol combined with zolpidem doubled an individual’s likelihood of ending up in an intensive care unit.
Medications for sleep and alcohol both depress the central nervous system (CNS) by interacting with GABA receptors in the brain. Because of this, if they are used together, the possible side effects could be intensified exponentially. One of the most dangerous side effects is respiratory depression. Sedative/hypnotic drugs suppress breathing, and in conjunction with alcohol, this effect can be intensified and result in cessation of breathing and cardiac arrest.
In addition to decreased or difficulty breathing, alcohol combined with sleep aids can be related to occurrences of erratic and possibly life-threatening behavior. For example, medications like Ambien have been associated with episodes of sleepwalking and “sleep-driving” that have put the physical well-being of users and others at a high risk of injury.
Also, some people have engaged in sexual intercourse while on zolpidem have later been unable to recall the event. Drinking alcohol can increase the likelihood of such risky experiences, which may be described as disassociative or fugue-like in nature.
In a study from 1995, investigators evaluated impairments in two dozen healthy males who were given doses of zolpidem, both alone and in conjunction with alcohol. The skills assessed included information processing ability and rate, immediate memory, and sustained attention. Both alcohol and zolpidem significantly impaired performance on each task, and in general, the “additive” effects of alcohol were detected when used with 10mg of zolpidem.
Other adverse reactions from using sleeping aids and alcohol may include the following:
- Extreme drowsiness and sleepiness
- Memory impairment
- Impaired motor functioning
Commonly Used Sleeping Aids and Alcohol: Interactions
In addition to hypnotics and sedatives that contain zolpidem, a number of other sleeping pills are known to have adverse interactions with alcohol. Common sleep aids include the following:
Certain herbal supplements, including chamomile, valerian root, and lavender, are also frequently used to help people get to sleep.
If you are addicted to sedatives or sleep aids, alcohol, or other drugs, there is treatment available. Just Believe Recovery offers comprehensive, customized treatment that includes evidence-based services, such as psychotherapy, psychoeducation, individual and family counseling, peer group support, and aftercare planning.
We employ professional medical and mental health staff who specialize in addiction and render services in both inpatient and partial hospitalization formats. We provide those we treat with the tools they need to be successful at sobriety and experience a long-lasting recovery.
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