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Mixing Ambien with Alcohol

Mixing alcohol with Ambien, a common sleep medication, can be dangerous. This article will cover information on Ambien, its addictive potential, and the effects of combining this medication with alcohol. It will also explain what treatment entails for alcohol and Ambien misuse and how to find rehab programs.

What Is Ambien?

Ambien is one of a few medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of insomnia.1 It is the brand-name version of the medication zolpidem, which is a sedative-hypnotic.2,3 Sedative-hypnotic medications cause sleepiness and can improve sleep quality.3

Millions of Americans take sleep medication because they struggle with insomnia. In a sleep-related survey conducted in the U.S. in 2020, 10% of participants reported taking sleep medication on some days, while 6.3% said they took sleep medication daily.4 The greatest number of adults who took sleep medication were age 65 and older.4 Women were more likely than men to take sleep medication, as were white adults compared to black, Hispanic, and Asian adults.4 This survey found that use of sleep medication trended lower as household income levels increased.4

Ambien helps with sleep because it binds to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain, leading to increased GABA levels.3 GABA is a chemical in the brain that slows down brain activity, which increases sedation.3 The body absorbs Ambien quickly, so it is fast-acting in causing sleepiness.3

Sleep is crucial to physical and mental health; lack of sleep increases the risk of health problems like heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and gastrointestinal diseases.5 It is recommended that most adults sleep 7 to 9 hours per night, and those aged 65 and older sleep 7 to 8 hours per night.5

Inadequate sleep can cause concentration problems and decreased energy.6 It can also cause moodiness, frustration, and productivity problems.7 What’s more, almost 40% of adults have reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day due to inadequate sleep the night before.7 Sleep problems can also worsen mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and depression and anxiety can cause problems with falling and staying asleep.8

This is likely why many adults who struggle with insomnia understandably want to take medication for a better night’s rest.

Is Ambien Addictive?

Yes, like other sedatives, Ambien is addictive and is, therefore, a federally controlled substance.1 This is why guidelines for Ambien include short-term use, taking the lowest effective dose, and taking it only as directed by the prescribing provider.9 Yet, some people may take Ambien in doses larger than prescribed in an attempt to counteract chronic sleep problems.

Mixing Ambien and Alcohol

Some may use alcohol to help themselves sleep.10 Like Ambien, alcohol causes sedative effects because it increases GABA levels in the brain and, in turn, slows brain activity.11

However, alcohol use can also make it difficult to get quality sleep.12 This is because the process of alcohol metabolization throughout the night interferes with the body’s ability to rest.12 Heavy alcohol consumption can increase the time it takes to fall asleep and increase awakenings throughout the night, resulting in feeling like you did not get a good night’s sleep upon awakening in the morning, regardless of the number of hours you slept.10 In addition, drinking can worsen breathing problems associated with sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSA).10

Because of their similar effects on the brain, using alcohol and Ambien together can be dangerous.

Using Ambien and alcohol together is an example of polysubstance use.13 Polysubstance use is intentionally or unintentionally taking 2 or more drugs at the same time, or taking one shortly after the other.13 Someone may do this to increase or decrease the effects of one of the drugs or to experience the effects of the drug combination.13 However, alcohol and Ambien interact with each other and can cause harmful effects.14

Alcohol-medication interaction means that alcohol can impact how the medication is metabolized, the medication can speed up the processing of alcohol, causing higher blood-alcohol concentrations, or alcohol can alter the effectiveness of the medication.14 Alcohol and Ambien interactions, in particular, can be very dangerous.

Side Effects of Ambien and Alcohol

Ambien alone can contribute to unwanted side effects. Complex sleep behaviors can occur from taking Ambien alone, such as getting out of bed half asleep and doing an activity without awareness of it.9 These behaviors include sleep-walking or sleep-driving, preparing and eating food, having a phone conversation, and engaging in sex.9 Complex sleep behaviors have resulted in injury and death in some cases, and alcohol use with Ambien can make these behaviors much worse.9

Because both slow down brain function and cause sedation, mixing alcohol and Ambien intensifies these depressant effects.14 Ambien mixed with alcohol can lead to:14,15

  • Breathing problems.
  • Lack of motor control.
  • Memory problems.
  • Worsening drowsiness and dizziness.
  • Odd behavior.
  • Ambien overdose.

Ambien overdose means there is more Ambien present in the body than the body can handle. This is life-threatening because it can cause:1

  • Coma.
  • Cardiovascular problems.
  • Breathing cessation.
  • Death.

Given the potential consequences of combining Ambien and alcohol, treatment for polysubstance use disorder is important to prevent dangerous outcomes, such as injury or overdose.

Treatment for Polysubstance Use

Treatment is available if someone is dealing with alcohol addiction and misusing Ambien. Different levels of care include:

  • Detoxification. Detox is needed if someone is physically dependent on alcohol or Ambien, meaning that the body is so used to the substance that when a person stops taking the medication or reduces the dose, they are at risk of withdrawal effects.16 The detoxification process is monitored by medical providers who help a person go through the withdrawal of the substance safely, sometimes with medication.16 It is important to note that detox is not the treatment of polysubstance use disorder, just the safe removal of substances from the body.
  • Inpatient or long-term residential treatment. This treatment setting is generally a fit for someone with severe addiction or co-occurring medical or mental health conditions.17 Inpatient treatment involves residing at the treatment facility and receiving care 24 hours per day.18 Treatment duration typically lasts from 6 to 12 months and includes a multidisciplinary team to attend to a person’s psychological, medical, and case-management needs (e.g., employment training).18 A residential facility is usually staffed with psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, and general practitioners to provide services such as individual and family therapy, psychoeducation, and pharmacological treatment.18
  • Intensive outpatient treatment programs (IOP). IOPs offer intensive treatment similar to inpatient rehab however, the person commutes to the outpatient treatment facility.17 IOP is a fit for someone with severe addiction or co-occurring conditions but also needs to live at home in order to work or attend to other responsibilities.17 IOP programs can occur Monday through Friday in the evenings or on the weekends and provide about 9 to 20 hours of treatment per week.17
  • Outpatient counseling. Outpatient counseling is a fit for someone who has a mild polysubstance use disorder. It can also serve as aftercare treatment after completion of a residential or IOP program.18 It usually involves seeing a therapist once per week to help maintain abstinence and deal with stressors to help prevent relapse.18

Behavioral therapies are a central part of any polysubstance use treatment program because they help the person examine their use patterns and make healthy changes. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps a person to see how their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are related to each other, change these patterns to improve emotions and behaviors, and learn coping strategies.19

Contingency management (CM) is another commonly used behavioral therapy that provides rewards when a person achieves a specific goal, such as abstinence for 30 days.20 Motivational interviewing works to help a person sort through their conflicting feelings about substance use and increase their motivation for healthy change.21

In addition to behavioral therapies, mutual support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can be very helpful for a person in achieving and maintaining sobriety. In fact, some research has found that 12-Step programs generally help people reach and maintain abstinence better than other treatments.22 Given the benefits that come from peer support, therapists often refer people to participation in a 12-Step program in tandem with outpatient therapy.18

Find Polysubstance Misuse Rehab

If you or someone you care about is dealing with Ambien and alcohol misuse, know that it is never too late to seek treatment, and help is available. Detox helps to remove substances safely from the body and manage withdrawal symptoms.16 Treatment can help achieve long-term abstinence for those with polysubstance use disorder, and in turn, recovery can improve life satisfaction.23

Call American Addiction Centers at . Our admissions navigators are available to help answer questions and aid in determining which rehab program would be the best fit.

Our admissions navigators can also help verify your health insurance benefits, or you can also use our online tool to verify insurance. You can also find polysubstance rehab by searching our directory.

Please call us today. We’re here 24/7 and we are happy to assist you and/or your loved ones.

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