It is no secret that many warnings persist about the dangers of mixing substances, both licit medication and illicit drugs, with alcohol. Even if many users remain unaware of what exactly the consequences may be, the warning against what could happen is still widely promulgated today. At dinner, a woman turns down a glass of wine because she knows she has medication to take later. A doctor prescribing gabapentin warns his patient not to mix the medication with alcohol or other substances. These instances happen every day somewhere in the world. People turn down alcohol or other drug combinations to heed that old warning that mixing drugs and alcohol is bad for you. However, at the same time, somewhere in the world, people are intentionally mixing their licit or illicit substances with alcohol to induce those effects that others want to avoid. Similarly, people also combine certain drugs together that ought to be avoided taken together to achieve a specific feeling or experience. The warning against mixing substances may often be repeated without complete understanding of the ramifications, however, the warning is parroted often for good reason. Mixing substances and alcohol can cause severe consequences and side effects for the user. Similarly, some medications, even licitly prescribed ones, should not be mixed in order to avoid experiencing the side effects of the drugs’ adverse interaction. Ambien®, for instance, is a drug that should not be mixed with alcohol under any circumstances. Understanding the consequences of mixing Ambien and alcohol can help patients using the prescription play a more active role in shaping their health and can also help individuals who misuse Ambien learn about the dangerous side effects and consequences to their well-being.
What Is Ambien?
Before discussing why an Ambien and alcohol mixture should be avoided, one must first understand what Ambien is and what kinds of side effects it can produce in a user. Ambien is a widely recognizable brand name for a drug called zolpidem. This is a drug that is used to treat insomnia, a condition in which an individual has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. People with insomnia can struggle with a lack of energy during the day and do not often feel well-rested, usually feeling fatigued. These individuals can also become more irritable or experience more frequent headaches as a result of less sleep or poor quality of sleep. Insomnia is a condition that can be either acute, meaning it lasts for a short period of time, or chronic, meaning the condition lasts for a longer period of time and persists for months. Ambien is what is known as a sedative-hypnotic sleep aid drug. There are a variety of so-called “hypnotic” drugs that function as sleep aids to give people with insomnia or some other kind of sleep disorder respite and a chance to get some quality sleep. The hypnotic drug class derives its name from the Greek word “hypnos,” meaning sleep. Therefore, all hypnotic drugs have something to do with sleep or sedation. In fact, Ambien was a drug that was an answer to a public desire for a sleep aid that was not as potent and overwhelming as other popular hypnotic drugs (see: benzodiazepines such as Valium® or barbiturates such as Nembutal®). While benzos and barbiturates were useful in helping people get to sleep, there were strong side effects, and it was not uncommon for users to experience over-sedation or excessive daytime drowsiness. With side effects like daytime drowsiness seemingly undermining the point of a sleep aid, Ambien was a drug that seemed like an answered prayer. It worked well and helped its users who struggled with insomnia. In the 90s, Ambien came onto the market and was touted as an alternative to the potent and overbearing benzos and barbiturates. Ambien quickly became a popularly prescribed drug and in fact is still widely prescribed today. However, the side effects that many sought to avoid through Ambien would soon find that Ambien carries the potential for some very serious side effects in a user. Ambien as a sleep aid is intended for short-term use. As the drug became more widely prescribed, its serious side effects became studied more closely. The findings indicated that longer-term use of the drug, or recreational use of it, could result in more serious side effects for the user. More serious side effects can also result when Ambien is mixed with alcohol, which will be explored in more detail later in this piece.
Physical Side Effects of Ambien
Misusing a substance by taking it when it’s unneeded, or taking larger and more frequent doses of the medication can increase a user’s chances of experiencing more severe side effects. Physical side effects of Ambien can include
- Very fast or irregular heartbeat
- Sore throat
- Abdominal pain
- Seeing double
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle weakness
- Skin rashes
- Irregular body movements
- Uncontrolled shaking
- Pinpoint pupils (pupils that have constricted to a small size)
- Slow and ineffective breathing (respiratory depression)
Experiencing an allergic reaction to Ambien is also a possibility for some individuals. Telltale signs of an allergic reaction include swelling of the face, mouth, and tongue, breaking out in hives, and shortness of breath. An allergic reaction requires immediate emergency medical attention.
Cognitive Side Effects of Ambien
Ambien was specifically created with the intention of replacing benzodiazepines and barbiturates as a safer sleep aid and avoiding the potential of users falling into addiction. In essence, Ambien was meant to be a drug that could do everything positive that benzos could do for a user with fewer serious consequences. Because of this mindset, Ambien had to be a drug that could retain those positive qualities without positioning itself as a drug for addiction and recreational misuse. The specific interactions of the drug with the brain means that there are several cognitive effects that can occur while on this drug. Basically, Ambien works by acting on receptor cells in the brain. Those receptor cells bind with a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, abbreviated as GAMA. This chemical helps influence and manage sleep and various neurological processes. Because of the drug’s interactions with this chemical in the brain, upon taking Ambien, it is possible that some users may experience various cognitive side effects.These cognitive side effects of Ambien can include
- Trouble concentrating
- Memory loss (amnesia)
- Disorientation, especially about place or time
- General confusion
- Loss of appreciation or pleasure about life
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Mood swings
- Disturbances in sleep
- Inability to get a restful night’s sleep
Ambien’s Adverse Effects on the User
Although many people can and do benefit from short-term Ambien use, long-term use of Ambien, and even some normal use of it, can have some very serious side effects. For example, numerous unconscious behaviors have been observed in patients using Ambien. These behaviors occur when the patient is in a state of sleep and so these behaviors are clinically referred to as parasomnias. These parasomnias can include
- Engaging in sex or sexual activity
The trouble with Ambien and alcohol often revolves around the issue of exacerbating parasomnias and other side effects of Ambien.
What Are Depressants?
Mixing Ambien and alcohol should be avoided at all costs to ensure the health of the user. In fact, Ambien should not be taken with any kind of depressant at all. Depressants are a classification of drug. Substances in this category often have the effect of inducing sleepiness or drowsiness in the user. Alcohol, for example, is a depressant. These substances are known to relieve anxiety and tension and induce sleep. Substances that depress the central nervous system include substances such as alcohol, opioids, and tranquilizers. In combination with Ambien, the sedative effects Ambien will be amplified. This can increase the risk of fatal overdose and injury from accidents. Besides exacerbating the risk of overdose and accidental injuries, parasomnias, especially, can be affected by the consumption of alcohol and Ambien. When Ambien is combined with alcohol, the risk of experiencing a parasomnia is increased.
Mixing Ambien and Alcohol
Although it may not seem like a big deal, there are many downsides to increasing the risk of parasomnias. For example, when it comes to sleep-driving, the mental alertness and coordination needed to drive are not as present, posing a great risk to the safety of the driver as well as other motorists. With sleep-eating, individuals who need to stick to a required diet for the sake of their health can be blindsided by the sleep-eating habits they undertake when they are completely unaware. In addition, sleep-eating poses a danger to the user who may attempt to operate kitchen equipment in a sleep state and may injure themselves by accident. Side effects of mixing alcohol and Ambien include
- Trouble concentrating
- Coordination problems
- Impaired thinking and judgment
- Sleep apnea
- Decreased or troubled breathing
- Slowed heart rate
- Memory loss (amnesia)
- Sleepwalking (and other parasomnias)
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Uncontrolled shaking
Combining alcohol with Ambien has also been noted as increasing the likelihood of a user to end up in an intensive care unit due to overdosing. Symptoms of Ambien overdose include
- Pinpoint pupils (constricted pupils)
- Slurred speech
- Inability to wake up/remain conscious
- Depressed, slowed, or stopped breathing
Treating Ambien Addiction
Treatment for Ambien addiction is possible with Northpoint Washington. At Northpoint Washington, we take a unique integrated approach to addiction care. We recognize that physical dependence is only one part of the problem when it comes to addiction. Our integrated treatment plans are carefully developed to address every part of an addiction. Here at Northpoint Washington, we dig into the psychological roots of our clients’ addictions and give them the tools and resources they need to recover from addiction and live normal, happy lives free from the troubles of an addiction-riddled life.Our unique integrated addiction treatment approach ensures that every part of our clients’ stories and concerns are properly addressed. Addiction is not a surface level problem, and our treatment reflects our desire to fully address and treat this complex issue.To start your Day One, contact one of our admissions specialists by calling 425.437.3298.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens when you mix Ambien and alcohol?
In combination with Ambien, the sedative effects Ambien will be amplified. The chances of overdose and injury from accidents also rises dramatically when Ambien is combined with alcohol. It should be noted that any depressant, not just alcohol, should be avoided in a combination with Ambien. Depressants besides alcohol will also amplify the sedative effects of the drug. Alongside amplified sedative risks, combining Ambien and alcohol will heighten the chance of a user experiencing parasomnias, types of sleep disorders that involve behaviors undertaken when an individual is in a state of sleep. For example, sleepwalking is one kind of parasomnia. When alcohol and Ambien risk, a user can experience numerous physical symptoms. A user may feel dizzy, have trouble concentrating, lose coordination, have trouble breathing, become confused and disoriented, have hallucinations, feel nauseous, or collapse. It has also been observed that mixing alcohol with Ambien will increase the likelihood of a user to end up in an intensive care unit due to overdosing.
Can Ambien and alcohol kill you?
Yes, a combination of Ambien and alcohol can be a recipe for a fatal overdose. Both drugs are depressants and so both cause slowed (depressed) breathing and slow a user’s heart rate. Together, the outcome can be incredibly harmful to the user. Besides physical symptoms, there is an increased likelihood of a user sleepwalking or sleep-driving, both of which increase the chances of harm in an accident.
What have people done while taking Ambien and alcohol?
Numerous parasomnia behaviors have been observed in users who have mixed Ambien and alcohol. Even without alcohol, Ambien has a tendency to induce parasomnias like sleep-eating and engaging in sexual activity in users. When alcohol is added to the mix, a user’s judgment is further impaired.
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