Many people—for one reason or another—have trouble sleeping at some time in their life. For some, emotional or mental stress may make it difficult to fall or stay asleep. Even excitement, too much caffeine, or eating too much before bed can cause sleeplessness. Others may have trouble sleeping due to physical conditions (muscle tightness or chronic pain, as examples). In some cases, certain types of medications for health issues such as asthma and blood pressure may disrupt sleep. And, medical conditions like heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and diabetes may also cause sleep problems.
Missing one or two nights of sleep, although typically not enjoyable for those seeking rest, can be managed. Insomnia, however—that can last multiple days and weeks—can not only feel unmanageable—it can be excruciating. Eventually, lack of sleep leads to loss of energy, the inability to concentrate, and significantly affects your mood. People find it difficult to work, perform daily activities, and enjoy their everyday lives.
For some, the solution to their sleeplessness is taking a sleep aid. Some sleep aids can be purchased over the counter, but others need to be prescribed by a healthcare provider. There has been some growing concern about the side effects that can accompany certain sleep aids. Ambien® (zolpidem) for example, while intended to help patients improve the quality and duration of sleep, has become increasingly recognized for its unusual and—often unpredictable—side effects.
Even more concerning are the outcomes that can occur when Ambien is mixed with alcohol.
Because Ambien and alcohol both have sedative properties, taken together, they pose extremely serious health risks. The probability of developing addiction increases for both (which is why Ambien is typically only prescribed as a short-term solution). Additionally—and of paramount concern—ingesting Ambien with alcohol can induce comas as well as being potentially life-threatening.
If you or someone you love has been having trouble sleeping, is struggling with self-medicating, or could be dealing with alcohol use disorder (AUD), you are not alone. Futures Recovery Healthcare helps individuals 18 and older to navigate a wide range of addiction and mental health disorders and conditions. We provide a safe, supportive, and non-judgemental space to help people heal and establish lasting strategies for a happy and enjoyable life.
Why Is Ambien Prescribed?
As we mentioned earlier, when individuals experience insomnia, they may be prescribed a sleep aid by their healthcare provider aimed to improve sleep. When people experience a sleep disorder, they may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Struggling to fall asleep at night
- Waking up several times during the night
- Waking up too early (and not being able to fall back asleep)
- Feeling poorly and unrested after a night of sleep
- Struggling to stay awake, focus, and concentrate during the day
- Finding difficulty performing tasks (including making errors in work or becoming more accident prone)
- Experiencing mood issues become more prevalent (such as irritability, depression, and anxiety)
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), it’s estimated that between 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders, “which can affect performance on daily tasks and lead to negative health consequences.”
If a doctor prescribes zolpidem—which in addition to Ambien—is also found in Ambien CR®, Edluar®, and Zolpimist® —it is to help a patient diagnosed with insomnia or sleeping difficulties to attain restful sleep.
It is crucial to seek help from a medical professional if you are having difficulty obtaining restful, quality sleep. Only a healthcare professional can properly diagnose insomnia or other sleeping disorders.
Initially, many people with sleeping problems found that zolpidem was a welcome solution when it first came to market in the early 1990s. Over time, however, research revealed growing concerns regarding zolpidem’s side effects and medication interaction dangers.
Growing Concerns Over Sleep Aid Side Effects
The problem with certain sleep aids, as with other types of medications, is the way in which they interact with each individual’s body chemistry. Ambien, as it has been discovered, has the potential to cause similar outcomes as when someone experiences a toxic reaction to alcohol or drugs. These side effects can range from unpredictable to extremely dangerous and include:
- Changes in behavior and thinking
- Exhibiting heightened aggression and extroversion
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Sleep driving (when a person physically operates/drives a vehicle while not fully awake—in a hypnotic state)
Although more rare, physical side effects of Ambien can include:
- Swelling of the tongue, larynx, or glottis
- Shortness of breath
- Airway closure
- Nausea and vomiting
Additionally, according to evidence-based research, “zolpidem is not recommended for the general population as first-line treatment because of its high potential for abuse.” In addition to developing a dependence on prescribed sleep aids, the other risks are that individuals can build up a tolerance (requiring increasing amounts of the drug to acquire an effect).
And, if a person attempts to discontinue taking the sleep aid, they may experience what is referred to as “rebound insomnia.” This condition acts similar to withdrawal in its symptoms, causing a person to not only suffer from sleeplessness, but also experience anxiety, irritability, confusion, and mood alterations.
Prior to prescribing a sleep aid, a medical provider may suggest:
- Reducing caffeine intake
- Limiting large meals before bedtime
- Making sure your room is dark and quiet at night
- Exercising earlier in the day
- Removing electronic devices from your bedroom
- Establishing a routine that encourages consistency in the time you go to bed and wake up
Above and beyond the side effects that can occur from taking a prescribed sleep aid containing zolpidem (including developing a serious addiction) is what can happen when this medication is mixed with other substances. A heightened danger resides in mixing Ambien with another Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants—like alcohol.
What Happens When You Mix Ambien with Alcohol
Prescribed medications—and, even non-prescribed, over-the-counter drugs—almost always have some type of warning to consult with your doctor before taking any other medication. Certain medications (Ambien included), also have a label cautioning people not to consume alcohol.
Consuming Ambien and alcohol together is particularly dangerous because, as briefly discussed earlier, both depressive drugs have sedating effects. This means that taken together they lower both a person’s heart rate and blood pressure. And, the risk of sedative side effects increases significantly, which is why taking the two together is so dangerous. Possible side effects from taking Ambien and alcohol include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Memory issues
- Impaired mobility and motor skills
- Slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Rapid heart rate
The more dangerous outcomes of combining Ambien and alcohol include coma or death.
How Many People Take Sleep Aids with Alcohol?
While there has not been any recent data to reflect how many people use Ambien and alcohol together, a study on zolpidem-related emergency visits reported the following:
- The number of emergency department (ED) visits due to adverse reactions from zolpidem use increased close to 220% from 2005 to 2010 (with 6,111 to 19,487 incidents).
- Females represented two-thirds—68%—of emergency room visits due to adverse reactions to zolpidem.
- 50% of ED visits involved other pharmaceuticals combined with zolpidem.
Additionally, what we currently know is that in the U.S.:
- Close to 86% of people ages 18 and older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime (2019).
- Nearly 26% of people ages 18 and older reported binge drinking within the past month (2019).
- 6.3% of people ages 18 and older admitted to heavy alcohol use within the past month (2019).
- 4% of adults ages 20 and older reported using prescription sleep aids in the past month (2013).
While mixing Ambien and alcohol presents a clear danger to anyone, the chances of serious and even dire outcomes occurring for those with alcohol use disorder (AUD), increases that much more.
Help For Insomnia and/or AUD
Although both insomnia and AUD can cause people to feel helpless and hopeless, there are strategies and support systems to help both s. One of the best things you can do is to:
- First, be honest with yourself
Is your sleeping causing unpleasant outcomes? Is your drinking leading to negative consequences?
- Second, consider seeking professional help
Your healthcare provider can help you find healthy ways to cope with insomnia. You may be asked to reduce your caffeine intake, practice soothing techniques (warm baths, soft and relaxing music, meditation), and similar strategies.
- Third, acknowledge that you are not alone!
As you can see above, many people suffer from insomnia, sleeping disorders, binge drinking, heavy drinking, and alcohol use disorder.
If you or a loved one is struggling with insomnia, a sleeping disorder, substance abuse, or mental illness, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Thousands of people get help every day and go on to live happy, vibrant lives. If you or someone you love needs help with substance abuse or a mental health disorder, Futures is here for you.
We are ready to meet you, exactly where you are!
Contact us confidentially online or by phone at 866-804-2098.