Both alcohol and Ambien become more dangerous and potentially lethal when combined with one another. For that reason, you should never consume Ambien after a night of drinking or vice versa. Ambien, generic name Zolpidem, is a sedative-hypnotic sleep aid that is used for the treatment of insomnia and other various sleep disorders and generally works 20 minutes after being consumed.
What is Ambien
Ambien is classified as a hypnotic and was approved by the FDA for commercial use in 1992. It was designed to be a fast-acting sleep aid and when introduced to the market became one of the most popular and fast selling sleep aids in the world. Ambien is a Schedule IV drug and can be prescribed and refilled without restrictions. Ambien works by similarly activating the GABA neurotransmitters to the way that benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium do. The drug floods the brain with GABA activity which generally creates a lethargic, drowsy state in the user, slowing down the mind.
Comparatively speaking, Ambien is a potent sleep aid and for that reason is only prescribed for 1-2 weeks. During this time, doctors will monitor patients to ensure they are correctly using the medication as intended. After two weeks, the efficacy of the medicine begins to wane, so patients will be forced to take more than the recommended dosage. When combining Ambien with alcohol, the central nervous system depressant properties of each substance become magnified. In other words, users will experience significant impairment in their cognitive and motor functions. Users have reported blackouts after ingesting only a small amount of both substances.
Side Effects of Taking Ambien and Alcohol
Alcohol and Ambien are both central nervous system depressants and thus enhance the intoxicating effects of one another. Users who take both together are more than twice as likely to end up in the intensive care unit than users who solely take Ambien. Users who take both substances should under no circumstances operate heavy machinery and can expect the following side effects:
- Impaired judgment
- Depressed breathing
- Sleep apnea
- Sleepiness or drowsiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired cognition
- Loss of physical coordination
- Somnambulance (sleepwalking)
There is an increased potential for overdose when someone consumes alcohol and Ambien together. Each drug lowers the threshold for overdose for the other and could potentially lead to someone passing out and hitting their head, throwing up and choking, or suffering brain damage.
Enhanced Side Effects
The central nervous system depressant effects of both drugs are significantly increased. This can be dangerous and potentially fatal for the user, as it results in a decrease in blood pressure and breathing rate. The user will also be more prone to making irresponsible decisions and possibly hurt themselves or another person.
Both of the drugs have intoxicating effects that significantly hamper our ability to think clearly. A person taking both of these drugs may seriously hurt themselves because they could forget how much alcohol they have already consumed and drink more. They could also hurt themselves by falling over or getting into a motor vehicle accident.
Ambien is known to produce zombie-like fugue states in users, so the individual could potentially engage in erratic or unpredictable behavior based on hallucinations or Somnambulance. Delusional side effects and fatigue will likely last into the next day.
Repeated abuse of alcohol and Ambien can cause long-term damage to the liver, kidneys, respiratory system, and brain. An individual who abuses these drugs long term will have difficulty functioning normally and sleeping without the assistance of these substances. The risk of getting hooked on harder substances is also increased the longer someone takes either substance.
Ambien and Alcohol Overdose
Ambien itself carries some pretty severe side effects if the user chooses not to go to sleep after taking it. It is not recommended that users even take the medication unless they have the time to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep because they could easily wake up with next-day effects such as lethargy, tiredness, and fogginess. When a person consumes alcohol and Ambien, the risk of overdose is increased. Based on prescribing information and reports, it would take a significantly high amount of Ambien to produce a fatal overdose, though taking anything over the clinically recommended amount is dangerous in itself. However, these numbers get thrown out of whack when combined with alcohol or any other central nervous system depressant. Signs of an Ambien overdose include:
- Constricted pupils
- Slurred speech
- Depressed breathing
- Reduced heart rate
- Hallucinations and delusions
While Ambien lists potential side effects such as sleepwalking, abnormal thinking, and strange behavior as rare, cases of people consuming Ambien and getting in legal trouble have become more common. In 2006 for example, Patrick Kennedy crashed his car in the middle of the night with apparently no recollection of getting behind the wheel, only of taking the prescription medication Ambien. In March of 2011, Lindsey Schweigert took an Ambien before bed and hours later woke up in custody with no recollection of how she got there. Schweigert was going to face a six-month jail sentence and fines, but her lawyers successfully produced the Ambien defense, pointing to the medication’s label that warns: “After taking Ambien, you may get out of bed while not fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you’re doing.” The Ambien defense has since been successfully used to help acquit people accused of intentional criminal acts while under the influence, though it is not a foolproof defense.
Rapper Eminem has been outspoken about his prescription drug abuse in the past. In fact, he blames Ambien for considerable lapses in his memory over a period of five years, saying: “A lot of my memory is gone. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken Ambien, but it’s a memory-eraser. That shit wiped out five years of my life. People will tell me stories, and it’s like, “I did that?” In the realm of public figures, Roseanne recently came under fire for tweeting a racist joke which she later blamed on taking Ambien prior. On the one hand, Ambien has been used to acquit people of vehicular assault, but public opinion was not willing to side with Roseanne on this issue.
According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Ambien abuse is relatively lower than that of other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol and benzodiazepines. In 2016, an estimated 11.5 million individuals used Ambien or other Zolpidem products and approximately 1 million abused the drug at least once. Users who abuse Ambien typically take the medication and fight off the drowsy side effects. If the user can successfully stay awake, they will reportedly feel psychedelic, euphoric, and lethargic side effects. Users have also reported snorting and smoking Ambien, which could potentially deliver the side effects quicker than if it was ingested.
According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine (Journal of the American Medical Association) over 77% of Ambien users could be ignoring FDA warnings. Most patients who use the drug report continued use after two weeks despite this not being recommended by the FDA. Data showed that 3.8 million adults aged 18 - 85 years old were prescribed Ambien or a Zolpidem analog in 2015, with women using twice as much as men and usage increasing with age demographic.
Another standard method for abusing Ambien and other prescription drugs is to grind the medication into a fine powder and to snort the substance. Known as nasal insufflation, this process helps bypass the digestive tract and liver to go directly into the bloodstream through blood vessels in the nasal cavity, quickly entering the brain. Snorting drugs typically magnifies the effects of the drug. The user can also smoke Ambien by heating the drug on tin foil and inhale the drug in vapor form. It could also be ground into powder and placed in a marijuana cigarette or joint.
Physical dependence on Ambien begins with chronic use of the drug that extends beyond the prescription timeline. According to the American Psychiatric Association, dependency starts when the tolerance to a drug grows and adverse withdrawal effects occur when the person stops taking the medication, such as physical pains, emotional stress, and cognitive fog. Several factors can identify physical dependence:
- Compulsive Behavior: The person displays a habitual attachment to Ambien and has difficulty controlling themselves, not just around the drug but in general as well. Impulsive behavior is common among addicts.
- Reliance on Drug: The person has the idea that they need to keep taking the drug, either to sleep, function, or have a good time. This perception is a flawed understanding of their relationship with the drug.
- Cravings: The person continually thinks about the drug, has fantasies, or shares the fact that they wish they were taking the drug. They may try to combat these feelings by substituting Ambien with another habit such as smoking cigarettes.
- Control Issues: The person continues to abuse Ambien despite expressing a desire to quit or severe negative consequences due to continued abuse of the drug.
Individuals who take Ambien for longer than the clinically recommended guidelines may develop a physical dependence or addiction to the drug. The withdrawal symptoms associated with Ambien abuse are not as severe as other commonly abused prescription drugs, but they are similar in manner to those of other benzodiazepines. Many variables affect the length and strength of the withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal Side Effects
Symptoms of Ambien withdrawal can start to occur less than 8 hours after the last dosage depending on the person’s body type and dependency.
- Nausea or vomiting
- Panic attacks
- Rapid heart rate and breathing
- Abdominal cramps or discomfort
- Uncontrolled crying
- Mood swings
The timeline for withdrawal and symptoms are similar to that of benzodiazepines. It is difficult to predict the exact timeline and nature of Ambien withdrawal because the drug is used in different ways and not typically abused in the same manner that benzos and opioids are.
- 0 - 48 hours: Ambien has a short half-life, so individuals who have a severe tolerance to Ambien will probably begin to feel the initial withdrawal effects within 6-8 hours after their last dosage. During the first 48 hours, users will likely have trouble falling asleep, experience mood swings, and have difficulty concentrating.
- 3 - 5 days: This is when peak symptoms of withdrawal will occur. Individuals can expect to experience delirium, fatigue, nausea, panic, anxiety, sweating, irritability and possibly tremors and seizures. Flu-Like symptoms are common.
- 1 - 2 weeks: For most users, physical symptoms will abate within one week of abstinence. However, some psychological symptoms such as insomnia, depression, and anxiety could continue to persist. Additionally, users may experience cravings for a period following this, which could be indefinite.
Treatment for Ambien and Alcohol Abuse
Treatment for polysubstance abuse is best carried out in a clinical setting such as a residential treatment center or outpatient facility. Patients who choose to undergo this process will experience an assessment to determine the exact level of care and treatment that a person needs. With Ambien and alcohol abuse, patients may be given tapering medication to help the individual through the worst symptoms of withdrawal and successfully detox their bodies from the substance. Patients are carefully monitored during this time and encouraged to continue treatment with a comprehensive rehab program.
Ambien and alcohol abuse is a dangerous combination that could prove fatal for people who engage in this kind of substance use. If you or a loved one wish to stop using Ambien or alcohol, then it is recommended that you enlist the help or advice of a medical professional. Because of the potential for seizures, individuals should strongly consider enrolling in a drug and alcohol recovery center, detox facility, or outpatient program. At Landmark Recovery, we believe in holistic treatment that addresses not only the substance dependency but also the underlying psychological structure of the person and their emotional needs. Utilizing leading treatment methods, we help people to live the life they dreamed, free of substances.