Millions of people struggle with insomnia every day in the United States. It is estimated that 35 percent of the population struggles with insomnia. Insomnia is such a problem that there is a myriad of products available to help people fall asleep and stay asleep. From memory foam pillows to a variety of natural supplements and prescription medications, we will try anything to get a good night’s rest.

A good night’s rest is considered to be getting seven to eight hours of sound sleep each night. Our physical and mental health improves when we get enough sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep or can’t fall asleep, we have insomnia.

Insomnia is the inability to initiate or maintain sleep. It can also include early morning awakening in which an individual awakens several hours early and can’t get back to sleep, as characterized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are two types of insomnia—chronic and short-term.

Chronic insomnia is distinguished by symptoms that occur at least three times a week for three months. If insomnia lasts for less than three months, it is characterized as short-term insomnia.

There are three categories that these types fit into:

Sleep-onset insomnia: This refers to the difficulty of falling asleep. People who have a hard time relaxing in bed and those whose circadian rhythms are not in sync may have sleep-onset insomnia.

Sleep maintenance insomnia: This refers to difficulty staying asleep after falling asleep. It is common in older adult sleepers and people who consume alcohol, caffeine, or tobacco before bed. Certain disorders like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome can also cause sleep maintenance insomnia.

Mixed insomnia: This condition involves both sleep-onset and sleep maintenance difficulties, and people with chronic insomnia may find that these symptoms shift over time.

Prescription medication for insomnia includes Ambien.

How Ambien Affects the Central Nervous System

How Ambien Affects the Central Nervous System

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that Ambien is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It is known in generic form as zolpidem and is commonly called a “Z-drug.” Medications in this category can slow brain activity, which makes them beneficial for people with insomnia and other sleep disorders. CNS depressants also produce drowsiness.

CNS depressants alter the chemical messaging in the brain. They produce chemicals that bind to GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) receptors and increase the efficiency of the naturally occurring GABA in the brain. These chemicals are designed to calm a person down, induce sleep, and naturally ease anxiety.

Why Mixing Ambien and Alcohol Is Dangerous

Why Mixing Ambien and Alcohol Is Dangerous

Ambien and alcohol are both depressant substances. Their primary effects are sedating, which means they lower the heart rate and blood pressure. They also produce a relaxed mind. Ambien and its generic counterpart, zolpidem, are effective for inducing sleep.

When alcohol and Ambien are taken together, the substances potentiate, meaning their depressant effects are greater when mixed than taken alone. Withdrawal symptoms are also felt stronger. The mixture of these two substances, in any amount, is unsafe and could lead to overdose or death.

Here are the side effects of mixing alcohol and Ambien:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed speech
  • Slowed heart and breathing rates
  • Impaired motor control
  • Falling down
  • Memory problems
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Delirium
  • Enhanced withdrawal
  • Overdose

Taken alone and even for a short time, Ambien can be habit-forming. The longer you take Ambien, the better chance your system has of becoming tolerant of it. The more tolerant you become, the better chance there is of your system becoming dependent on it, possibly causing addiction. Addiction includes feeling withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking a substance.

Ambien and alcohol both lead to mental and physical impairment, especially taken together. More than half of the emergency room visits involving zolpidem involve other drugs, particularly alcohol.

A Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report in 2011 states that about 57 percent of emergency room visits and hospitalizations were caused by taking too much Ambien and other drugs. Ambien taken with alcohol accounted for 14 percent of those visits total. Alcohol and Ambien increased a person’s chance of needing intensive care due to overdose.

What Is an Ambien Blackout, and What Causes It?

What Is an Ambien Blackout, and What Causes It?

Somnambulance is a dangerous and alarmingly common side effect of taking alcohol and Ambien together. The Free Medical Dictionary defines it as “sleepwalking, rising from bed and walking or performing other complex motor behavior during an apparent state of sleep.” It is also called “parasomnia” and “Ambien blackout.” When a person has an “Ambien blackout,” they will not remember what they did during their state of somnambulance.

There have been many reports of people who have taken “Z-drugs” who had an Ambien blackout” and performed shocking actions, such as driving, cooking, baking, walking into a neighbor’s home, and not remembering it happened the next day. When alcohol is added to the situation, even in small amounts, the effects are enhanced and can be more hazardous.

These bizarre patterns of behavior that the individual performs while asleep after taking Ambien are becoming more common, despite the drug’s manufacturer issuing statements the Ambien is safe when taken as prescribed. In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered all hypnotic medication companies to issue stronger warnings on their labels. As of 2019, Ambien and other hypnotic Z-drugs” come with the FDA’s “black box” warning, which is their highest warning. 

It is thought that the recreational users of Ambien started out using it as prescribed but found that if they fought off the sleep-inducing effect, they could get really high. Some kept taking Ambien even after experiencing blackouts. 

Ambien and Alcohol Misuse and Withdrawal

Ambien and Alcohol Misuse and Withdrawal

When Ambien is taken for non-medical purposes, there is a possibility of the drug’s adverse side effects intensifying. Some of those effects are:

 

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sedation
  • Slow response times
  • Lack of motor coordination
  • Delayed reflex actions
  • Aggression
  • Hallucinations

People who take Ambien in doses higher than the prescribed amount are likely to become addicted to it and experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it. The person can cause permanent damage to the respiratory system and liver. This can also have long-lasting effects on the individual’s cognitive state.

Withdrawal symptoms usually start within 48 hours after the last dose was taken. They end within a week or two, according to Verywell Mind. It is also essential to know that withdrawal symptoms can be exasperated by the effects of other substances, like alcohol, if a person ingests it with Ambien. 

  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Cramps
  • Aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Hyperventilation
  • Racing pulse
  • Severe anxiety
  • Severe nervousness
  • Panic attacks
  • Lightheadedness
  • Speech difficulties
  • Seizure

Ambien was created for the short-term treatment of insomnia. It is not designed for long-term or chronic insomnia. Its sedative qualities may lead to rebound insomnia symptoms if the brain becomes reliant on zolpidem, the main ingredient, to coax it into relaxation and sleep. The psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and panic attacks, could last longer than the physical symptoms.

Individuals experiencing acute alcohol withdrawal could experience severe withdrawal symptoms in the first few weeks after they stop drinking. At this point, the individual is at the highest risk of temporarily losing consciousness, developing delirium tremens (DTs), or having seizures. All of these can be life-threatening if not treated by medical professionals.

How to Treat Ambien and Alcohol Abuse

How to Treat Ambien and Alcohol Abuse

Ambien and alcohol are both substances that can cause addiction. Addiction, also called a severe substance use disorder, is a chronic, treatable disease of the brain. Addiction to either or both substances should include medical detoxification, inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment, and behavior therapies that address the root cause of Ambien and/or alcohol addiction. Behavioral therapies help you identify the triggers that motivate your substance use and teach you the skills in handling those situations.

If you have been taking higher than prescribed doses to feel the same effects as the initially prescribed dose, it is best to talk to the doctor who prescribed them. This medical professional can start you on a plan to taper off the medication rather than abruptly stopping. If you have been consuming alcohol with Ambien, please tell your doctor. Quitting both of those substances suddenly can lead to severe withdrawal effects, which may need medically supervised care.

When two substances are taken together, it is called polydrug abuse, and it is becoming more prevalent today. Since Ambien and alcohol are CNS depressants that affect GABA, it is vital that the person abusing these two substances receive the highest level of addiction treatment. 

Withdrawal from alcohol can be fatal if not treated by medical professionals. Ambien withdrawal can also be dangerous if not attended to. Arete Recovery addiction therapy can be the life-saving step you take. Don’t risk your life or someone else’s when using Ambien with alcohol.

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