An estimated 50 million to 70 million people struggle with sleep disorders every year, so it’s not surprising to hear that doctors wrote 38 million prescriptions for Ambien between 2006 and 2011. Sleep disorders are a real problem and contribute to lost wages (for both the employer and employee), car accidents, disease, and a whole range of issues that are prevented with adequate sleep. Not everyone always has access to sleeping pills, though, and this can lead someone to self-medicate with alcohol as a means to aid in them falling asleep. Once you become dependent on alcohol and can obtain a prescription for Ambien, not everyone is going to stop.
Doctors have a reason as to why they forbid drinking while taking sedative-hypnotic drugs like Ambien. During an initial visit with the doctor to discuss options, if the physician concludes that Ambien is the best course of action as a means to treat a sleep disorder, it means it is severe enough to consider strong medication. One of the first points of contention will be “do not take while drinking or under the influence of alcohol.” Severe consequences can arise as a result of mixing depressant drugs, and it is next to impossible to control the harmful effects of combining these two in particular.
During the time of Ambien use, the user will gradually build up a tolerance to it, and this is when a user could add alcohol to the equation to amplify the effects. The dangers of this combination can’t be stressed enough. Both Ambien and alcohol depress the central nervous system, which slows the heart rate and damages the respiratory system. Mixing the two can cause severe physical and cognitive impairment, harm the liver permanently, and increase the risk of overdose. While it may not seem dangerous in the beginning, over time, this cocktail of depressant drugs could become fatal.
What Is Ambien?
Ambien is a prescription sleep medication that falls under a class of drugs known as sedatives. The French pharmaceutical company named Sanofi-Aventis makes the brand name Ambien. Generic versions of Ambien have been
on the market since 2007. Ambien falls into a specific class of drugs known as sedative-hypnotics that are specifically used as sleeping aids, and they are a popular prescription choice for sleep disorders.
The active ingredient in Ambien, which is known as zolpidem tartrate, was first cleared for use in 1992 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Ambien is a selective GABA reuptake inhibitor, and drugs that are similar to their sedative predecessor are benzodiazepines. Ambien is not a benzo, but it works similarly in how it affects GABA receptors in the nervous system. GABA is responsible for managing feelings of excitement and anxiety, but newer drugs like Ambien target a more specific set of receptors that allow it to have fewer side effects than benzos like Xanax.
What Is Alcohol?
Alcohol is present in all spirits, wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is a depressant drug that slows down various parts of the brain and central nervous system (CNS). This affects the ability to control behavior and bodily functions such as thinking, walking, talking, and, in a deeper intoxicated state, breathing. Alcohol is also considered as a psychoactive drug, meaning it can affect the mind or mental processes. The amount of alcohol will vary from drink to drink, but the type of alcohol is all the same—ethanol.
An alcohol overdose causes severe depressant effects such as an inability to feel pain, toxicity where the body vomits the poison, unconsciousness, and sometimes coma or death from a toxic overdose. Alcohol in its own respect is deadly. It is estimated that 88,000 people die each year from alcohol-related deaths and in the United States. Alcohol continues to be one of the nation’s most preventable causes of death, second only to tobacco and a sedentary lifestyle.
What Are the Side Effects of Ambien and Alcohol?
Taking alcohol and Ambien together can result in some extreme side effects. The combination of the two can leave you feeling sleepy, uncoordinated, and disoriented. Each drug amplifies the other, which creates an uncontrollable impact of harmful consequences for the mind and body. This can result in phone calls that the person under the influence has no recollection of, or even worse, getting into a car and driving. This can lead to a DUI or harming yourself or someone else. Someone under the influence of Ambien and alcohol could experience:
- Slowed heartbeat
- Memory loss
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Trouble breathing
The power the two substances have over the human body is the reason they should never be mixed. Consuming Ambien as prescribed or drinking alcohol in moderation can be dangerous in their own right, but when abuse occurs, it maximizes the risks of something happening.
The Dangers of Mixing Ambien and Alcohol
Unfortunately, mixing Ambien and alcohol is a common way to enhance the effect of both drugs. The reasons? It’s said that users do this to experience deeper sleep, but this is a dangerous game to play with your life. Using the two drugs together slows down brain activity and vital functions to a dangerously low rate. When used separately, Ambien is a habit-forming substance when used for a short period. As tolerance begins to build, the likelihood of overdose increases exponentially. Alcohol worsens the effects of Ambien and contributes to the addiction.
When using the two drugs in conjunction with one another, it is easy to unintentionally take more Ambien or drink more alcohol when in this state. At this point, the user can cause irreversible damage to the liver and respiratory system. This can also have lasting effects on the cognitive state as well. The continued use despite the consequences is considered addiction and increases the chance of a fatal overdose.
Treatment for Alcohol and Ambien
Polydrug abuse is increasing in popularity throughout the United States, but fortunately, it can be treated. Due to the way both depressants affect GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) in the brain, they require the highest level of treatment to get clean. A big concern for someone who is detoxing from alcohol is the withdrawals, which in some cases, can be fatal. Similarly, Ambien can prove to be fatal as well if not treated under the supervision of medical professionals.
If someone is ready to stop their polydrug use, they must take the step to enter an intensive treatment center. This will require them to begin their journey with medical detoxification, a process that is monitored by addiction specialists for up to seven days while they rid the drugs from their system safely. Detox is designed to mitigate any dangers that could be involved and allow the user a more comfortable approach. In the event of any unplanned scenarios, the team will give medication to alleviate the worst symptoms involved.
After detox is finished, the journey is just beginning. There is much more that is required to start treating a polydrug addiction. Detox is just a safe transition into sobriety to attain mind and body stabilization. The person must attend a residential treatment center or an outpatient services facility that helps them continue on their path toward a better tomorrow.