Ambien is the brand name for the sedative-hypnotic (i.e., sleep aid) drug, zolpidem. It is a central nervous system depressant, meaning that it slows down brain activity. Ambien is available in both immediate and extended release formulations. Drugs in this class have largely supplanted other historically used (and abused) pharmaceuticals prescribed for cases of insomnia.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that zolpidem is similar to benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, but has a somewhat different molecular structure—chemically designed as such in an attempt to decrease its potential to lead to physical dependency. The DEA classifies it as a drug that has a low potential for dependence; however, when it is misused this risk is heightened.
Unfortunately, Ambien is a much greater cause for concern when mixed with alcohol. The two drugs work to drastically slow the central nervous system, and can severely impact the functioning of several major organ systems.
Alcohol and Ambien Facts:
- Ambien is a prescription-strength sleeping pill.
- Ambien overdose can be deadly.
- Alcohol and Ambien amplify one another’s effects.
- Both have the potential to build physical or psychological dependence.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol with Ambien
Taken alone and for legitimate purposes, Ambien has many adverse side effects. The FDA reports a number of somewhat bizarre sleep-related behaviors associated with Ambien use, including the following—done in a semi-awake state:
- Walking, talking, or driving.
- Making and eating food.
- Having sex.
- Talking on the phone.
After waking up from Ambien-induced sleep, many users do not recall any of these activities. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the risk of these side effects increases with concurrent alcohol use. Signs of concurrent alcohol and Ambien abuse include:
- Severe drowsiness.
- Slowed respiratory rate.
- Impaired motor skills.
- Slurred speech.
- Unsteady gait.
- Impairment in memory or attention.
- Coma or stupor.
- The presence of withdrawal symptoms:
- Hand tremors.
If Ambien addiction has taken hold of you or someone you love, find out how to help an Ambien addict now.
Combined Effects of Ambien and Alcohol Abuse
That pharmaceutical company that manufactures and markets Ambien warns that someone with a history of alcohol and drug abuse is certainly at higher risk of Ambien abuse. Extreme care and attention should be paid to those who abuse alcohol and have been prescribed Ambien.
Along with the detrimental short-term effects of Ambien abuse, there are several long-term problems that may arise. Combining alcohol with Ambien can lead to damage of the liver, kidney, brain, heart and pancreas. Ambien may alter cognition and behavior (e.g., increased aggression, irritability) in some users.
Problems associated with concurrent abuse of alcohol and Ambien include:
- Liver cancer.
- Alcoholic hepatitis.
- Enlarged, weakened heart.
- Irregular heartbeat.
- Aggressive behavior.
- Respiratory arrest.
Treatment for Co-occurring Alcohol and Ambien Addiction
Rehab centers can treat co-occurring alcohol and Ambien abuse. Withdrawal from alcohol alone can be dangerous and with the added sedative effect from Ambien, the dangers can be compounded. Make sure to look for a treatment center that offers medically-supervised detox with appropriate pharmaceutical administration to alleviate the unpleasant and potentially life-threatening withdrawal effects (i.e., seizures). Medical intervention could be somewhat problematic since Ambien is similar to the benzodiazepine class, but a longer-acting drug of this family may be the best choice as it is easier to taper off of and helps to prevent seizures.
It’s also important that a treatment center does an intake evaluation in order to assess the nature of your addictions as well as any co-occurring mental health disorders. This will allow the treatment team to create a comprehensive and individualized treatment plan for you.
The different types of treatment for concurrent alcohol and Ambien addiction are as follows:
- Inpatient treatment centers: You will live at the facility for the duration of treatment. This is a great option if you want to get away from your alcohol- and Ambien-using environment in order to focus all your attention on rehabilitation. Away from stressors and triggers, you will receive individual and group therapy, as well as 24-hour medical supervision and aftercare planning.
- Outpatient treatment: This option tends to work well for those with milder addictions who have home, school, or work obligations that require flexibility in the course of treatment. It allows you to live at home while attending therapy a set number of times per week.
- 12-Step programs: Alcoholics Anonymous and Pills Anonymous are fellowship programs in which members provide each other with support and encouragement. These types of programs follow a set of steps to follow as members carve their path to recovery.
- Counseling and therapy: These help the patient to develop positive communication and coping skills while addressing underlying problems that may have influenced the Ambien and alcohol abuse.
NOTE: Mental health disorders are sometimes present in those suffering from addiction. If you believe you need psychological care in addition to addiction treatment, look for a dual diagnosis center. These programs specialize in treating concurrent disorders to improve the patient’s chances of success.
Statistics for Alcohol and Ambien
- Emergency department visits associated with Ambien use more than tripled from 2005 to 2010, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
- The CDC estimates that 4% of people in the United States 20 years old and above have used prescription sleeping pills in the past month.
- Older and more educated adults are more likely to use prescription sleep aids, per the CDC.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has reported an estimated 17 million Americans who abuse alcohol. The NIAAA also found that:
- About 87% of adults in the United States report having consumed alcohol at some point.
- In 2013, only about 8% of people suffering from an addiction to alcohol received treatment for this disorder.
- More than 10% of children in the United States live with an alcoholic parent.
Teen Drinking and Ambien Abuse
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that after marijuana and alcohol, prescription drugs are the most common substances to be abused by teens. Newport Academy, a site devoted to educating teens about drug abuse, describes teens taking more than the recommended dosage of Ambien, crushing it and even snorting the drug.
NIDA explains that teens experiencing stressful situations or having trouble coping are particularly interested in experimenting with Ambien. They may be looking for an escape, unaware of the drug’s serious side effects.
Teens can benefit from education and discussions on the dangers of prescription drug and alcohol abuse. Because prescription drugs come from legitimate sources (i.e., medical providers), many teens feel these drugs are safer to use than other substances. It’s important to speak with your teen on a regular basis to go over the dangers of abusing substances of any kind.
Resources, Articles, and More Information
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides a scientific overview of many controlled substances, including Ambien and prescription drugs.
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism maintains an excellent article about the realities of mixing alcohol with prescription medicine.
Other articles that will provide additional information include:
If you or a loved one needs help with alcohol and Ambien abuse, call us at 1-888-744-0069 . We’re here to help you work through your options for seeking treatment for addiction to Ambien and/or alcohol. Give us a call, and start your recovery today.
- What are CNS depressants? (2014, November 1). Retrieved January 15, 2016, from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/cns-depressants/what-are-cns-depressants
- Alcohol-Medication Interactions – Alcohol Alert No. 27-1995. (2000, October 1). Retrieved January 15, 2016, from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa27.htm
- Medication Guide: Ambien. (2013). Retrieved January 15, 2016, from http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm085906.pdf
- (2014, November 14). Retrieved January 15, 2016, from http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/alcohol
- Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
- Alcohol’s Effects on the Body. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2016, from http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body
- Emergency Department Visits for Adverse Reactions Involving the Insomnia Medication Zolpidem. (2013, May 1). Retrieved February 05, 2016, from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/DAWN079/DAWN079/sr079-Zolpidem.htm
- Prescription Sleep Aid Use Among Adults: United States, 2005–2010. (2013). Retrieved February 05, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db127.htm
- Alcohol Facts and Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved February 05, 2016, from http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
- Bayard, M., & Mcintyre, J. (2004). Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome. American Family Physician, 69(6), 1443-1450. Retrieved February 17, 2016.