ambien and alcohol
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Ambien and Alcohol

Americans are now more distracted than ever. Since the end of the 20th century, more and more screens have been introduced into the average household. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, massive TVs- all contribute to the increase in sleeping disorders. Many people turn to options like Ambien to help. A lot of people in America also drink alcohol, sometimes even with the thought that it helps sleep. Subsequently, the increasing risk of mixing Ambien and alcohol is a real danger.

ambien and alcohol

What is Ambien?

Ambien is the brand name for Zolpidem Tartrate, which is a sedative and falls under the hypnotic class of medication. In general, the purpose is to treat insomnia in patients and is seen as a better alternative to benzodiazepines or barbiturates. Ambien’s design is to provide the same sleep relief as other drugs but without the dangerous side-effects commonly associated with drugs such as Valium. It was approved by the FDA in 1992 during a time where the prevailing sleep-aid, Halcion, was being linked with psychosis, suicide and addiction and was welcomed with open arms. 

ambien and alcohol

Ambien works by binding and activating GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter which is responsible for blocking impulses between nerve cells in the brain. Ambien binds to the same receptors as benzodiazepines. By binding to the receptors, the chemical essentially slows down brain function, making it easier to fall asleep. While Ambien became popular because it was believed to have less of the harmful side effects of other sleep-aids available at the time, it comes with its own risks:

  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • “Drugged” feeling
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Headache

Some of the serious side effects of Ambien include:

  • Memory loss
  • New or worsening depression
  • Abnormal thoughts
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Anxiety

Ambien Addiction and Abuse

A chemical tolerance is when a higher dose is required to get the same desired results while taking a drug. Essentially, the body gets used to the drug and more of it is required to feel the effects. Unfortunately, Ambien tolerance develops quickly in some patients. Ambien was never designed to be a long-term use drug. However, some patients require their physician to increase the dosage to get the same relief. Increasing the dosage may cause users to develop a dependency to the drug. Some may find that they are unable to fall asleep without it.

ambien and alcohol

In high doses, it is possible for Ambien to provide a euphoric high, which is then be sought after by some. At this point, normal use begins to turn to abuse. According to SAMHSA, Ambien abuse is rare with those who are have a prescription. It is more likely to be with those who acquire it illicitly.

Overdose of Ambien is possible. According to SAMHSA, there were 64,175 Ambien related emergency room visits (ER) and of those 20,793 were related to over-medication. While your risk of overdose will depend on various factors such as body composition, tolerance level and history of use, it is generally considered that taking more than 150mg per kilogram of body weight is lethal. An individual weighing 50 kilograms will need to take 7,500mg of Ambien to experience a fatal overdose. While that may seem like a lot of medication, the 150mg can be greatly reduced when taken with other drugs, especially alcohol. 

How Long Does Ambien Stay in Your System?

Once Ambien enters the body, it takes around 30 minutes for the drug to reach peak potential blood concentration meaning that the full effects are felt around this mark. Compared to other drugs, this is quite fast. However, Ambien has a short half-life of around 1.5 hours. A chemicals half-life is a determination of the time it takes for the chemical to reduce to half of its ingested dose. In other words, after 1.5 hours, the 10mg dose of Ambien is essentially reduces to 5mg. However, it’s possible to feel the effects of the drug for 8 hours and the chemicals will be completely out of the body in about 14 hours. 

It is possible to detect Ambien in the body after the 14 hour mark in various tests:

  • Urine – 72 hours after use
  • Hair – 3 to 5 weeks after use
  • Saliva – 8 hours after use

Drug testing for Ambien is quite rare however circumstances such as traffic incidents may call for testing.

Mixing Ambien and Alcohol

Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. A CNS depressant will slow brain and nerve function thus having an effect on motor and cognitive function. Ambien has very similar CNS depressant effects by binding to the GABA receptors in the brain. Two depressants or drugs mixed together (also referred to as polysubstance abuse) will amplify the overall effects and can pose serious overdose risks. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), mixing alcohol with other depressants such as Ambien can cause drowsiness, slowed or difficulty breathing, impaired motor skills, and memory problems. With two powerful depressants working, it can cause breathing to slow to a dangerously low level or stop completely. Death can also occur by engaging in dangerous behavior often associated with alcohol use. 

Getting Help

Getting off Ambien may seem difficult. Especially if the user has been using it for an extended period and believes it is necessary for a good night’s sleep. Someone with a problem with ambien and alcohol needs specialized help. However, with the proper attention and guidance, recovery is possible. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please contact us today to see how we can help.

*Resources:
Hypnotic medications and suicide – NIH
Emergency Department Visits – SAMHSA
Harmful Interactions – NIAAA