If you have trouble sleeping, your doctor might prescribe you Ambien to help you rest. While Ambien can be a useful tool, it can also be dangerous under certain circumstances. If you try something like drinking a beer to unwind and then taking an Ambien to sleep, you could be putting yourself at risk. There are several highly dangerous symptoms you may encounter if you are combining sleeping pills with alcohol.
Alcohol’s Effects on the Brain
To understand why it is a bad idea to combine alcohol with Ambien, it is helpful to learn a little about how both substances impact the brain. Alcohol is classified as a type of central nervous system depressant. Though it might cause you to perk up and become energetic in small doses, it actually works by depressing, or slowing down, your brain’s ability to function. Alcohol causes the body to produce more of a neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it impairs neurotransmitter transmission.
As you drink alcohol, your brain’s ability to release and register various neurotransmitters will decrease. This reduces all sorts of essential functions throughout your body. In addition to making your thinking fuzzier, a CNS depressant will also slow your breathing and your heart rate. At very high doses, this effect becomes deadly. When a person overdoses on a CNS depressant, they may stop breathing or have their heart stop beating.
How Ambien Works
Ambien helps people sleep by putting their brain into the state in between sleeping and waking. Though Ambien does not directly knock you out, it makes it much easier to fall asleep. Just like alcohol, Ambien is a CNS depressant that increases GABA to inhibit brain response.
The fact that both alcohol and Ambien work in the same basic way causes them to interact poorly with each other. When a person takes alcohol, their body starts producing more GABA. Consuming Ambien on top of alcohol causes even higher GABA levels. This causes you to end up experiencing all the problematic effects of heightened GABA.
Common Side Effects of Combining Alcohol and Ambien
Even just combining a small amount of Ambien and alcohol can cause you to start feeling all sorts of unpleasant effects. Since they tend to increase each other’s intoxicating effects, you may end up feeling like you have drunk far more alcohol or taken far more Ambien than you actually have.
In addition to feeling physically ill, you might behave strangely or think abnormal thoughts. Some common side effects include:
- Trouble concentrating
- Sleep apnea
- Impaired coordination
- Loss of judgement
- Slowed breathing
One of the particularly problematic side effects on this list is confusion and loss of judgment. Often, a person who has mixed alcohol and Ambien will forget that they took their Ambien for the evening. They may try to take more medication or drink more alcohol. This can lead to severe problems.
Mixing Alcohol and Ambien Can Cause Parasomnia
A particularly problematic side effect is parasomnia. It is rare for a medicine to cause this condition, but when you combine alcohol and Ambien, your chances of dealing with parasomnia increase drastically. Even taking small amounts of alcohol and Ambien together can result in parasomnia.
Parasomnia is essentially an extreme version of sleepwalking. When you take alcohol and Ambien, it can put your brain in a strange state that is partially asleep and partially awake. You might try to carry out common tasks, but due to the lack of consciousness, you will do so in strange ways.
Often, people observing you will report that your eyes are open and you seem awake. However, you might do odd things like eat an entire loaf of bread or stand in a corner staring at a wall. When questioned, your responses will not make any sense or may seem strangely at odds with your normal personality.
Sometimes, parasomnia is a relatively silly and harmless thing, like taking all your shoes and hiding them around the home. It can become a major inconvenience if you do things like order expensive items online or call an ex while having a parasomnia episode. In some cases, parasomnia can even become dangerous. Some people with parasomnia may try to drive, attack family members or light fires. This consequence of mixing alcohol and Ambien can put you and your loved ones at risk.
Why Is It Dangerous to Mix Alcohol and Ambien?
The absolute biggest danger of taking alcohol and Ambien at the same time is the increased risk of an overdose. Due to the way they interact with each other, even relatively small amounts can cause an overdose. A typical Ambien dose is around 5 to 10 milligrams, and taking more than 70 milligrams can cause an overdose. If you have any alcohol, the amount needed to cause overdose gets far lower. Even just taking a few times your normal dosage may cause a potentially fatal overdose.
Likewise, taking Ambien increases your risk of alcohol overdose. Typically, a blood alcohol concentration of more than 0.16 is cause for concern. If you are taking Ambien, though, alcohol will impact you quicker. Even at a lower BAC of around 0.10, you might be at risk for an overdose.
Both alcohol and Ambien overdoses will present in very similar ways. At early stages, an overdose can cause irregular breathing, mental confusion, vomiting and a reduced heart rate. As an overdose progresses, breathing can slow so much that you are getting less than eight breaths a minute.
The heart rate will also drastically slow, preventing a person from getting enough oxygen, and some people may have seizures. This can end up being fatal. An overdose can usually be treated as long as you seek emergency care in time, so it is critical to call 911 if you suspect an alcohol or Ambien overdose.
What to Do If You’ve Combined Alcohol and Ambien
If you’ve already mixed together alcohol and Ambien and you are just realizing the danger, there are a few things you should do to stay safe. First, consider the amount of alcohol and Ambien you have taken. If you have had larger-than-normal doses of either substance, you should call your doctor or emergency services and ask for their input. If you have had a smaller amount, such as a single drink and single dose of Ambien, it may be safe to stay at home. If possible, have a friend or loved one stay with you just in case you experience parasomnia.
If you or someone with you notices any of these signs of an overdose, seek emergency care right away:
- Trouble breathing
- Abnormally slow or shallow breathing
- Pale lips
- Blue fingernails or skin
- Sudden change in consciousness
- Abnormal drowsiness
- Loss of consciousness
How Far Apart Should You Take Alcohol and Ambien?
What should you do if you’ve had a few drinks and you realize that you need more help sleeping? To be safe, you should avoid taking Ambien until the alcohol has completely cleared your system. This can take a while since alcohol remains in your system even when you do not feel noticeably impaired. A general rule of thumb is to wait two or three hours after a single drink.
However, there are many factors that lengthen the amount of time it takes you to be entirely sober. The more alcohol you have had, the longer it will take your body to metabolize it. It may also take you longer if you are younger, weigh less, drank on an empty stomach or rarely drink alcohol. Doctors suggest that people wait at least six hours after their last drink before taking Ambien.
Drinking alcohol after taking an Ambien is less common than having Ambien after drinking, but it does happen. If you used an Ambien to nap and are about to go out drinking, it is important to understand how long it takes Ambien to leave your system. Ambien has a half-life of roughly 2.5 hours. It will take about five half-lives for your body to clear a drug from its system. Therefore, you usually need to wait at least 12 hours after taking Ambien to have alcohol.
Are You Combining Alcohol and Ambien?
Though most people are well-aware of the dangers of mixing the two drugs, some still continue to do so. There are all sorts of reasons people may mix together alcohol and Ambien. Some mistakenly assume that mixing the two will help them sleep better. Others combine them in an attempt to get euphoric or hallucinogenic effects, but this seldom has the desired result. Unfortunately, some people may even combine the two in an attempt at self-harm.
Any time you are combining alcohol with other drugs, it can be a warning sign for a substance use disorder. Even if you are mixing alcohol with prescription drugs like Ambien, you are endangering both your mental and physical health. In addition to combining alcohol with other substances, some signs you might need an alcohol rehab program include the following:
- You keep finding yourself drinking more alcohol than you mean to.
- Alcohol is causing problems in your life, but you keep using it.
- You spend much of your time drunk, hungover or thinking about your next drink.
- You drink alcohol to cope with stress, sadness and other problems.
- When you drink, you do risky things like drive drunk or get in fights.
- Responsibilities like doing work or caring for children are getting neglected due to alcohol.
- You want to cut back on alcohol but keep drinking anyway.
- You find yourself drinking far more than seven drinks a week or three drinks a day.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol misuse, it is important to seek care as soon as possible. The right alcohol detox and rehab program can be literally lifesaving. At Granite Recovery Centers, we give you the encouragement you need to fight substance abuse. With our supportive group therapy and evidence-based clinical psychotherapy, you have the chance to examine substance abuse triggers and discover healthier ways of coping.
Situated in the peaceful woodlands of New Hampshire, our campus is the ideal place to focus on recovery. In addition to therapy, we also provide medication-assisted treatment, 12-step programs and holistic care. Give your mind and body a chance to heal by checking in to our residential or intensive outpatient program. Contact us today to see which treatment program is right for your needs.