Ambien (zolpidem) is a sedative that is commonly prescribed for the treatment of insomnia. It has a short onset of action and a relatively short half-life, which indicates that its affects are felt rather quickly, and it remains in the system for a relatively short period of time. Thus, unless a controlled-release form of the drug is taken, Ambien is primarily used to initiate sleep but is not as effective at maintaining sleep.
Ambien has many similarities to the other classes of central nervous system depressants, such as benzodiazepines, and at very high doses, it can act as a muscle relaxant or anticonvulsant. However, the drug is not used for these purposes regularly, because at very high doses, there are a number of potential unpleasant side effects that can occur, such as issues with recent memory, high levels of sedation, lethargy, and even the development of hallucinations and psychotic behaviors. Ambien works on the same class of neurotransmitters as do benzodiazepines; however, it is not nearly as potent as benzodiazepines.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration classifies Ambien as a Schedule IV controlled substance, meaning that it has a moderate potential for abuse and the development of physical dependence, and it can only be attained via a prescription. Because of its potential for abuse and the development of physical dependence, it is generally recommended that Ambien only be used as a short-term remedy for insomnia, and that individuals seeking long-term treatment for insomnia use alternative methods, such as behavioral methods to initiate sleep.
Side Effects of Ambien
Aside from the potential to develop physical dependence on Ambien, there are several common side effects that include lightheadedness, dizziness, problems with coordination, daytime drowsiness, headache, nausea, and diarrhea. In some people who take Ambien for short period of time and then discontinue it, there is a period of rebound insomnia, which is a reoccurrence of their insomnia that was present when they began taking Ambien.
Some individuals may also develop dry mouth, joint pains, and/or issues with short-term memory or recalling new information. Some of the rarer side effects include depression, confusion, the development of hallucinations, difficulty urinating, blood in the urine or stool, and skin rashes.
In rare cases, individuals may develop parasomnia, such as a sleepwalking disorder when they are using Ambien. There are rare cases of individuals performing numerous behaviors, such as eating, driving a car, walking in the neighborhood, etc., during these disorders.
Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Ambien
It is generally accepted that mixing alcohol and nearly any prescription medication is a bad practice. In some cases, the combination of alcohol and the medication reduces the effect of the medication, whereas in others, the effects of the medications are enhanced. Ambien is a sedative with mild effects on the central nervous system depressant activities, and alcohol is also a central nervous system depressant. When an individual mixes alcohol and Ambien, they are creating a dangerous situation because the effects of both drugs are enhanced. Both drugs can lead to potentially dangerous consequences as a result of an overdose, and mixing these drugs together increases their potentially dangerous effects.
Mixing Ambien and alcohol can lead to:
- Overdose: There is an increased potential for overdose, as alcohol and Ambien used in combination lowers the threshold for overdose for each drug. One needs less of either drug to overdose when both substances are taken together.
- Enhancement of effects: An enhancement of the sedating and central nervous system suppression effects of both drugs occurs. This can be particularly dangerous and even fatal, as it leads to a sharp decrease in respiratory rate, a sharp decrease in blood pressure, and/or a sharp decrease in heart rate.
- Issues with cognition: Because these drugs alter thinking abilities, when used in combination, they increase the potential for issues with judgment. For example:
- A person taking these drugs in combination may lose track of how much they drank or how much Ambien they took, leading to the potential for dangerous amounts of either drug to be taken.
- Individuals taking both drugs will have an increased potential to display issues with motor functioning and coordination that can lead to the potential for dangerous accidents.
- Due to issues with judgment, problem-solving, and memory, individuals may engage in very risky and even dangerous behaviors without the capacity to weigh the risks and make a decision regarding whether to engage in them.
- Side effect enhancement: Individuals who mix these drugs risk developing some of the more potentially dangerous side effects of both drugs, such as issues with urination, nausea, issues with mood, the development of hallucinations, and an increased potential to become comatose.
- Unpredictability: The development of unpredictable and idiosyncratic types of reactions can occur in specific individuals when drugs are combined. Some individuals may develop side effects or reactions as a result of taking both drugs together that would not have occurred had either drug been taken individually.
- Negative long-term effects: Long-term abuse of these drugs together can result in a number of potentially dangerous health effects, such as issues with the liver, kidneys, respiratory system, and cardiac system.
- Issues with substance abuse: Both drugs have a significant potential for the development of physical dependence. Abusing both of these drugs together for significant periods of times can result in the development of a polysubstance physical dependence syndrome where the individual develops physical dependence on both substances. This presents a very complicated situation and makes recovery much more difficult than if the individual had developed physical dependence on only one of these drugs.
Signs an Individual Is Abusing Ambien
There are several signs to be on the lookout for if someone is suspected of abusing Ambien and alcohol.
- Whenever a person uses Ambien and alcohol together, this is an instance of abuse, as it is strongly stated in the instructions regarding Ambien use that one should not drink alcohol when taking Ambien.
- Any person who regularly takes Ambien without a prescription for the drug is abusing the drug.
- Anytime a person begins taking Ambien for nonmedicinal reasons, this is a potential sign of abuse.
- When a person spends a significant amount of time using Ambien or recovering from the effects of use, this is a potential sign of abuse. The same is true for drinking.
- People who spend significant amounts of time trying to obtain Ambien, such as trying to buy illegally, visiting different physicians to get prescriptions, etc., are most likely abusing the drug.
- Individuals who unsuccessfully and repeatedly try to cut down on their use of Ambien and/or alcohol, or stop using Ambien and/or alcohol most likely have an abuse issue.
- When a person begins to experience negative effects from substance use, such as issues with work, troubles in relationships, problems at school, detrimental effects to their health, or troubling emotional effects, and continues to use the drug, this is a sign that the individual has a substance use disorder.
- When a person’s substance use results in them not being able to fulfill major obligations in life, such as commitments to their family, at work, at school, etc., this is a sign of a substance use disorder.
- Individuals who have developed physical dependence on a drug and are not using it under the confines of a prescription from a physician are most likely expressing a substance use disorder.
Ambien is a drug that is designed to help individuals with insomnia initiate sleep; however, it is not designed to be a drug of long-term use. Individuals who have a chronic insomnia should look to other means to treat their sleeping disorder, such as behavioral interventions and other drugs designed for long-term treatment of insomnia.
Ambien and alcohol mixed together is a dangerous combination that is contrary to the medicinal use of Ambien. It can lead to potentially serious and even fatal complications.