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What is Ambien?
Ambien® is the brand name used for zolpidem tartrate, a type of sedative-hypnotic. Health care professionals prescribe this sleep aid medication to slow brain activity and treat insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep).
Ambien® (tablet) and Ambien CR® (extended-release tablet) are available for individuals, as well as other forms of dosing. For example, individuals may also take Edluar® or Intermezzo® (a sublingual tablet) or Zolpimist® (an oral spray administered over the tongue).
Similar to benzodiazepines and barbiturates, Ambien® affects the central nervous system (CNS). However, its chemical structure varies and will engage with certain bodily structures differently.
On average, it takes the body approximately 2.5 to 2.6 hours to eliminate half of the sleeping pill (5 and 10 mg tablets, respectively).
This prescription drug is recognized as a Schedule IV controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). This means that it has a low potential for abuse. Other examples of drugs that belong to this category are diazepam (Valium®), clonazepam (Klonopin®), and alprazolam (Xanax®).
When individuals misuse Ambien or take it with other substances, the risk of serious side effects or developing a substance use disorder (SUD) increases.
Is Ambien Addictive?
Individuals who have a history of addiction to, or abuse of, substances and alcohol face a higher risk of misusing, abusing, or becoming addicted to Ambien. Healthcare professionals should know of such history to monitor and control Ambien use.
In general, though, if individuals do not have any former history of substance abuse or misuse, the risk of Ambien abuse is low.
However, sedative/hypnotics like Ambien may produce withdrawal signs and symptoms after sudden discontinuation. Some of the symptoms reported include:
- Mild dysphoria (unease or dissatisfaction)
- Stomach and muscle cramps
- Panic attack
It is important to remember, though, these health events happened at an incidence of 1% or less. There is not enough available data to give a reliable idea of incidence of Ambien dependency at recommended doses.
How Do Ambien and Alcohol Interact?
Doctors will ask those taking Ambien to not consume alcohol. Because Ambien has CNS-depressant effects, alcohol can increase the risk of more serious health events like overdose or respiratory depression (slowed, ineffective breathing). Alcohol is a substance that influences the central nervous system to slow brain activity and places pressure on the liver, especially.
For example, Ambien can impair psychomotor skills, such as driving a car or maintaining clear mental focus, and decrease inhibition like aggressiveness. When individuals drink alcohol, these side effects can grow in intensity.
Additionally, older or debilitated individuals who take Ambien face a higher risk of serious alcohol-medication interaction. When an adult gets older, the body cannot metabolize alcohol or Ambien as effectively. This means that both substances remain in the body for a longer period and alcohol and Ambien continue interacting.
Side Effects of Ambien and Alcohol
Taking Ambien can cause the following side effects:
- Memory loss
- Sleep disorders, such as sleepwalking
- A feeling of being drugged
- Trouble walking straight
- Balance issues
- Abnormal dreams or thoughts
- Dry mouth or throat
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
When individuals consume alcohol with Ambien, these side effects can worsen. Also, because alcohol is a diuretic, women who are on their period are at an increased risk of serious dehydration.
Dangers of Mixing Ambien and Alcohol
Mixing Ambien and alcohol increases the risk of serious health consequences. For example, “sleep-driving” has been known to occur in individuals taking Ambien at prescribed doses. Drinking alcohol or taking other central nervous system depressants may raise the risk of such behavior.
At the same time, drinking alcohol may increase the risk of Ambien overdose. Some of the symptoms associated with overdose include:
- Loss of consciousness (sleepiness or coma)
- Cardiorespiratory depression (slowed breathing or heart rate)
Finally, a study in individuals with liver impairment showed that it took a longer time than average to eliminate Ambien from the body. In cirrhotic patients, the elimination half-life of Ambien was 9.9 hours instead of 2.2 hours in normal, healthy individuals. If individuals who have liver damage consume alcohol and take Ambien, more injury to the liver may occur and drug-alcohol interaction can last longer.
How Long Should I Wait to Take Ambien After Drinking?
Healthcare professionals will recommend to not take Ambien with alcohol. If individuals do have a standard alcoholic beverage (12 oz.) earlier in the day or before bed, Ambien should not be taken.
Alcohol and Ambien Addiction Treatment
If you or a loved one have an addiction to Ambien and alcohol, you have many different options to treat the condition and recover.
Before quitting, you should get in contact with your nearest healthcare provider to speak about drug discontinuation. Prescription medication like Ambien and alcohol use can lead to withdrawal symptoms that, if not monitored, may result in overdose.
A healthcare professional may suggest that you check into an inpatient or outpatient treatment center to help you through detoxification. Such detox programs can ensure a healthier, smoother recovery. Tapering (gradual reduction of drug dosage) may form part of your treatment plan to avoid any sudden withdrawal symptoms.
You may also be encouraged to sign up for mental health treatment programs like cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy. A combination of behavioral therapy and guided medical assistance will increase the likelihood of a successful recovery and minimize the risk of future relapses.