Mixing Ambien (Zolpidem) and Alcohol: Side Effects and Dangers
Last Updated: April 25, 2023
Combining Ambien and alcohol can lead to increased side effects and health risks
When you have insomnia, doctors may prescribe medications like Ambien (zolpidem) to help you get to sleep. More than 2.5 million Americans take zolpidem, and 85% of these prescriptions have instructions to take the drug every night. This can lead to confusion about when — or if — it is safe to drink alcohol when you are prescribed Ambien. Because of drug interaction between the substances, it is important to make sure you fully understand the risks of taking them together.
What Is Ambien (Zolpidem)?
Ambien, the brand name for the drug zolpidem, is a sleep medication. The drug belongs to a medication class called sedative-hypnotics. This class is also sometimes called Z-drugs because so many drugs in the class start with the letter Z.
Z-drugs like Ambien work by binding to receptors on the brain that have a calming effect. These gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors slow down the central nervous system when a drug or neurotransmitter binds to them.
Ambien is a Schedule IV controlled substance, meaning it carries a risk of abuse, dependence and addiction.
Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Ambien
Mixing alcohol and Ambien can lead to a variety of side effects. Because both agents are central nervous system depressants, their side effects can combine, leading to worse symptoms. Even at low doses, these effects can include:
- Problems concentrating
- Impaired thinking
- Poor judgment
- Coordination difficulties
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Dangers of Mixing Zolpidem and Alcohol
Mixing Ambien and alcohol can be dangerous. Not only do the substances have increased side effects when taken together, but the consequences of mixing them can also be dangerous.
Higher Risk of Sleep Activities
Ambien carries an FDA Boxed Warning about the risk of complex sleep activities like sleepwalking, sleep eating, sleep cooking and even sleep driving, which can put you at risk of an accident. This risk is even higher when Ambien is combined with alcohol.
Slows Heart Rate and Breathing
Both Ambien and alcohol can slow your heart rate and breathing, especially when taken in higher-than-recommended amounts. Combining them can increase this risk, which is potentially fatal.
Increased Risk of Addiction
Ambien is a Schedule IV controlled substance, and 29.5 million Americans misuse alcohol. Combining these two addictive substances may, therefore, increase your overall risk of addiction.
Higher Risk of Overdose
Because both Ambien and alcohol are depressants with similar and synergistic side effects, you may be at a higher risk of overdose by combining them. Studies show that mixing Ambien with depressants like alcohol leads to a higher risk of ICU admission than taking Ambien on its own, even when the drug is taken at higher-than-recommended doses.
Worse Withdrawal Symptoms
Both alcohol and Ambien can cause withdrawal symptoms after a single use. Drinking too much can cause a hangover, while even small doses of Ambien can cause impairment the next morning. For this reason, taking the substances together can worsen your next-morning symptoms.
How Long After Drinking Can I Take Ambien?
You should never drink and take Ambien in the same evening. Per the Ambien package labeling, if you drank alcohol earlier in the evening or before bedtime, you should skip your Ambien dose that night. This is because alcohol can last in your system for hours, peaking within 45 minutes after a drink and slowly wearing off in the hours that follow.
Once alcohol peaks in your system, your blood alcohol content (BAC) will decrease by approximately 0.015 per hour. For example, if your BAC peaks at 0.08, the legal drinking limit in most states, it will take more than 5 hours for alcohol to completely leave your bloodstream.
Your BAC can vary widely depending on how much you drank, your body composition and your sex. For this reason, if you drink in the evening, it is best to not guess at a safe time to take Ambien that night, and you should simply skip your Ambien dose that night.
Your doctor or pharmacist can provide you with more information about safely taking Ambien after drinking based on your specific medical history.
Ambien and Alcohol Addiction Treatment
If you struggle with Ambien and alcohol, it can be difficult to see a way out. Taking multiple substances, also known as polysubstance abuse, can be hard to treat on your own. But help is available. At The Recovery Village Columbus, we offer medical detox to help you quit Ambien and alcohol, as well as rehab to teach you the skills to stay off them. Don’t wait: contact a Recovery Advocate today.
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- Drugs.com. “Drug Interaction Report: ethanol, zolpidem.” Accessed April 15, 2023.
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- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Metabolism-Alcohol Alert No.35.” Alcohol Alert, January 1997. Accessed April 15, 2023.
- Bowling Green State University. “Alcohol Metabolism.” October 16, 2019. Accessed April 15, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Questions and Answers.” April 19, 2022. Accessed April 15, 2023.
- Bush, Donna M. “Emergency Department Visits Attributed t[…] Medication Zolpidem.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, August 7, 2014. Accessed April 15, 2023.
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- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the United States.” 2023. Accessed April 15, 2023.
- ClinCalc. “Zolpidem – Drug Usage Statistics.” Accessed April 15, 2023.
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