Ambien and Alcohol: What are the Dangers and Effects When Mixed

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems. One of the most common sleep disorders is insomnia, which can drastically affect people’s overall health, impact their daily tasks, and put them at risk for other disorders.

Many individuals with sleep problems get a prescription of Zolpidem, more commonly known as Ambien. This sedative slows down the activity of GABA receptors in the brain and is promoted as a less addictive alternative to benzodiazepines. Zolpidem treats sleep disturbances in the short term—it comes in spray or tablet form, but what you eat can affect how your body reacts to eat. Medical professionals also recommend that you take it an hour or two before sleep.

Is It Possible to Get Addicted to Ambien?

There is growing interest in Ambien addiction as an area of research. The recommended dosage for this drug is between five to ten milligrams for adult men, and its effects wear off as your body adjusts to the changes it causes in brain activity. 

Often, users might combine Zolpidem with other substances like alcohol or Valium, which can have unpredictable effects since these are all depressants.

When a user regularly takes more than the prescribed amount of Zolpidem, it will cause them to become dependent on the substance, which leads to drug addiction. Ambien rewires the brain’s natural rhythms, which has the potential for abuse. Signs of abuse include the following:

  • Taking the drug without a prescription
  • Taking doses higher than the prescription
  • Blackouts, impaired coordination, confusion
  • Slurred speech or distorted cognition
  • Fatigue and nausea
  • Self-imposed isolation
  • Sleepwalking

What Are Ambien’s Side Effects?

Ambien has plenty of dangerous side effects, most notable being its “morning after” effect. This substance remains in the body for up to 16 hours, and the higher the dose, the more potent the effects. Since this drug significantly alters brain activity, Ambien can cause severe memory lapses. These blackouts are common among people who take large doses of the drug.

Another side effect of using a higher dose than prescribed is sleepwalking. There are anecdotal reports of individuals driving while impaired, which is hazardous and puts people at risk for accidents. People might also sleep-eat while on Ambien. 

This situation is equally serious since heavy doses can make people blackout while preparing meals. It could cause people to eat raw food and expose them to fires or sharp objects.

This drug also puts people at risk of sex without wakefulness, which can result in individuals sleeping with strangers or friends. Besides complicating relationships, it could also lead to participants contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

Finally, Ambien can cause people to develop symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts. Those with a history of depression are especially vulnerable—co-occurring mental health issues could complicate things further.

Is It Possible to Overdose on Ambien?

ambien withdrawal
Ambien Overdose

A person who takes more than 400 to 600 milligrams of Ambien is likely to overdose on it. The approximate lethal amount of this drug is said to be at 2,000 milligrams, depending on how the person takes it. Ambien overdose manifests as severe drowsiness, abnormal breathing, and irrationality.

People who overdose on this drug would need to get their stomachs pumped. Their attending physician might also order a dose of Flumazenil, a drug administered to combat Zolpidem’s sedative effects.

What Happens When You Combine Ambien and Alcohol?

Like alcohol, Ambien slows down a person’s heart rate and breathing and causes people to get sleepy. If you take other depressants together with it, you might slow down your bodily functions to a point where it causes problems for your health. Depressant medications for the central nervous system increase something called GABA. When you take the correct dose of your medication, this process enables you to get better sleep.

Ambien itself doesn’t cause you to fall asleep, but it produces the right state for sleep. It puts you in an ‘in-between’ state, making you fall asleep faster than if you don’t use the drug. However, if you combine your dose with alcohol, you will experience amplified effects. 

Taking alcohol and Ambien at the same time causes extreme sleepiness and slowed breathing. In some situations, it can put people in a coma or be fatal. What happens is you become so sleepy and tired that the body cannot produce enough energy to wake you up.

What are the Symptoms of Addiction to Ambien or Alcohol?

Both alcohol and Ambien are addictive substances. It is why medical professionals only prescribe Zolpidem for one to two weeks at a time and in specific doses. Ambien use can lead to long-term substance abuse, and doctors who prescribe them must monitor patients closely for signs of abuse. A person could be addicted to Ambien if they exhibit any of the following:

  • Excessively refilling prescriptions – Patients typically get a prescription for only one to two weeks. Someone who constantly refills their prescription beyond this period could already be addicted to Ambien. 
  • Taking larger doses than prescribed – Besides taking the drug for one to two weeks only, you will also have a set of doses. If you take more than your prescription every single night, you could be addicted.
  • Spending too much on the drug – Spending an excessive amount on getting Ambien is a sign of addiction. A healthcare professional wouldn’t usually ask patients to purchase more than they need of a substance.

The signs of alcohol addiction are similar. If a person needs to drink at the end of each day or starts spending more on drinks than they usually would, they might already be dependent on the substance.

Someone is addicted when they drink excessive amounts of alcohol or take a higher dose of Ambien, even if they know it is terrible for them. Their drug use might mess with the person’s health or relationships, and they’ll still be drawn to it. 

This situation creates a vicious cycle where someone feels ashamed of their choices, reaches for the pills or a bottle to mask their shame, and causes them to sink further into drug addiction.

The physical risks and side effects of using Ambien and alcohol simultaneously include dizziness, difficulty in breathing, and impaired cognition. Someone who takes these drugs at once might also exhibit sleepwalking and loss of coordination. 

When patients combine Ambien and alcohol, they heighten the risk of parasomnia or performing tasks when asleep. The dangers of combining these drugs are so severe that the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety (ICADTS) considers Zolpidem a Schedule II substance.


Ambien is a highly addictive depressant, and combining it with alcohol or other sedatives could cause severe consequences for your health. However, people dependent on either or both of these substances must plan their detox. The withdrawal symptoms you could experience from quitting Ambien are dangerous. 

If you’ve been dependent on the drug for a while, or if you’ve been combining its use with alcohol, you cannot just quit cold turkey. You would need medical or professional intervention; going on a program will help you overcome both problems. You would also benefit from seeking advice from an experienced medical professional.