Sleeping Pills and Alcohol: Harmful Effects of Mixing Sleep Aids with Alcohol
Mixing sleeping pills and alcohol can result in heightened effects of both substances. Sleeping pills and alcohol also share many effects, such as drowsiness. Sleeping pills are sedative substances that suppress activity in the central nervous system, and alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Taking two substances that are similar in how they interact with the body can compound the effects and lead to serious health issues.
- Falling asleep while driving or performing another activity that requires attentiveness
- Impaired motor function
- Memory impairment
- Slowed or labored breathing
- Cardiac arrest
Sleeping pills induce sedation and also can cause a loss of motor functioning. Combining alcohol and sleeping pills increases the risk of losing motor functioning or the user becoming so tired that they fall asleep.
When taken without alcohol, sleeping medication is usually safe to use. Overdosing on sleeping pills is unlikely, but there are certain drugs (such as Ambien or Lunesta) that can cause an overdose. When just the sleeping medication is taken, people usually must take a significant amount of the drug for an overdose to occur. When alcohol is present, the dosage level required to overdose on sleeping pills usually decreases.
When alcohol is mixed with sleeping pills, blackouts are more prevalent due to the increased effects alcohol has when combined with medications. Experiencing a blackout is a sign of alcohol abuse and can have a negative impact on long-term brain functioning. When someone suffers a blackout after just a few drinks — and when this amount is lower than their usual tolerance level — they might be mixing alcohol with sleeping pills.
Alcohol is deadly due to its negative effects on the body which can impact the liver, heart and kidneys. Long-term abuse of alcohol can lead to the failure of vital organs. People can experience fatal falls during blackouts or sleepwalking caused by alcohol. The chances of a serious injury occurring increases with the combination of sleeping pills and alcohol. Death due to mixing the two substances can occur from cardiac arrest or, depending on the sleep medication, overdose.
When people develop insomnia, they may ask their primary physician which sleeping pills are most useful. If the insomnia was caused by alcohol abuse, then taking medication to induce sleep can be risky. Using alcohol with sleeping pills is not recommended.
The top 10 sleeping pills that people rely on are:
- Ambien (zolpidem)
- Lunesta (eszopiclone)
- Prosom (estazolam)
- Restoril (temazepam)
- Sominex (diphenhydramine)
- Sonata (zaleplon)
- Rozerem (ramelteon)
- Belsomra (suvorexant)
- Halcion (triazolam)
- Silenor (doxepin)
Ambien is a sedative medication that can have serious reactions when mixed with alcohol. Ambien is the most well-known sleep medication. Lunesta, Prosom, Restoril, Halcion and Sonata can also cause serious adverse effects when used with alcohol. Rozerem, Belsomra and Silenor can have less-serious effects when mixed with alcohol compared to other sedatives, but combining them with alcohol is still not recommended. Sominex, which is also known as Benadryl, is used mostly for allergies, fever and colds.
According to results from a survey conducted between 2005 and 2010, approximately 4 percent of Americans ages 20 and older used prescription sleep aids within a month of taking the survey. Around 7 percent of survey respondents who were at least 80 years old reported taking a sleep medication. That is the highest percentage of any age group. Additionally, women were more likely than men to use prescription sleep aids.
While specific genders and age groups had higher usage rates of sleep medications, anyone who relies on prescription sedatives is at risk of abusing alcohol along with the drug.
Regular alcohol abuse before going to sleep can lead to a lack of quality sleep, which can affect a person’s mental health. Additionally, people who struggle with alcohol abuse may experience depression as an effect of their addiction.
Insomnia is commonly linked to alcohol abuse. People who have a sleep disorder may rely on alcohol to induce sleep, or they may develop insomnia due to their alcohol abuse causing irregular sleep habits. In some cases, the patient may have formed an unhealthy reliance on the medication to achieve sleep.
People who struggle with insomnia may take a sleeping pill to treat the sleep disorder. However, their body can become accustomed to the medication and require a larger dosage to achieve the same sedative effects. Increasing the dosage can have lasting effects, including enabling withdrawal symptoms to occur, depending on if the medication is addictive. The medical staff at a rehabilitation center may recommend changing the medication used or treating the patient’s insomnia without using sleeping pills.
Co-occurring disorder treatment usually involves creating a treatment approach for each disorder. The start of alcohol abuse rehabilitation often involves undergoing detoxification to remove the physical presence of the substance. The next steps of treatment involve therapy sessions and, when necessary, medication to mitigate withdrawal symptoms or maintain the patient’s physical health.
If you use sleeping pills or drink alcohol and want to learn more about your substance use behaviors, take The Recovery Village’s self-assessment. This quiz can help you recognize the presence of a sleeping pill or alcohol addiction or dependence.
The Recovery Village has treatment facilities throughout the U.S. with medical support to help those struggling with alcohol addiction. If you or someone you know relies on sleep medication to treat insomnia and also regularly drinks alcohol, consider contacting The Recovery Village to begin rehabilitation if substance abuse is suspected.
Stephanie Saul. New York Times. “F.D.A. Warns of Sleeping Pills’ Strange Effects.” Published March 15, 2007. Accessed December 3, 2018.
WebMD.com. “Sleep Disorders: Sleepwalking Basics.” Accessed December 3, 2018.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” Accessed December 3, 2018.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Published September 2018. Accessed December 3, 2018.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Prescription Sleep Aid Use Among Adults: United States, 2005–2010.” Published August 2013. Accessed December 3, 2018.
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