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.

Before taking sleeping tablets and alcohol at or close to the same time, consider the harmful effects that could occur. Mixing alcohol and sleeping pills can cause the following side effects:

  • Falling asleep while driving or performing another activity that requires attentiveness
  • Impaired motor function
  • Sleepwalking
  • Memory impairment
  • Slowed or labored breathing
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Alcohol and sleeping pills both affect the central nervous system and interact with the same receptors in the brain. When combined, alcohol and sleeping pills can increase the sedative effects that each already has, possibly resulting in slowed heart rate and breathing. Alcohol intoxicates people, which involves losing motor functioning and experiencing memory loss. Alcohol use also can temporarily increase a person’s self-esteem and energy before the sedative effects occur and drowsiness becomes the prevalent feeling.

    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.

    Not only does mixing sleeping pills with alcohol have dangerous short-term effects, but the combination can be deadly.

    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.

    Alcohol primarily interferes with the brain’s ability to create new long-term memories, and interactions or events are either forgotten completely or remembered in fragments when someone blacks out. The more alcohol a person consumes the more likely they are to experience a blackout due to how alcohol impacts brain functioning.

    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.

    Blackouts aren’t the only effect of pairing sleeping medication and alcohol. According to the Federal Drug Administration, certain sleeping pills cause sleepwalking. This effect can occur with or without alcohol use. Sleepwalking is attributed to genetics, not having irregular sleeping schedules or experiencing extreme levels of stress. However, falling asleep intoxicated does increase the likelihood that someone will sleepwalk.
    According to the NIAA, approximately 88,000 people in the United States die each year from alcohol-related deaths. Alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the country behind tobacco and poor diet.

    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.

    While alcohol is considered a depressant, the substance can increase a person’s energy and keep them awake late into the night, resulting in irregular sleeping behaviors. Continued use of alcohol, especially at night, can lead to insomnia.

    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.

    The rates of prescription sedative abuse are low compared to other medications and illicit drugs. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 352,000 Americans abuse prescription sedatives. By comparison, approximately 3.2 million Americans abuse prescription pain-relievers while 1.8 million and 1.7 million abuse prescription stimulants and tranquilizers, respectively. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey provides additional information regarding prescription sleep aid use, including which demographics rely on these medications the most.
    People who have an addiction and insomnia co-occurring are at the highest risk of abusing alcohol with sleep medication. Their reliance on alcohol combined with their dependence on the medication to induce sleep can lead to frequent instances where the effects of the two substances overlap and occur together.

    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.

    People rely on sleeping pills to treat insomnia or experience a long, deep night of sleeping. However, drinking alcohol before and being under the effects of the substance when going to sleep usually results in a lower-quality sleep.

    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.

    Continued use of alcohol can lead to dependence forming, which can result in a substance use disorder. Alcohol addiction does not always occur alone, either. People struggling with a substance use disorder often have a mental health disorder or another medical condition, which can either be the cause or result of the addiction. This relationship is referred to as a co-occurring disorder.

    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.

  • Ambien
  • Alcohol
  • Prescription Drugs 
  • Sleeping pills are regularly used to treat insomnia, but some mistakenly abuse alcohol while under the effects of sleep medication. Consider these effects before using sleeping pills with alcohol:

  • Mixing alcohol and sleeping pills can have extreme sedative effects due to the substances similarities
  • Some people abuse both alcohol and sleeping pills, which can increase each’s effects
  • While alcohol can be used to fall asleep, sedative medication is much safer to use for treating insomnia
  • Sleeping pills can be abused and a tolerance can form for the medication after an extended period of use
  • The potential effects of mixing sleep medication and alcohol include blackouts, memory loss and sleepwalking

  • 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.

    Sleeping Pills and Alcohol: Harmful Effects of Mixing Sleeping Pills with Alcohol
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