Article at a Glance:
Mixing alcohol and sleeping pills can create several dangerous and potentially deadly side effects. These include:
- Decreased alertness
- Injury from changes in alertness or altered judgment
- Impaired coordination
- Impaired judgment
- Impaired memory
- Increased fatigue
- Slowed or labored breathing
Table of Contents
Alcohol & Sleeping Pills
Mixing sleeping pills and alcohol can result in the heightened effects of both substances. Sleeping pills are sedative substances that typically suppress activity in the central nervous system, and alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Taking two drugs that affect the body in similar ways can compound their negative effects and lead to dangerous health issues.
The combination of these two substances can lead to several negative outcomes and should be avoided. People who are likely to mix these substances include those who use alcohol frequently and struggle with insomnia or those who have an addiction to sleeping medication.
Side Effects of Mixing Sleeping Pills With Alcohol
The side effects of mixing alcohol and sleeping pills are due to each substance increasing the effects of the other.
Common side effects of mixing sleeping pills and alcohol include:
- Suppression of the nervous system
- Increased risk of overdose
- Increased risk of sleeping pill addiction
- Increased risk of alcohol use disorder
- Interactions while sleeping, such as sleepwalking, sleep-eating or sleep-driving
- Impaired memory
- Worsened quality of sleep
- Risk of death
Frequently, the effects of mixing these substances are related to a suppression of the normal function of the body, especially the nervous system, including the parts of the brain that affect breathing, cognition, and alertness.
Risk of Overdose
The risk of a sleeping pill and alcohol overdose is very real. Studies show that many common sleeping pills can be deadly when mixed with alcohol, especially if too much is used of either substance.
Death can occur when the combination suppresses the level of breathing beyond what is safe, or if this combination affects the heart. While it is common to think of a sleeping pill and alcohol death being related to changes in the heartbeat or breathing, death may also be more likely due to the combined impairment of alertness, judgment, and coordination. This impairment makes seemingly simple activities like swimming, driving or crossing the road potentially deadly.
Mixing sleeping pills and alcohol can also lead to sleepwalking and impaired memory. There are several documented cases of people sleepwalking, sleep-eating and even sleep-driving on the popular sleeping medication Ambien.
These episodes may not always be remembered afterward. When alcohol is mixed with a medication like Ambien, these effects are worse. These episodes could result in injury or, in some situations, like sleep-driving, may lead to arrest or other unintended legal consequences.
Decreased Sleep Quality
Finally, mixing sleeping medications and alcohol does not improve sleep. While this combination may make a person feel more tired and fall asleep more quickly, the rest that they will get will be of poor quality. The changes in the chemicals in the brain that occur with alcohol use, especially when combined with sleeping pills, will decrease the sleep-related brain waves and cause the person to feel unrested when they wake up.
Sleeping Pills Commonly Misused With Alcohol
Some of the most common prescription sleeping medications include:
- Ambien (zolpidem)
- Dalmane (flurazepam)
- Lunesta (eszopiclone)
- Prosom (estazolam)
- Restoril (temazepam)
- Sonata (zaleplon)
- Rozerem (ramelteon)
- Belsomra (suvorexant)
- Halcion (triazolam)
- Silenor (doxepin)
- Desyrel (trazodone)
While these prescription medications all aid with sleep, other sleep aids may be purchased over the counter. The most common over-the-counter sleep aids include melatonin and medications containing diphenhydramine, which is the active ingredient in Benadryl.
How these medications work are all somewhat different, but almost all of these medications in some way decrease a person’s level of consciousness and can cause serious side effects when mixed with alcohol.
If you or a loved one find yourself struggling with habitual use of alcohol or sleeping medication, know that recovery is possible. The Recovery Village has caring professionals who can guide you through treatment options and help achieve recovery. Contact one of our compassionate staff members today to start your recovery.
Hoque, Romy & Chesson, Andrew L. “Zolpidem-Induced Sleepwalking, Sleep Related Eating Disorder, and Sleep-Driving: Fluorine-18-Flourodeoxyglucose Positron Emission Tomography Analysis, and a Literature Review of Other Unexpected Clinical Effects of Zolpidem.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Oct. 15, 2009. Accessed April 9, 2019.
Pagel, J. F. & Pames, Bennett L. “Medications for the Treatment of Sleep Disorders: An Overview.” Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2001. Accessed April 9, 2019.
Cleveland Clinic. “Sleeping Pills.” March 15, 2017. Accessed April 9, 2019.
Medscape. “Ramelteon (Rx).” Jan. 2019. Accessed April 9, 2019.
Medscape. “Suvorexant (Rx).” 2019. Accessed April 9, 2019.
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