Mixing Prescription Drugs

The topic of substance use disorder is widely discussed in the United States. Over the past decade, there has been a significant surge in the number of people struggling with drug addiction. As a result, Substance use disorder rates have gone up, as have overdose deaths. Prescription drugs are often abused by combining them with other substances. Drug combinations may be a way to enhance the desired effect from both substances, or it could be inadvertent. Regardless, this practice is dangerous and can be deadly. One combination of substances frequently seen is mixing zolpidem and alcohol.

Zolpidem is a generic prescription drug, also sold under the brand name Ambien, that is used to treat insomnia. Zolpidem is only intended as a short-term treatment, due to its potential for substance use disorder. For years, zolpidem wasn’t necessarily seen as having a high potential for regular substance use but that perspective has shifted recently. Increasingly, people have reported instances of someone dealing with substance use disorder
leading doctors to rethink how they prescribe it. So, what about mixing zolpidem and alcohol? What are the risks of this particular combination?

Common Side Effects of Mixing Zolpidem and Alcohol

Both zolpidem and alcohol depress the central nervous system, affecting the calming neurotransmitter GABA -which triggers a dopamine response that can lead to addiction. When someone takes either zolpidem or alcohol, it provides a sedative or tranquilizing effect on their brain. People who use zolpidem or alcohol can seem to be impaired -physically and/or mentally. They may seem to be functioning more slowly since their central nervous system is slowed down. If someone mixes zolpidem and alcohol, these side effects are amplified. Common side effects of mixing zolpidem and alcohol include:

  • Problems with walking and coordination
  • Concentration problems
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Impaired judgment
  • Sleep apnea
  • Slow breathing

As more people have used Ambien, or zolpidem, they have increasingly reported experiencing a troubling side effect. People taking zolpidem do things while they’re asleep without even realizing it. The drug puts them in a state that’s somewhere between being asleep and awake, and it can lead to very dangerous situations. For example, people who use zolpidem have reported making and eating food, having sex, having in-person or phone conversations or, perhaps the scariest, leaving the house or driving a vehicle. People have reported that they don’t have any memory of doing these things. The risk of these bizarre, dangerous behaviors is higher when someone is mixing zolpidem and alcohol. There have been cases in which people have engaged in criminal behavior and have blamed it on either zolpidem alone or a combination of alcohol and zolpidem.

Overdose Risk

The potential for an overdose is another serious occurrence that anyone taking zolpidem and another substance, like alcohol, should be aware of. Zolpidem, on its own, rarely leads to overdoses. When zolpidem is mixed with alcohol, the risk of an overdose substantially goes up. Both zolpidem and alcohol depress the central nervous system and, and as a result, slows breathing and the heart rate. If breathing and heart rate levels drop too low, a person may need intensive care. Other outcomes of this dangerous combination and an overdose include brain damage, coma or death.

There are also detrimental psychological effects that occur when mixing zolpidem and alcohol. Someone who mixes zolpidem and alcohol is more likely to experience symptoms like depression and fatigue. There is an increased likelihood of a polysubstance addiction problem developing. Someone who uses zolpidem and alcohol chronically may become physically dependent upon both substances, experiencing withdrawal when they stop using either substance. For someone who is dependent on alcohol and zolpidem, withdrawal symptoms can be particularly severe. There are no instances in which it’s safe or advisable to combine alcohol and zolpidem. It’s important with any prescription drug to let a physician know of other substances that are regularly used, including alcohol.

If you are struggling with substance use disorder, there are resources available. Get more information about treatment today when you contact us at The Recovery Village.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.