Mixing Ambien and Alcohol

Bottles of ambien pills with some spilling out next to a glass of alcohol

Ambien — the brand name for the hypnosedative drug zolpidem — is a short-acting non-benzodiazepine sedative. This means it makes a person drowsy but is not in the same type of drug class as many anxiety medications. It is FDA-approved for short-term treatment of insomnia due to difficulty falling asleep.

Ambien is preferred for sleep over benzodiazepines because there is less potential for addiction and abuse; but some potential still exists. Ambien still has potentially harmful side effects and withdrawal symptoms, and these can be greatly worsened by mixing it with alcohol.

What Happens When You Mix Ambien and Alcohol?

Ambien works by binding to neurotransmitter receptors in the brain known as GABA receptors and making them more active. This slows brain activity, producing a sedating effect.

Alcohol binds to many brain receptors, including GABA receptors, resulting in a significant magnification of the effects of Ambien.

The interaction between Ambien and alcohol is called a pharmacodynamic drug interaction. This type of drug interaction happens when drugs directly influence each other. In this case, the sedative effects of Ambien add to the sedative effects of alcohol. Mixing Ambien and alcohol also increases the risk of side effects and withdrawal symptoms.

These same synergistic effects apply to the long-acting controlled release formulation of Ambien, Ambien CR. However, mixing Ambien CR and alcohol may result in prolonged side effects.

Dangers of Mixing Ambien and Alcohol

Alcohol and Ambien overdose are much more likely to cause respiratory suppression and death when the drugs are taken together than when either drug is taken alone. Therefore, it is rarely safe to mix alcohol and Ambien.

Besides the sedating effects, mixing Ambien and alcohol also increases the risk and severity of the other Ambien effects, including:

  • Overdose
  • Injury from confusion, sedation and impaired cognition and motor coordination
  • Disinhibition and high-risk behavior, including suicidal behaviors
  • Increased risk of injury or harm from parasomnia behaviors
  • Withdrawal seizures

Overdose is when someone takes more of a drug than their body can safely remove and can happen on purpose or by accident. Ambien overdose is characterized by

  • Excessive sedation
  • Coma
  • Cardiovascular compromise
  • Respiratory suppression
  • Death

Alcohol, Ambien and Parasomnia

Like with other Ambien side effects, combining Ambien with alcohol is known to increase the risk of parasomnias like sleep driving. The prescribing doctor or pharmacist may warn you of the dangers of mixing these substances if you start taking Ambien.

Parasomnias are a group of disruptive sleep-related disorders, including:

  • Night terrors
  • Sleep talking
  • Sleepwalking
  • Sleep activities
  • Sleep paralysis

Ambien is a known risk factor for the development of parasomnias, which can range from harmless to extremely disruptive. Examples include sleepwalking, sleep eating and sleep driving.

How Long After Drinking Can I Take Ambien?

It would be safest to wait at least 24 hours after your last drink before taking Ambien. Every drug, including alcohol, has a half-life value. The half-life is how long it takes the body to metabolize half of the drug. After about five half-lives, the drug is completely cleared from the body.

The half-life of alcohol is four to five hours for most healthy adults. Therefore, it generally will clear the body in 20–25 hours for most people. However, your health status, age, gender and how much alcohol you have consumed can dramatically affect this number. Follow advice from your doctor or pharmacist if it differs from this.

How Long After Taking Ambien Can I Drink Alcohol?

A person should wait at least 24 hours after taking their last dose of Ambien immediate-release or Ambien CR before consuming alcohol. The same concept of half-life applies to this question, and Ambien will be completely eliminated from the body in about five half-lives.

Ambien has a rapid onset of action (within 30 minutes) and has a short half-life of about 2.5 hours in adults.This period is about the same for Ambien CR (controlled release). The half-life for Ambien CR is 1.6–4 hours, so it would be cleared in 8–20 hours. Ask your doctor and pharmacist if you are unsure of when you can drink alcohol after taking Ambien.

Finding Treatment for Ambien and Alcohol Abuse

The importance of proper treatment for substance abuse cannot be overstated. Recovery from addiction is not simply stopping Ambien use, alcohol or other drugs. The underlying causes of the addiction and damaging effects of substance abuse and related behaviors on physical and mental health should be identified and addressed. Likewise, any underlying mental health disorders should be diagnosed and properly treated.

Because of the serious withdrawal symptoms associated with Ambien and alcohol, people who abuse these drugs should seriously consider starting their Ambien addiction treatment with a safe and supportive medical detox program.

The Recovery Village Ridgefield offers the best in comprehensive, professional drug detox and addiction treatment programs. If you have concerns about Ambien, alcohol or other substance use in yourself or a loved one, please feel free to contact us for a confidential discussion with one of our staff.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.