The Dangers of Mixing Sleeping Pills With Alcohol

Mixing sleeping pills and alcohol is extremely dangerous because both substances can cause increased effects on one another. Plus, both substances are central nervous system depressants, so they affect the body in similar ways, leading to a compounding effect.

Usually, people who are prescribed sleeping pills are instructed to avoid drinking alcohol or taking other substances while on the pills. With that said, mixing alcohol and sleeping pills is far more common than it should be.

Some people drink while taking sleeping pills to heighten the effects of alcohol, while others take sleeping pills while drinking to fall asleep faster. Regardless of how a person is mixing these two substances, doing so can lead to addiction, dependence, overdose, and more.

Types of Sleeping Pills

There are several different types of sedative-hypnotic medications that may be prescribed to treat insomnia. These include:

  • Benzodiazepines like Halcion or Restoril
  • Non-benzodiazepine hypnotics or “Z-drugs” like Sonata, Ambien, and Lunesta
  • Antipsychotics like Seroquel
  • Trazodone in off-label uses
  • Over-the-counter sleep aids like Unisom or Benadryl

The most commonly abused sleep medications include:

Although each of these medications is unique, they all reduce consciousness and interact significantly with alcohol. Drinking alcohol while taking these medications may also reduce their efficacy.

How Alcohol and Sleeping Pills Affect Sleep

Both alcohol and sleeping pills are depressants, so they should work together to promote better sleep, right? Well, this is actually a common misconception about mixing alcohol and sleeping pills.

Rather than promoting better sleep, combining these two substances results in poor sleep quality. In the first hours after drinking and taking a sleeping pill, a person may feel tired, fatigued, and be able to fall asleep quickly. However, the sleep they are obtaining usually isn’t good, quality sleep.

When taken together, alcohol and sleeping pills reduce brain-wave activity and prevent deep REM sleep. REM sleep, or restorative sleep, is what makes people feel rested and energized the next day. Without this phase of the sleep cycle, people may feel fatigued throughout the day and feel tired no matter how long they slept.

Another way that alcohol and sleeping pills negatively affect sleep is by making people more likely to walk, run, eat, or even drive while they are asleep. Even more concerning is that these incidences of sleep-walking, eating, or driving are usually not recalled by the individual involved.[1]

As a result, mixing sedatives and alcohol can put people at imminent risk for injury or legal charges due to their unconscious actions.

Side Effects and Dangers of Mixing Sleeping Pills and Alcohol

When sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta, or even benzodiazepines are mixed with alcohol, the effects of both substances are heightened. Both the pills and alcohol work together to slow down the central nervous system.

Common side effects of mixing sleeping pills and alcohol include:[2]

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Memory problems
  • Impaired coordination
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unusual behavior
  • Low blood pressure

If too many pills are taken or if too much alcohol is consumed, a life-threatening overdose may occur. This is particularly troublesome because some people may believe a person is just sleeping rather than overdosing. Symptoms of an alcohol and sleeping pill overdose may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Shaking/trembling
  • Extremely slow heart rate
  • Weakened pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Bluish lips
  • Pale or clammy skin
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Coma
  • Death

Even if a person doesn’t overdose, combining these two depressant drugs is highly dangerous. It can cause poor decision making which can get someone into trouble, lack of coordination which can lead to injury, and other bizarre sleep behaviors that are worrisome.

Although both sleeping pills and alcohol are legal, they can impair the mind so severely that simple activities, like walking or driving, become dangerous and potentially fatal.

Can Someone Get Addicted to Alcohol and Sleeping Pills?

Whether someone begins taking sleeping pills first or drinking alcohol first, mixing the two substances may increase the risk of dependence and addiction.

Studies have found that 10-15% of people with chronic insomnia also struggle with substance abuse. And, insomnia is thought to be more likely in the 10% of Americans who drink on a daily basis.[2]

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in America and more than 14.5 million Americans are thought to have an alcohol use disorder.[3] Sleeping pill addiction, on the other hand, is less common than alcoholism, but just as severe.

With that said, some sleeping pills are more addictive than others. For instance, Ambien, Lunesta, and Halcion are highly addictive because they produce relaxing and euphoric effects. Other medications, like Benadryl or even trazodone, don’t produce a similar high and may be less addictive.

People who are addicted to both alcohol and sleeping pills may be unable to sleep without both substances, feel the need to always combine the two substances, and feel cravings for pills and/or alcohol when they are not under the influence.

Find Help for Addiction Today

People who mix alcohol and sleeping pills on a regular basis may be struggling with addiction. Whether it is an alcoholic who takes sleeping pills to cure their insomnia or it is someone who can’t fall asleep without both substances, abusing alcohol and sleeping pills is extremely dangerous and potentially life-threatening.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to mixing sleeping pills and alcohol, know that help is only a phone call away. Our dedicated team of addiction professionals at Comprehensive Wellness Centers can help you find the right treatment program and get started on your recovery.

Pick up the phone and call now to start your recovery journey today.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2762721/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2775419/
  3. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

Medically Reviewed: March 11, 2021

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer | CWC Recovery Staff

Clinical Team

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Content on this page has been reviewed by CWC Medical Staff for accuracy.


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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