What Side Effects Can Occur if You Drink Alcohol With Ambien?

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What Side Effects Can Occur if You Drink Alcohol With Ambien?
What Side Effects Can Occur if You Drink Alcohol With Ambien? (Image: Ambien. Department of Justice image.)

Ambien

Ambien is a hypnotic drug used for the short term treatment of insomnia. It increases the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain by binding to its receptors. In this respect, it is similar to another class of drugs called benzodiazapenes, which are used as anti-convulsants, sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs. Ambien, however has a different molecular structure that these drugs, so it is not considered a benzodiazapene.

Alcohol

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Like Ambien, it increases the amount of GABA in the brain. GABA acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, slowing down the body and its processes. If Ambien and alcohol are taken together, it potentiates the effects of GABA in the brain.

Because both Ambien and alcohol affect the same neurotransmitter, Ambien is not generally given to alcoholics or recovering alcoholics because of the risk of abuse and addiction.

The GABA molecule. Image by CC Roberts.
The GABA molecule. Image by CC Roberts.

Ambien and Alcohol Together

Ambien has the effect of exacerbating the body's reaction to alcohol, meaning that symptoms normally associated with acute intoxication can be seen with little alcohol consumption. These symptoms include drowsiness, blackouts, loss of coordination, slurred speech, loss of consciousness and severe depression. The interaction can also increase the risk for common Ambien side effects, including dizziness, lightheadedness and diarrhea. Some of Ambien's more unusual effects, such as "sleep driving" are seen more often when alcohol is consumed.

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