Many people believe the long-time misconception that the use of alcohol helps with relaxation and promotes sleep. Unfortunately, reaching out for a drink to feel sleepy, thinking it will solve their sleep problem, often leads to more than one drink.
Frustrations can arise when the alcohol doesn’t work, leading them to seek prescription sleeping pills to solve the problem. However, people are not aware that sleeping pills and alcohol are a dangerous combination and seldom address the real sleep issues at hand.
Mixing Alcohol and Sleeping Pills
Prescriptions for sleeping pills—under a doctor’s care—can be safe for short-term use. Sedatives are central nervous system depressants, which means they slow down several necessary and life-sustaining processes to induce sleep.
Blood pressure, respiration, body temperature, and heart rate are all affected by sedatives. Alcohol, another central nervous system depressant taken with sleeping pills, heightens the effects of both substances, increasing the risks of adverse symptoms, risk of overdose, and, in some cases, death.
How Sleeping Pills and Alcohol Affect the Body
The effects of combining sedatives and alcohol differ slightly with each type of sedative. Some sedatives have side effects like memory loss and sleepwalking. People can engage in eating, talking on the phone, and even driving a car after taking sleeping pills and have no memory of it.
When tolerance builds, it requires a larger dose of a substance to achieve the desired effect, typically resulting in physical dependence. Adding alcohol to the mix can escalate these symptoms and also cause challenges during alcohol detox with complex withdrawal symptoms.
The side effects of mixing sedatives and alcohol are:
- Drowsiness and dizziness
- Confusion, disorientation, and memory problems
- Unusual behaviors
- Impaired motor control
- Low blood pressure
- Slowed or difficulty breathing
- Slowed heart rate
- Increased risk of overdose
Sleeping Pills, Alcohol, and the CNS
Ingesting both sleeping pills and alcohol increases the risks and side effects of both substances in how they affect the central nervous system (CNS). Both substances are depressants and, when mixed, can heighten the already dangerous side effects on breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Benzodiazepines, such as Valium, carry a designation directly from the Food and Drug Administration to not be taken with alcohol. A loss of cognitive function can lead to poor decision-making with dosage control.
Is This Combination Fatal?
The misuse of these two substances can produce life-threatening risks. Both substances are depressants, which adversely affect vital life functions, such as respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Regularly used together, they can hurt cognitive abilities and coordination and be the cause of life-threatening accidents. Ultimately, alcohol use in combination with sleeping pills can produce severe withdrawal symptoms during detox from both substances.
Effects of Sleeping Pills
According to the Sleep Foundation, the critical side effects of sleeping medications differ for each individual. First, drowsiness, movement challenges, and next-day focus difficulties often arise.
It is essential to notify the doctor if more complex side effects occur, such as sleepwalking, allergic reactions, or taking more medication to get the same results, indicating tolerance. Finally, sleeping pills are most effective for short-term use but can be unintentionally habit-forming.
The following are the side effects of sleeping pills:
- Burning or tingling sensations in hands, arms, feet, or legs
- Either constipation or diarrhea
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or balance impairment
- Dry throat or mouth
- Gas, heartburn, stomach pains, or nausea
- Appetite changes
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Weird dreams or nightmares
- Memory problems
Overview of Common Sleep Medications
A warning on all prescription sedatives is never to mix sleeping pills and alcohol. Even in over-the-counter sleep aids, even a tiny amount of alcohol can cause over-sedation. Sleep issues involve several issues, such as difficulty getting to sleep, difficulty staying asleep, insomnia, or the inability to sleep. Doctors will prescribe sedatives according to the patient’s needs.
Common sedative prescriptions include:
- Barbiturates: Rarely prescribed (Seconal)
- Benzodiazepines: (Lorazepam) Ativan, (Triazolam) Halcion, Restoril
- Antidepressant: Trazodone
- Melatonin-receptor agonist: Rozerem
- Over-the-counter antihistamines: Benadryl, Unisom
- Non-benzodiazepine hypnotics: (Zolpidem) Ambien, (Eszopiclone), Lunesta and Sonata
Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Sleep
The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics records that in 2020, of Americans aged 12 years and older, 21.4% have used illegal drugs or misused prescription drugs in the last year. Subsequently, 20.4% of the 138.522 million Americans drinking alcohol have an alcohol use disorder.
SleepHealth.org commits to 50-70 million Americans having a sleep disorder in 2023. Unfortunately, the treatment of insomnia includes the most potent forms of sleeping pills, which are potentially life-threatening when alcohol is also present.
Those with an alcohol use disorder can suffer from sleep disturbances, calling for sleeping pills to sleep. Many with sleep disorders rely on alcohol and sleeping pills to self-medicate. Many people who enter detox for an alcohol use disorder have insomnia during withdrawal.
A treatment option for adverse withdrawal symptoms for those detoxing from this polysubstance problem is medication-assisted treatment to relieve the intensity of symptoms.
Withdrawal and the Need for Treatment
Alcohol use disorders carry a vast number of withdrawal symptoms when alcohol use lessens or stops. Those who are also using sleeping pills have an additional set of concerns to address during detox.
Continual medical supervision is the safest method to rely upon during detox, often with medication-assisted treatment to lessen the severity of the withdrawal symptoms. Additional treatment, either outpatient or inpatient treatment, is advisable for full recovery.
Withdrawal symptoms during detox for an alcohol use disorder include:
- Nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and loss of appetite
- Anxiety, depression, and possible suicidal ideations
- Difficulty concentrating/thinking clearly
- Shakiness, tremors, and feeling on-edge
- Difficulties sleeping/insomnia
- Irregularities in blood pressure and heart rate
- Blurred vision
- Sweats, irritability, and agitation
- Delirium Tremens
Find Sleeping Pill and Alcohol Addiction Help in Tennessee
Listening to the advice of others to take a few drinks to relax and fall asleep or simply go to the doctor for sleeping pills can lead to a dangerous habit. Unintentional dependence can occur in a short period. Detox West of Tennessee understands how frustrating the situation can be and offers detox programs and a safe environment to leave the addiction behind.
Contact the admissions office for Detox West Tennessee to learn more about the opportunities available.