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Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Sleeping Pills

It’s likely you have experienced a sleepless night at some point in your life. For some, it may be more frequent than that, which could be the result of stress, tension, or a variety of other factors. It’s common to have a couple of nights where we don’t get enough rest, but the question we have to ask ourselves is when does it become a problem? 

Studies have shown, however, that even a single sleepless night can cause a car crash or a fatal mistake at work. Sleep is essential for our physical and mental health, and it is something that we often take for granted. The problem with sleep deprivation is that it is similar to alcohol intoxication, and driving under the influence can lead to being arrested, and coming to work intoxicated can get you fired. So why is insufficient sleep viewed differently?

Estimates show that a lack of sleep costs the United States more than $411 billion annually, which makes sense when you see that between 50 to 70 million people in the United States have one or several sleep disorders. There is another significant problem that Americans face if they struggle with a sleep disorder — they reach for what they considered in their eyes as a miracle drug. 

Doctors widely prescribe sleeping pills with little resistance, and those with sleep disorders become heavily reliant on the medications to fall asleep. It means that they can continue using the drugs and carry on their normal routine, which could include drinking after work or on the weekends. You may be thinking to yourself, “so what?” Well, there are dangers associated with mixing alcohol and sleeping pills.

Sleeping pills and alcohol both contain similar characteristics in that they are depressant drugs. Central nervous system (CNS) depressants slow down one’s breathing and nervous system. When using the two in conjunction, it can have adverse effects and slow down breathing to the point of falling unconscious, or even worse, death. 

An estimated 88,000 Americans die annually from alcohol, and as we mentioned above, millions struggle with sleep disorders each year. The combination yields fatal results in those who mix the two substances. When you live a fast-paced lifestyle and have problems sleeping, it’s understandable to reach into your nightstand and grab a sleeping pill. Just how many people use sleeping pills?

According to Live Science, an estimated 4 percent of the U.S. population use sleeping pills. The studies are based from 2005 to 2010, meaning that the numbers are not an accurate portrayal of current figures. With our population and the use of technology growing, the inability to sleep is something that will continue to affect our lives for decades to come. 

Another bit of the study suggests there is no evidence that sleep medications help individuals perform better the next day; instead, the drugs can impair their performance. When you pair this with alcohol, you can imagine the dip in production. The type of medications you mix with alcohol can increase the dangers of using both.

Benzodiazepines and Alcohol

Benzodiazepine drugs, which include Valium, Ativan, Restoril, and Halcion, are occasionally used as sleep aids. They are the first benzos that were used in the treatment of sleep disorders, and they work by altering the chemistry of the brain.

Benzos can sedate critical areas in the brain and lead to slower breathing rates as well as a slowed heart rate. These properties are what make benzos and alcohol mixtures so deadly.

Alcohol is responsible for slowing the breathing rate, and when these two drugs are used in conjunction with one another, they can lead to a significant reduction in breathing. It’s hard to gauge how much alcohol someone must drink or how many pills will bring about this problem. It depends on several factors, including the individual’s age, tolerance to both drugs, weight, and genetics.

It’s well-documented that those who combine benzos and alcohol can slide into a coma-like state and require care from medical professionals to recover. Without immediate attention, it is likely that someone can die as a result of this drug combination.

Sedative-Hypnotic Sleep Aids and Alcohol

Benzos are effective means of helping someone fall asleep; however, they are associated with adverse side effects such as day time sleepiness, dependence, and addiction. For these reasons, drug developers sought out new versions of benzos that could alleviate these side effects. Their discovery was sedative-hypnotic drugs that help those fall asleep, stay asleep, and not contribute to grogginess the following day.

Drugs such as Sonata and Lunesta have been grouped with causing a form of amnesia, and many users have been known to eat, drive, and shop while under the influence of these medications. Those who indulge in drinking before using these substances might drink more when the drug takes effect and may not remember doing so.

Unfortunately, using these two drugs together is common. A study released by Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs indicates that 19 percent of people taking sedative-hypnotic sleep aids drink alcohol at the same time.

There is no determination of a safe amount to use with alcohol, but it will depend on height, weight, age, and tolerance. Using these two drugs together is not recommended.

Is It Ever Safe to Mix Alcohol and Sleeping Pills?

Combining these two drugs is much like playing a game of Russian roulette. At first, you may succeed, but the factors that surround your current situation can change in an instant.

There is no way to determine how these chemical mixtures are going to interact with your body on a given day, and the experience can differ in a day’s time. Any time that you combine the two substances, you are hoping that your life won’t be the price of admission for the experience.

If using both drugs leads you to feel confused or disoriented and you commit a natural act such as walking, you increase the odds of falling, tripping, or have an accident that could cause cuts, bruises, or broken bones.

Using these two drugs can also lead to a morning or lifetime of regret – alcohol lowers your inhibitions, and sleeping pills can impair your memory. It can guide you to initiate difficult conversations without remembering what you did the next day. You can also operate a motor vehicle, which could lead to getting arrested or getting into an accident on the road.

If there is a need to combine the substances, you must place at least six hours between your last drink of alcohol and the first dose of the sleeping pill. The time in between is crucial in giving your body enough time to process all of the active alcohol in your system before the sleeping pill takes effect. 

In situations as dangerous as these where you are playing games with your life, the best route you can take is that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Is your life worth a night’s sleep when you combine these two potentially deadly substances?

Sources

Concomitant alcohol and sedative-hypnotic drug use among the elderly in Norway. (n.d.). from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1455072516683896

Kang, M. (2018, November 15). Benzodiazepine Toxicity. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482238/

Gholipour, B. (2013, August 29). Sleeping Pills: Older Adults More Likely to Use. from https://www.livescience.com/39278-americans-use-prescription-sleeping-pills.html

Here's What Lack of Sleep Costs the U.S. Every Year. (n.d.). from http://fortune.com/2016/11/30/sleep-productivity-rand-corp-411-billion/

54 Shocking Sleep Statistics, Data and Trends Revealed for 2019. (n.d.). from https://www.sleepadvisor.org/sleep-statistics/

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