Effects of Mixing Sleeping Pills and Alcohol: Common Mistakes

A lot of people have suffered from sleep difficulties at some point in their lives. There could be a variety of reasons behind ranging from minor to major causes. And people’s way of addressing this matter is just as varied. But one of the most common responses is taking a prescription sleeping pill. This however could lead someone to become overdependent and potentially overuse the drug.

 In a report published by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), people are increasingly taking prescription sleeping aids in detrimental amounts. In addition, in another study conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 4% of adults aged 20 and above reported using these types of drugs in the past 30 days.

Sleeping pills can be useful in ending your sleep problems and help you achieve a better slumber especially if taken appropriately or as prescribed. That’s why it’s very important that you equip yourself first with the right knowledge before doing so. Because while this could be a good option, this could also have serious side effects especially when combined with other drugs and/or alcohol.

By nature, sleeping pills are classified under sedative-hypnotics. Which means they induce sedating effects through depressing  the central nervous system (CNS) thus making the body more relaxed and helps people fall asleep faster and longer, and alcohol is a well-known CNS suppressant.

In other words, they affect the body in similar ways. When mixed, their sedating effects will be enhanced and could lead to serious or fatal outcomes. Generally, a combination of these two, even in minute amounts, is highly discouraged. Although there are  various types of sleeping pills out there that could have slight different interactions with alcohol.

Ambien, Lunesta, Restoril, Halcion, Melatonin, and Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) are some of the many over-the- counter sleeping aids that people commonly abuse with alcohol.  To prevent misusing it, it is highly advised to read your doctor’s instruction or check the labels for they contain warning and specific information about your medications.

 People who are prone to combine these drugs include those that are experiencing sleep difficulties who resort to self-medicating with tranquilizers and alcohol and those chronic alcohol drinkers that are starting to have sleep problems. This, in return may promote a continued use of both substances increasing the risk of overdose and to some extent, death.

Common side effects of combining alcohol and sleeping pills include:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Memory problems.
  • Confusion/disorientation.
  • Unusual behavior.
  • Impaired motor control.
  • Slowed heart rate.
  • Lowered blood pressure.
  • Slowed or difficulty breathing.
  • Increased risk of overdose
With the two substances being very accessible to the public, it is not totally unusual that people would believe that there is no danger in taking these drugs at the same time. People often believe that combination of alcohol and sleeping pills could lead to a better sleep but unfortunately, that is not the case. The risk of possible overdose is extremely high.

Lethal overdoses could take place when the mixed substances are taken in an amount that suppresses the body’s normal functions resulting in decreased alertness, breathing and cognitive processes in general. Developing parasomnia, a type of sleep disorder that includes peculiar behaviours such as sleep-walking, sleep-eating, sleep-driving and other dangerous sleep-related activities  could also be observed while under the influence of both substances although it rarely happens. It becomes even more dangerous when basic day-to-day activities such as driving, walking and swimming get difficult and potentially result in injuries and accidents owing to an impaired judgment and coordination.

There is a link noted by researchers between chronic alcohol abuse and persistent sleep problems. People usually rapidly develop alcohol tolerance and as a result they tend to drink more as a way to feel tired and sleepy. Sleep difficulties like Insomnia is a common complaint from people diagnosed with alcohol use disorder.


When the use for both sleeping pills and alcohol exceeds the amount that is healthy, it could lead to abuse and overdependence of both substances. This could make the withdrawal process very difficult or complicated for someone who attempts to quit and doing so under the guidance of a physician is advised.

Withdrawal symptoms from sedative-hypnotic medications include restlessness, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and tremors. One of the safest ways to approach the withdrawal process is through medical detox from any addictive drug such as alcohol and sleeping pill. Gradually decreasing the dose of these types of medications over a few weeks instead of downright quitting is the usual first step. This is an efficient strategy to minimize the symptoms of withdrawal and the chance of a probable relapse is lower.

Former users of sleeping pill and alcohol experience physical and psychological discomfort during withdrawal. It ranges from mild to dangerous symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, agitation, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, seizures and in rare cases delirium tremens. Although withdrawal symptoms may vary from person to person.

Addiction from more than one substance may require more treatment attention. The possibility of a safer and smoother recovery is increased when the detox process is reinforced with additional treatment efforts for both drugs. For example, rebound insomnia is more likely to develop when you stop using pills and alcohol. But in that case it may not be a viable option to continue the sedative-hypnotic treatment. Focusing on a more behavioural treatment might be a better course of action to take.

Several non-pharmacological treatment options are available and can greatly aid with rebound insomnia,including:

  • Relaxation therapy.
  • Sleep hygiene education.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Stimulus control (e.g., no watching TV or reading in bed, no exercise, smoking, warm baths just before bed).
  • Sleep restriction (e.g., minimizing sleep outside of set hours, etc.).