Although sleeping pills are generally safe to take on their own, they can create a number of health risks when taken with CNS depressants like alcohol.
Sleeping pills, whether prescription, over-the-counter or herbal, are used to promote drowsiness in people who have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. A survey from 2017–2018 found that around 8.2% of American adults3 reported taking medication to help them sleep four or more times in the past week.
Unfortunately, sleeping pills carry some risks, especially when mixed with other drugs or alcohol. Mixing the wrong substance with a sleep aid can be dangerous or even deadly in some cases. It is important to know what effects drugs and alcohol can have when taken with sleeping pills.
Is It Dangerous To Mix Sleeping Pills and Alcohol?
Medications are typically safe when taken as directed by your health care provider. However, mixing certain prescription and over-the-counter medications with other sedating drugs can be dangerous. Since sleeping pills and alcohol both have sedating effects, it is dangerous to take these substances together.
Risks of Combining Sleeping Pills and Alcohol
Alcohol, prescription sleeping pills and over-the-counter sleep aids are CNS depressants7 — substances that slow brain activity. When taken together, these medications have an additive7 effect that increases sedation and the risk of side effects. Mixing sleeping pills and alcohol can increase the risk6 of:
- Slowed breathing (respiratory depression)
- Increased sedation
- Falls and fractures
- Permanent brain damage11
Side Effects of Mixing Sleeping Pills and Alcohol
The side effects of sleeping pills and alcohol are magnified when taken together. Even small amounts of alcohol can increase your risk of side effects11 like:
- Slurred speech
- Poor concentration
- Abnormal behavior
- Dry mouth
- Problems with movement and memory
- Lowered blood pressure
- Slowed breathing
- Decreased oxygen to the brain (hypoxia)
Common Prescription Sleeping Pills Mixed with Alcohol
Taking prescription sleeping pills with alcohol can cause serious adverse effects. Both prescription sleeping pills and alcohol are sedating. When taken together, their side effects may be enhanced, which can lead to a potentially fatal sleeping pill overdose. Manufacturers of popular sleeping pills like Ambien and Lunesta have issued warnings about the dangers of mixing sleep aids with alcohol.
Ambien and Alcohol
Ambien (zolpidem) is a prescription-only drug used to treat insomnia15, a sleep disorder. It is a CNS depressant, meaning it slows brain activity. People who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep may take Ambien (zolpidem) to improve their sleep quality. You should not take Ambien20 with other CNS depressants, such as alcohol.
Lunesta and Alcohol
Lunesta (eszopiclone)19 is approved to treat insomnia in people who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. It is available by prescription only from an authorized health care provider. Lunesta is a CNS depressant, so using it with other CNS depressants, such as alcohol, is dangerous. Mixing Lunesta and alcohol increases the sedative effects and side effects of Lunesta.
Temazepam and Alcohol
Restoril (temazepam) is a benzodiazepine approved for the treatment18 of insomnia. Temazepam is prescribed by a health care provider for short-term use (about seven to 10 days)18. Taking temazepam with other sedating substances18, such as opioids or alcohol, can cause breathing problems, coma and death.
Doxepin and Alcohol
Silenor (doxepin) is prescribed to treat insomnia17 in people who have trouble staying asleep. Drinking alcohol with doxepin may increase the sedating effects of alcohol. Increased sedation10 from mixing alcohol and sleep aids like doxepin can cause breathing problems, coma or death.
Trazodone and Alcohol
Trazodone is a serotonin modulator, meaning it increases serotonin levels in the brain. The medication is commonly used to treat depression16, but it can also treat insomnia14 in some people. Drinking alcohol with trazodone16 may increase its side effects. Some side effects of trazodone14 that may be increased with alcohol use include:
Other Sleeping Aids Commonly Mixed With Alcohol
Other prescription-only sleep aids include:
Related Topic: Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol
Over-the-Counter Sleeping Aids and Alcohol
Melatonin and Alcohol
Melatonin is a hormone13 that the body naturally produces to regulate sleep. Melatonin derived from beef cattle or synthetically made13 is available over the counter as a dietary supplement for various sleep disorders. Melatonin is generally safe13 when used alone to improve sleep in people who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
Diphenhydramine and Alcohol
Diphenhydramine is an over-the-counter medication used to treat various conditions2, including itching, motion sickness and insomnia. Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine that easily crosses into the brain and results in drowsiness2. Sleep aids containing diphenhydramine include:
Drinking alcohol while taking diphenhydramine may increase the sedative effects of alcohol. Side effects9 such as drowsiness, dizziness and slowed breathing may be more intense, and there is an increased risk of overdose. Drinking alcohol should be avoided while taking diphenhydramine.
Doxylamine and Alcohol
Doxylamine (Unisom SleepTabs) is an over-the-counter medication used for the short-term treatment of insomnia1. Doxylamine is also an ingredient in various over-the-counter cold medications used to control sneezing and runny nose. It is an antihistamine that binds to histamine receptors1 in both the body and the brain. Its effects in the brain cause drowsiness.
Valerian Root and Alcohol
Valerian root is an herb that promotes sleep and helps relieve anxiety8. It is available as an over-the-counter dietary supplement for use as a sleep aid. Dietary supplements are not regulated as drugs, and there are few studies available. Reported side effects8 include drowsiness, dizziness and headache. Side effects may be increased by drinking alcohol while taking valerian root.
Related Topic: Tylenol and Alcohol
How Long After Drinking Can You Take a Sleeping Pill?
There is no exact answer to the question of how long you have to wait to take a sleeping pill after drinking. The half-life of alcohol is four to five hours4, which is the amount of time it takes for your body to get rid of half the alcohol in your system. It can take up to five half-lives (20 to 25 hours) for your body to clear all the alcohol.
There are many factors4 that can affect how quickly your body metabolizes (breaks down) alcohol after drinking. Factors that affect the metabolism of alcohol include:
- The amount of alcohol you use
- How long you have been drinking
- The strength of your drinks
- Your weight and age
- Use of other medications
Which sleep aid you plan on taking can also be a major factor when determining how long after drinking you can take a sleeping pill. Certain sleep aids, such as Lunesta, carry a warning19 not to take them if you have been drinking that evening or before bedtime. The effects of Lunesta were found to be increased even after the daytime use of other sedatives.
Alcohol increases side effects and sedation associated with all sleep aids, whether over-the-counter or prescription. There may also be lingering side effects while the body continues to metabolize alcohol after drinking. All sleep aids carry a warning to avoid use with alcohol9. To avoid the risks and dangers associated with drinking alcohol and taking sleeping pills, you should wait until your body has had time to completely rid itself of alcohol.
If you or someone you love is struggling to avoid drinking while taking a sleep aid, professional addiction treatment can help. At The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper, our experts can help you address your struggles with alcohol and learn ways to avoid drinking in the future.
Contact us today to learn more about alcohol addiction treatment programs that can work well for your needs.
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- Brott, N.R., Reddivari, A.K.R. “Doxylamine.” StatPearls, December 28, 2021. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- Sicari, V., Zabbo CP. “Diphenhydramine.” StatPearls, July 15, 2021. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “QuickStats: Percentage* of Adults A[…]s, 2017–2018§.” December 13, 2019. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- Cleveland Clinic. “How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?” December 3, 2021. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- Weathermon, Ron; Crabb, David W. “Alcohol and Medication Interactions.” Alcohol Research and Health, 1999. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- Saunders, Kathleen; et al. “Concurrent Use of Alcohol and Sedativ[…]and Risk Factors.” The Journal of Pain, March 13, 2012. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- Mattila, Mauri J. “Alcohol and Drug Interactions.” Annals of Medicine, July 8, 2009. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- National Institutes of Health. “Valerian.” March 15, 2013. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicines.” 2014. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Overview of Alcohol Consumption.” Accessed May 17, 2022.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Prescription CNS Depressants DrugFacts.” March 2018. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Melatonin: What You Need To Know.” January 2021. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Melatonin for Treatment of Sleep Disorders.” November 2004. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Trazodone.” MedlinePlus, January 15, 2022. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Zolpidem.” MedlinePlus, November 15, 2019. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “TRAZODONE HYDROCHLORIDE tablets.” July 2020. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “SILENOR® (doxepin) tablets.” October 2020. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Restoril™ (temazepam) Capsules USP.” February 2021. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “LUNESTA® (eszopiclone) tablets.” August 2019. Accessed May 17, 2022.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “AMBIEN® (zolpidem tartrate) tablets.” February 2022. Accessed May 17, 2022.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.