As of September 2010, the National Institute of Mental Health reports approximately 40 million American adults age 18 and older suffer from anxiety in any given year. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 15 percent of American adults have been told by their doctors that they suffer from a sleep disorder. Ambien and Xanax are powerful drugs prescribed to treat these maladies, but when used together, they can have an adverse interaction.
According to the drug label, Ambien, also known as zolpidem, is a prescription sleep aid approved for short-term adult use. Anyone who has a history of depression or substance abuse; who is pregnant or breastfeeding; or who has kidney, liver or lung disease should be under special medical supervision while taking Ambien. Side effects include sleep amnesia, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and allergic reaction. Patients are more likely to experience side effects when combining Ambien with alcohol or other sleep-inducing medicines. Withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, crying, nausea and panic attacks, are common.
Xanax, also known as alprazolam, is prescribed for the treatment of adult anxiety and panic disorders. It is not for use among nursing women or those who may become pregnant or who are in their first trimesters, as the manufacturer states this medication may cause congenital abnormalities in the fetus. Side effects include suicidal thoughts, mania and hypomania. The likelihood of dependence is high, and withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, heightened sensory perception and weight loss.
Because Xanax depresses the central nervous system, you must use extra vigilance when combining it with other depressants, psychotropic medications, antihistamines and anticonvulsants. According to Ambien's drug label, it should not be taken with any other medications that induce sleepiness. Drugs.com says Ambien and Xanax may be taken together, but side effects of each may be enhanced. Patients who take both drugs concomitantly should remain in close contact with their doctors, reporting any unusual side effects--particularly those involving the central nervous or respiratory systems--immediately.
In the News
As CNN reported in February 2008, movie star Heath Ledger suffered from a lethal combination of drugs, resulting in his death. However, "None of these drugs--two sleep medications, two anti-anxiety drugs and two narcotic painkillers--was taken in excess," according to a spokesperson for the medical examiner who also said certain lessons could be learned from this tragedy. "The combination of drugs probably caused his central nervous system to slow down so much that his heart stopped beating and lungs stopped breathing and he never woke up." The incident illustrates the importance of patient/doctor communication, particularly when combining drugs like Ambien and Xanax.
Top alternative health magazine Natural Solutions recommends valerian, magnesium, L-theanine, mind-body therapy and acupuncture as alternatives to pharmaceuticals like Xanax and Ambien. However, anyone considering alternative remedies should discuss symptoms and side effects with their doctor first.