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Stilnox you around when drinking

Grant Hackett has admitted he was addicted to Stilnox.

Grant Hackett has admitted he was addicted to Stilnox. Photo: Reuters

Some years ago, while (ab)using the sleeping pill Stilnox, I had a Grant Hackett moment, doing an amnesiac round of my neighbourhood - in fancy dress - holding a schooner glass of cheap wine.

The salient word in that last sentence is 'wine', more broadly alcohol, because when you use Stilnox, aka Ambien, aka zolpidem while drinking, very strange and sometimes dangerous things can happen.

This is assuredly why the manufacturer puts a large, clear warning on the packet stating "NOT TO BE TAKEN WITH ALCOHOL", however, Aussies do love a challenge and a drink, which may also be why a Senate estimates committee was told back in 2008 the side-effects of the drug are "worse" in this country than in others.

I don't think I'm alone in expressing profound ambivalence as to whether a former Olympian wants to inject battery acid into his eyeballs in his down time, however, Hackett's association with Stilnox, as well as the many other high-profile swimmers and football players sanctioned for its use, is probably causing some insomniacs to question its safety.

As a veteran, now retired, chemical-adventurer who still uses Stilnox as a sleep-aid, I find it naive when people - particularly addicts like Hackett - choose to anthropomorphise the molecular combination they happen to be abusing as "evil".

What statements like this actually reveal is an unintended self-assessment by the addict of their behaviour whilst under the influence of the drug they're condemning.

While I'd never label Hackett's disoriented wandering around the foyer of Melbourne's Crown Casino looking for his missing four-year-old son as "evil", an explicit abdication of responsibility occurs when an addict chooses to use their drug of choice when charged with the care of minors.

Socially, we're conditioned to laugh off parents having a drink around their kids, yet add some sleeping pills and the judgment and hypocrisy rains down.

Although there are many reported examples worldwide of people experiencing sleep-walking, sleep-eating and sleep-driving while using zolpidem alone, it would seem they are statistically insignificant when you take into account the tens of millions of people safely using the drug.

There's little doubt, however, you're enormously increasing your risk of dangerous side-effects by choosing to take Stilnox in combination with alcohol. Given Hackett's well-documented problems with booze and his own father's assessment he's "a little bit in denial", it makes one wonder if his issues are more about alcohol, exacerbated by Stilnox.

Having publicly admitted using Stilnox for many years, Hackett, like myself, must understand the effects of the drug on his body. His "addiction", no doubt, grew out of the fact it was so effective helping him sleep. He'd also know it's the introduction of alcohol into the mix when things go pear-shaped.

I woke one morning, deeply hungover, and later strolled past a local restaurant where the owners and staff greeted me like one of the infected polar explorers from John Carpenter's The Thing; unsure as to whether an alien was about to explode out of my chest.

As I registered their unease, they recounted my behaviour the previous night, of which I had absolutely no recollection. A trip around my neighbourhood that day became a low-rent, suburban version of Momento as bemused locals filled me in on my histrionics.

Suffice to say, no children were involved, but I know people who've had similar experiences while looking after their kids and it literally scared them sober.

A friend told me how he'd woken one morning on his kitchen floor to find it covered with his toddler's toys. When he stood, the action figures, building blocks and stuffed animals formed a perfect murder victim 'outline' where his body had lain while his son had wandered the house, gathering the toys, vulnerable to catastrophe.

The self-loathing this realisation generated was a handy fillip to the man's alcoholism, giving him another reason to hit the sauce again and repeat the cycle until he finally sought help. He still uses Stilnox but does not drink anymore and, as far as I know, he's had no further problems with the drug.

My experience has been similar. Zolpidem, when used by itself, as a sleep aid, has saved me endless hours staring at the ceiling, obsessing over those anxieties that always seem to congeal around you in the dead of night.

The problems arise when a person's been drinking, cannot sleep, and chooses to "risk" taking zolpidem to get them off to the land of "Z". This is what led to my magical mystery tour and I wonder if it's the story behind Hackett's latest performance.

If this is the case, I'd predict whatever treatment Hackett will undergo while in rehab the USA will also focus on a more prosaic demon; grog.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

16 comments

  • Thanks for this article Sam. Stillnox has been consistently demonised for its ill effects, almost most of the time when combined with alcohol. I am a stillnox user, and it has saved me from having thousands of sleepless nights. I dont do recreational drugs, and dont drink alcohol to excess, but my sleep is something very hard to chase( as a result of years of shift work) which is why I resort to stillnox. This article has put stillnox in a better more accurate light, unadulterated by emotion or sensationalism. Cheers.

    Commenter
    zombie
    Location
    sydney
    Date and time
    February 28, 2014, 1:03PM
    • Here here

      Hackett smashed his appartment up because of a problem with alcohol didn't he?

      It's getting to convenient for people to blame things they abuse

      I use zolpidem for long haul flights - with alcohol - and it's been a godsend.

      But id never take something like that 365 days a year

      And it's like when you read someone has died taking that lethal drug ecstasy. Then read deeper and they'd been drinking straight for two days...

      Commenter
      The brown note
      Date and time
      February 28, 2014, 1:04PM
      • I used Stilnox twice and both times not with alcohol and I do not rmember a thing from shortly after taking the drug to waking 8 hours later - but my wife said I was awake for a few hours and acted extremly strangely. Don't assume it is just the alcohol combined with Stilnox.

        Commenter
        FlyingsOK
        Date and time
        February 28, 2014, 1:15PM
        • I found this article very useful. I have never taken Stilnox and probably never would have given the press. However I have a different view now. Many prescription drugs carry warnings about alcohol, but clearly the side effects are not as pronounced as they are in combining alcohol and stilnox. Clearly this is a warning to be adhered to 100%. And without stating the obvious, one hopes that anyone reading this article heeds the warnings, rather than stupidly and deliberately pursuing any dangerous misadventure

          Commenter
          Ozjake
          Date and time
          February 28, 2014, 1:38PM
          • I use stilnox to help me with my insomnia, - its been a life saver for me.

            Commenter
            dianav
            Date and time
            February 28, 2014, 1:47PM
            • I believe the SMH has a good article on Stillnox that went to press a few years ago. Need to search. Hey SMH crew can you dig it up and run it again please? Should shed some light on the "amnesia thing". Much appreciated if you can.

              Commenter
              leersydney
              Location
              Sydney
              Date and time
              February 28, 2014, 2:06PM
              • Stilnox is not a sleeping pill, its a party drug. People take it with alcohol simply to get off their chops. Im one of them

                Commenter
                Max
                Date and time
                February 28, 2014, 2:08PM
                • While alcohol certainly makes the effects more acute, it isn't a necessary ingredient in facilitating some rather substantial reactions. As someone who has tried it a few times and not experienced anything beyond the heaviness of eyelids, it seems that the effects are heavily dependent on the individual. Conversely, my good friend will drift in and out of different states of awareness and gibberish when under the influence and that's without the added impact of alcohol. It's almost recreational!

                  Completely agree in that we are all too quick to abdicate our responsibility, blaming it on a million different things before coming around to the most obvious root cause.

                  Commenter
                  Julian
                  Location
                  Perth
                  Date and time
                  February 28, 2014, 2:29PM
                  • I used zolpidem for it's proper use occasionally through the week as prescribed by a doctor and would find that it effected me when I had drinks on the weekend. I did some very unusual things and it took weeks to put my finger on why a usually capable drinker was becoming so crazy after a few. Scary stuff!

                    Commenter
                    Sam
                    Location
                    Melbourne
                    Date and time
                    February 28, 2014, 2:34PM
                    • Well written article as always, Sam, and a good point.
                      However, as you intimated throughout your piece, you are going to have a hard time getting traction with the message that it is more the alcohol that is the problem and less the Stilnox.
                      Not only is there the whole cultural baggage of alcohol in our society, it is also the fact that Stilnox is new. It is also a "chemical" and is "artificial", thus having so many names. And most people will remain suspicious of what is new and unfamiliar to them.
                      You are right, though; alcohol potentiates the danger of almost every pharmacological sleeping aid: from new Stilnox, to the older benzodiazepines (temazepam, Valium, Rohypnol) to the even older and infinitely more dangerous barbiturates.

                      Commenter
                      innerwested
                      Location
                      Sydney
                      Date and time
                      February 28, 2014, 2:38PM

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