Drug and Alcohol

Melatonin and Alcohol: Is It Dangerous To Mix These Two Substances?

Is mixing melatonin and alcohol dangerous? This is one of those situations where what you don't know might actually hurt you. Learn more in our blog.

The Dangers of Mixing Melatonin and Alcohol

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

July 11, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body's pineal gland, which helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. It is commonly used as a sleep aid to promote relaxation and induce sleep. Alcohol, particularly in low to moderate doses, can also have sedative effects and may help some individuals fall asleep faster.

People may mix melatonin with alcohol to enhance their sleep-inducing effects. 

When mixed together, melatonin and alcohol can amplify each other's sedative effects, resulting in dangerous levels of sleepiness, decreased coordination, and mental impairment. In addition, headache, dizziness, nausea, and gastrointestinal problems are potential adverse effects that may be exacerbated.

Stats About Melatonin:

There has been an increase in consumption of melatonin in recent years. The annual number of pediatric melatonin ingestions jumped by 530% between 2012 and 2021, with a total of 260,435 ingestions reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Melatonin and Alcohol: What is Melatonin?

The pineal gland, a tiny gland in the brain, spontaneously produces the hormone melatonin. It is important in controlling the circadian rhythm, often known as the sleep-wake cycle. The production and release of melatonin are influenced by the amount of light exposure the eyes receive.

The synthesis of melatonin is controlled by the brain's suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is sensitive to light and darkness. When it gets dark, the SCN signals the pineal gland to start producing melatonin and release it into the bloodstream. Increasing melatonin levels makes you feel drowsy. As morning approaches and light exposure increases, the SCN signals the pineal gland to reduce melatonin production, leading to wakefulness.

Melatonin also has other important functions in the body. For example, it acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Melatonin has also been found to have immunomodulatory effects, influencing the immune system and its response to infections and diseases.

In stores, melatonin is available as a dietary supplement and is commonly used as a sleep aid. It also alleviates insomnia, jet lag, and sleep disturbances caused by shift work or certain medical conditions. Melatonin supplements are available over the counter in many countries.

Melatonin and Alcohol: How Does Melatonin Affect the Effects of Alcohol?

Melatonin and alcohol can both affect the sleep-wake cycle and have an impact on sleep patterns. However, their interaction can vary depending on the dosage and timing of administration.

Alcohol is a sedative that can initially induce drowsiness and promote sleep. It can have a relaxing effect on the body and may help some individuals fall asleep faster. Alcohol can disrupt the sleep cycle and negatively affect sleep quality. It can interfere with the normal progression of sleep stages, leading to fragmented and less restorative sleep. As a result, individuals may experience more frequent awakenings, decreased deep sleep, and increased REM sleep.

Melatonin is known for its sleep-regulating properties. It helps synchronize the body's internal clock and promotes the onset and maintenance of sleep. By taking melatonin as a supplement, individuals can experience improved sleep quality and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.

When considering the interaction between melatonin and alcohol, there are a few important factors to consider:

Melatonin and Alcohol: Timing

Timing is crucial when taking melatonin and alcohol together. Taking melatonin 30 minutes to an hour before the desired bedtime is generally recommended. If alcohol is consumed close to the time of melatonin administration, it may interfere with the effectiveness of promoting sleep.

Melatonin and Alcohol: Dose

The dose of both melatonin and alcohol can influence their effects. Higher doses of melatonin may induce sleepiness more effectively, while higher doses of alcohol can have stronger sedative effects. However, excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt sleep patterns and counteract any potential benefits of melatonin supplementation.

Melatonin and Alcohol: Individual Differences

Individuals may respond differently to Melatonin and alcohol. Factors such as tolerance to alcohol, overall health, and sensitivity to Melatonin can influence the outcomes. For example, some individuals may find that alcohol worsens their sleep quality, while others may experience a temporary improvement in sleep initiation.

What are the Potential Dangers of Mixing Melatonin and Alcohol?

Mixing melatonin with alcohol can have potential dangers and should generally be avoided. The combination can amplify the effects of both substances and increase the risks associated with their individual use. Some of the potential dangers are:

Increased Sedation

Both melatonin and alcohol have soothing effects. Together, they can intensify sedation, leading to excessive drowsiness, impaired coordination, and reduced cognitive function. This can increase the risk of accidents, falls, and other injuries.

Impaired Judgment and Decision-Making

Alcohol is known to impair judgment and decision-making abilities. Adding melatonin to the mix can further compromise cognitive function and impair critical thinking. This can lead to poor decision-making, especially when quick reflexes and clear thinking are necessary.

Increased Risk of Overdose

Combining melatonin and alcohol can increase the risk of overdose. Alcohol can potentiate the effects of melatonin, making it more potent and potentially leading to an excessive sedative effect. This can result in extreme drowsiness, confusion, respiratory depression, and other serious complications.

Poor Sleep Quality

Although alcohol can initially induce drowsiness and help some individuals fall asleep faster, it disrupts the normal sleep cycle and can lead to poor sleep quality. Adding melatonin to alcohol consumption may not alleviate these adverse effects and can further disrupt the sleep-wake cycle, leading to fragmented and less restorative sleep.

Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic that increases urine production and can contribute to dehydration. Combining melatonin, which can also have mild diuretic effects, with alcohol can further exacerbate dehydration. This can lead to dry mouth, dizziness, headache, and fatigue.

Worse Hangovers

Alcohol consumption often leads to hangover symptoms the next day, including headache, nausea, fatigue, and irritability. Adding melatonin to the equation may intensify these hangover effects, as it can exacerbate the sedative and cognitive impairments caused by alcohol.

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Why Do People Mix Melatonin and Alcohol?

Some of the common reasons why people mix melatonin and alcohol are:

Counteracting Alcohol-Induced Insomnia

Alcohol consumption can disrupt the normal sleep pattern and quality, leading to difficulty falling asleep or frequent awakenings at night. Some individuals may use melatonin to counteract alcohol-induced insomnia and improve the overall sleep experience after drinking.

Jet Lag or Shift Work

Melatonin supplements are often used to alleviate symptoms of jet lag or shift work sleep disorder. These conditions can disrupt the natural sleep-wake cycle, leading to difficulties falling asleep or staying awake at desired times. Alcohol consumption may compound the sleep disturbances caused by these conditions, and individuals may turn to melatonin to manage their sleep patterns.

Relaxation and Stress Relief

Both melatonin and alcohol can have calming and relaxing effects on the body. Some individuals may mix them to enhance these effects and alleviate stress or anxiety. They may perceive it as a way to unwind or achieve deeper relaxation.

Melatonin and Alcohol: What are the Alternatives to Melatonin?

There are various alternatives available to Melatonin. A few of them have been given in detail here:

Bright Light Therapy

Bright light therapy involves exposing yourself to bright artificial light or natural sunlight to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. It is particularly effective for individuals with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or delayed sleep phase disorder. Adjusting the timing and intensity of light exposure can help reset your body's internal clock and improve sleep patterns.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)

CBT-I is a structured therapy that addresses the underlying causes of insomnia and improves sleep habits. It focuses on changing negative thought patterns, implementing relaxation techniques, and establishing a consistent sleep routine. CBT-I is highly effective and has longer-lasting benefits compared to sleep medications.

Valerian Root

Valerian root is an herbal supplement commonly used as a natural sleep aid. It has been used for centuries to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. While the exact mechanism is not fully understood, valerian root is believed to increase levels of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps calm the nervous system.

It is available in various forms, including capsules, extracts, and teas.

Chamomile

Chamomile is a popular herbal tea known for its calming properties. It contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to specific receptors in the brain, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. Chamomile tea is often consumed before bedtime to aid in sleep. 

L-theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid found in green and black tea. It has been shown to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality by increasing alpha brain waves and modulating neurotransmitters. L-theanine can be taken as a supplement, but consuming tea (especially green tea) can also provide some benefits.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral involved in many bodily functions, including regulating sleep. It plays a role in promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. Magnesium deficiency has been associated with sleep disturbances, and supplementation may help improve sleep quality. Magnesium supplements are available in different forms, such as magnesium citrate or glycinate.

Prescription Sleep Medications

If natural remedies and lifestyle changes are insufficient, prescription sleep medications may be considered. These medications should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Common examples include benzodiazepines (e.g., temazepam) and non-benzodiazepine sedatives (e.g., zolpidem). They can be effective for short-term use but may come with potential side effects and the risk of dependence.

How Long Does Melatonin Stay in the System?

Various factors affect how long melatonin stays in the system. Some of them have been listed in detail below: 

The Onset of Action

Melatonin is typically fast acting and reaches peak levels in the blood within 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingestion, depending on the formulation and dosage. This quick onset of action is why it's often recommended to take Melatonin around 30 minutes before desired sleep onset.

Melatonin Half-Life

The half-life of melatonin refers to the time it takes for the body to eliminate half of the administered dose. For melatonin, this can vary between individuals, but it is generally estimated to be around 3 to 4 hours. This means that after 3 to 4 hours, the melatonin concentration in the body is reduced by half.

Total Elimination

It takes approximately five half-lives to eliminate a substance from the body. Therefore, melatonin is typically cleared from the system within 15 to 20 hours. 

Extended-Release Formulations

Extended-release formulations of melatonin are designed to release the hormone gradually over a longer period. These formulations can have a longer duration of action and may help maintain melatonin levels throughout the night.

In addition, the half-life and total elimination of extended-release melatonin can be prolonged compared to immediate-release formulations.

Treatment of Complications of Melatonin and Alcohol

Melatonin and alcohol can both affect the body and may interact with each other, potentially leading to complications. The treatment approach for complications that may arise from combining melatonin and alcohol involves:

Treatment for Acute Intoxication

If someone experiences severe intoxication or adverse effects from the combination of melatonin and alcohol, immediate medical attention may be necessary. In extreme cases, hospitalization may be required.

Management of Overdose

If an individual ingests a significantly high dose of melatonin or alcohol, which can lead to overdose, it's important to seek medical help immediately. Overdose symptoms can vary, including severe sedation, confusion, respiratory depression, or coma.

Treatment for overdose generally involves emergency medical intervention, monitoring of vital signs, and appropriate supportive care.

Supportive Care

Supportive care involves managing the symptoms and complications of combining melatonin and alcohol. This may include ensuring proper hydration, providing medications to alleviate specific symptoms (e.g., antiemetics for nausea), and monitoring the individual's condition closely.

In severe cases, hospitalization and specialized medical interventions may be necessary.

Prevention and Education

Prevention is crucial in avoiding complications related to combining melatonin and alcohol. Healthcare professionals should educate individuals about the potential risks and advise against mixing the two substances. 

Individualized Approach

The treatment approach for complications arising from combining melatonin and alcohol may vary depending on the severity of symptoms, individual factors, and any underlying medical conditions. 

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Alcohol Abuse is Treatable at The Forge Recovery Center

Melatonin isn’t addictive…but alcohol certainly is. Treating alcohol abuse with supplements like melatonin is a major red flag of a larger problem. Melatonin can be somewhat dangerous when mixed with alcohol, and the combination is only going to cause larger problems.

Fortunately, alcohol addiction is treatable. At The Forge Recovery Center, we use proven, evidence-based techniques to help free people from alcohol abuse. Guided by a trauma-informed philosophy, our addiction center is the ideal place to build a long, happy life free from alcohol.

If you want to learn more about alcohol abuse and how it’s treatable, contact The Forge Recovery Center today.

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