No, Ambien Doesn’t Make You Racist

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No, Ambien Doesn’t Make You Racist

Post by Admin on Mon Jun 04, 2018 6:33 pm

Roseanne Barr created a bit of a public relations nightmare for drugmaker Sanofi this week when she blamed its blockbuster sleep aid Ambien for her racist remarks on Twitter.

The brand snapped back with a comment to clarify that “racism is not a known side effect,” but it was a reminder that people still use sleep aids like Ambien as excuses for bad behavior.


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People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world. While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.

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Barr, incidentally, isn’t alone in trying to foist off the blame for inappropriate behavior. People from Sean Penn to Elon Musk have hidden behind Ambien as an excuse for their actions. While the drugmaker obviously had a vested interest in getting out ahead of this particular PR problem, many are still wondering: Does Ambien actually make people behave inappropriately?

The short answer, as articulated by Sanofi, is no: Ambien doesn’t make you racist.

It can, however, lower inhibitions and impair judgement — two things patients are warned about when they start taking the drug. You may have heard “Ambien horror stories” about people doing things like sleep-eating or attempting to drive while asleep, especially at higher dosages. Other hypnotic sedatives like Ambien can cause similar symptoms, as can other mind-altering substances, like alcohol.

The tendency to interfere with decision-making capacities is one reason doctors recommend taking the lowest possible dose of medications like Ambien. They also recommend against long-term use. If insomnia is persistent and severe, simply taking more drugs won’t solve the problem — and it’s necessary to reevaluate the situation to determine if a patient has another health condition.

What drugs like this can’t do is turn you into someone you’re not. If a person makes racist comments after they’ve taken a dose of a drug, that’s not the drug’s fault: The inhibitions that keep their underlying racist attitudes in check are faltering, and that makes them feel more confident about making statements they wouldn’t make while awake and fully aware.

Yet people like to use Ambien – as well as alcohol and other substances — as excuses for bad behavior, which tends to enable it. If we believe Ambien turns people racist, we also have to think that alcohol turns people into rapists, since people often claim that drinking excuses sexually predatory behavior.

That means we’re not holding people accountable for their actions, which makes it difficult to modify unacceptable behavior. It’s also terrible for the people hurt by their actions; when we dismiss racist or other hateful remarks on the grounds that someone was in an altered state, we also suggest that victims shouldn’t be upset by those remarks — because the person “didn’t really mean it.”

The comments Roseanne tweeted were most definitely her own sentiments. We know this in part because of her long history of public racist comments — and also because while medication may lift filters, it doesn’t fundamentally change people’s personalities.

It is true, though, that sometimes you send a text, tweet or status update you will later regret when you’re under the influence — whether you’re begging an old flame for a second chance or telling your boss what you really think of her. For this reason, it’s a good idea to be sparing with medications known to disrupt your critical thinking skills, and to consider keeping your bedroom free of electronic devices — it’ll help you sleep, and reduce the risk that you’ll reach out to someone while your social guard is down.

In the meantime, if you catch someone — including yourself! — blaming unacceptable behavior on drugs or alcohol, speak up. If it becomes a recurring problem, it may be necessary to have a conversation about substance abuse, and to do some work on internalized biases like racism, sexism and disablism.

Photo Credit: Alisdare Hickson/Flickr
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