May 31, 2018


Roseanne racist tweet: can sleeping pills change your behaviour?

Roseanne Barr has claimed that she was under the influence of the drug Ambien when she posted her already infamous racist tweet (since removed). But what do we know about Ambien and its side effects?


Ambien is the American tradename for zolpidem, a commonly used “hypnotic” sleeping tablet. In the UK, it is also known as Stilnoct. Sleeping pills are widely used in the UK. Data from the NHS suggests that in England over 700,000 prescriptions for hypnotics are dispensed every month, with over 50,000 scripts for zolpidem. These drugs, like all other medicines, can have side effects. Historically, insomnia was treated with benzodiazepines (ie minor tranquillisers). But in 1988, the UK’s Committee for the Safety of Medicines issued a warning that benzodiazepines should only be used to treat insomnia if it was severe or disabling. And due to the risk of withdrawal effects, they should be stopped gradually.

The ‘Safer’ Alternative To Sleeping Tablets

The so-called “z-drugs” (zolpidem, zopiclone and zaleplon) were originally marketed as safer, non-addictive alternatives to benzodiazepines in the 1990s. But over time it has become apparent that they have similar problems to the earlier drugs. These problems include tolerance, dependence and drowsiness. Sleeping tablets, like alcohol, are sedatives, and may cause confusion, drowsiness and falls. In older people, sedatives are associated with frailty.

Hangover-Like Side Effects

Problems, such as drowsiness, can persist to the next day resulting in a “hangover” like effect. This can reduce alertness affecting the person’s ability to drive or operate machinery. Increasing awareness of this problem led the American (FDA) and European (EMEA) regulators to issue warnings in 2013 and 2014. The European regulator recommended that patients should be warned that such medicines may increase the risk of road traffic accidents. Sleeping tablets can also cause disinhibition, inappropriate behaviour and memory loss in a similar way to alcohol. Violence and aggressive behaviour has also been reported. Zolpidem in particular appears to be associated with bizarre and compulsive behaviour that is unexpected and difficult to predict.

Sleep-Eating, Sleep-Driving & Even Sleep Sex

These bizarre behaviours include sleep-eating and sleep-driving. The patient may appear to be awake, but unaware of their actions and may carry out routine activities such as driving, household tasks, cooking and eating. The next day the person may have little or no memory of their actions. Some patients have also reported sleep sex (having sex while asleep). A psychotic-like state has also been reported with zolpidem, with patients reporting hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there (auditory and visual hallucinations), as well as feeling paralysed, and very real and sometimes violent nightmares. Worryingly, because these behaviours are accompanied by memory loss, it is likely that they are underreported and we don’t know how common they are.

Drug abuse

Even more worryingly, the z-drugs are increasingly abused. Zopiclone, the most commonly prescribed z-drug, has a street name (Zim-zim or Zimmers) and a street price of about £1 per tablet. The drug’s potential for abuse is now thought to be higher than previously believed. One user reported: “Zimmers are really addictive, and the rattle is about five times worse than the rattle from gear [heroin].” The z-drugs, such as zolpidem, were originally introduced as safer, non-addictive alternatives to benzodiazepines such as Valium. But it appears that they cause similar problems. Hangover, addiction and dependence have all been reported. Zolpidem in particular appears to be associated with bizarre inappropriate behaviours that people can’t remember.

Racism Is Not A Know Side Effect

The ConversationSanofi, the company that manufactures Ambien, said in a statement following Barr’s tweet: “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

Ian Maidment, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Pharmacy, Aston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

We may get commissions for purchases made using links in this post. Learn more.
  • Excuses are not enough [or explanations, as she would have us believe] – she has paid a high price for her original tweet and she should stop digging the hole deeper.


  • It is very disappointing what she said.


  • I love Sanofi’s response about side effects. :)


  • I think it’s a total over reaction! The woman who Roseanne refers to in her tweet isn’t bothered by it, so why should the rest of the world? And to cancel her show……wow, what a waste with no thought of the other cast members now out if work


  • Unfortunately excuses have been sanctioned for so long that people will always throw them out there. I hope they continue the show with the rest of the cast I’m sure the talented writers could make it work.


  • Her actions has cost a lot of people to be unemployed!


  • Roseanne maybe should have quit after the damage was done, but she has always been an outspoken individual. After all she is a type of comedian, that had fame in the past for being racist. Society has recently given her power with the reboot and validated these behaviours. Although times have changed and society has grown with it. So are the producers to blame for recreating a show that no longer belongs?

    Indeed it shouldn’t have had a place to begin with, but as I said different times.. and I cannot help but wonder if the show would have been cancelled if Roseanne was male.

    I think we have a social responsibility to provide support to the cast, who have tried to relive the producers dream. After all comedians are often suffering from their own dark thoughts and mask it with humour. We don’t need to lose any more comedians to suicide.


  • Shameful comments and the company has refuted these comments as a side effect.

    • Apologies should be issued far and wide to everyone. Personal responsibility should always be taken for any type of comment and particularly ugly comments.


  • I’ve heard of people doing some pretty crazy things whilst using stilnoct. Making a racist remark wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities, although rosanne does have a bad track record for racist comments.


  • Hm. When Zolpidem in particular appears to be associated with bizarre inappropriate behaviours that people can’t remember, then I can imagine racist statement could be made under the influence of this drug.


  • Having sex while sleeping, never heard of that one.


  • I suspect the drug just caused her to say what she was really feeling.


  • She said something wrong…full stop. Apologise and get on with it by changing your words and actions rather than making up excuses. However I am really disappointed that the show has been cancelled as it’s a great watch.


  • I blame her personality. I hate that she can’t just say sorry and shut up. Anyone who has the nerve to call her out on anything gets attacked at a ‘bully’. Its the worst kind of bullies who see themselves as a victim.

    • Yeah true all she needs to do is apologise


Post a comment

To post a review please join us or login so we can allocate your points.

You May Like


Looks like this may be blocked by your browser or content filtering.

↥ Back to top

Thanks For Your Star Rating!

Would you like to add a written rating or just a star rating?

Write A Rating Just A Star Rating