Ambien (Zolpidem) Abuse & Addiction
By The Recovery Village
Medical Reviewer Abby Doty | Editor Taylor Cameron, LPC
Last Updated: May 16, 2023
Editorial Policy | Research Policy
While Ambien is an effective short-term treatment option for those dealing with insomnia, it’s not without risks of side effects, misuse, dependence and addiction.
Difficulty sleeping is a common struggle for many individuals. One report found that insomnia is the reason for over 5.5 million visits to primary care physicians every year. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a five-year survey from 2005 to 2010 and reported that one in six adults diagnosed with a sleep disorder reported using sleeping aids. They also found that one in eight adults who self-reported having trouble sleeping stated they used sleep aids.
One such sleeping aid is the prescription drug Ambien. It’s become widely used in recent years. However, extensive patient education is needed due to the risk of side effects, dependence and withdrawal when taking the medication. There’s also a real possibility of developing a full Ambien addiction.
What Is Ambien?
Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic medication given to individuals to treat insomnia. It’s also known by its generic name, zolpidem. This medication has become a popular form of treatment in recent years.
What Is Ambien Used For?
Ambien is used to treat sleep issues, such as insomnia, for short periods of time. It’s not intended to be a long-term solution. Individuals take Ambien to help them fall asleep quicker and stay asleep for longer.
How Does Ambien Work?
Ambien helps you sleep by slowing down your brain activity. There are currently two forms of the medication: immediate release and extended release. The immediate-release pill starts working rapidly and allows the person to fall asleep quickly. The extended-release pill has two layers that dissolve. The first layer dissolves and helps the person fall asleep. The second layer takes longer to dissolve and helps them stay asleep.
Is Ambien Safe?
Ambien is considered a relatively safe and effective treatment option when used short-term and as prescribed. It’s important to speak with your doctor to determine if this medication is a safe option for you.
There are potentially serious side effects and a risk of dependence as well as addiction. You also need to be able to get a full eight hours of sleep after taking the medication so that you’re able to function safely during the day.
Ambien Side Effects
There are a variety of possible side effects when taking Ambien. These may differ in terms of length, severity and whether it impacts the individuals cognitively or physically. Side effects include:
- Feeling as though you’ve been “drugged”
- Dry mouth
- Muscle tension or pain
- Sinus infection
- Increased heart rate
Less common and more serious side effects include:
- Changes in thoughts or behaviors
- Feeling detached from reality
- Depressive symptoms
- Feeling sad, hopeless, worthless
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- Difficulty focusing
- Changes in appetite
- Memory loss
- Allergic reaction
Long-Term Side Effects of Ambien
Individuals who take Ambien for more than two weeks are at a greater risk of developing a dependence on it. They then may not be able to sleep without it.
Other more serious side effects such as impaired cognitive and motor skills can lead to negative consequences or injuries that have long-lasting impacts. Long-term use can also cause more sleep issues.
Is Ambien Addictive?
Although it’s only listed as a Schedule IV drug, it is possible to become addicted to Ambien. Individuals with substance use disorders specific to other drugs or alcohol are at a higher risk of addiction to Ambien. Individuals going through substance withdrawal may experience insomnia and be prescribed Ambien.
Since it’s a depressant, Ambien produces a calming effect. When used incorrectly, Ambien can also cause a high. An individual who misuses Ambien by taking a high dose, inhaling it or injecting it will likely hallucinate and experience euphoria.
Signs of Ambien Addiction
Individuals struggling with addiction to Ambien may exhibit these signs:
- Taking someone else’s Ambien
- Taking a higher dose than prescribed
- Inhaling or injecting Ambien
- Using the medication to get high as opposed to treating insomnia
- Mixing the medication with other substances
- Continuing to use the medication despite negative consequences
- Poor job or school performance
- Neglect of one’s health, children or family
- Unsuccessful attempts to cease using Ambien
If you plan to begin Ambien treatment, talk to your doctor about your other medications. Many drugs interact with this medication on various levels, so your healthcare provider can discuss the interactions with your current medications. One should never combine Ambien with alcohol, other sleeping pills, depressants, opioids or sodium oxybate.
Ambien and Alcohol
It’s important not to take Ambien if you have been drinking alcohol. The Drug Abuse Warning Network reported that 14% of Ambien-related emergency room visits resulted from mixing the medication with alcohol. Both suppress the central nervous system, which impacts a person’s cognitive functioning, breathing and heart rate. When you mix Ambien and alcohol, your central nervous system is even more impacted and can be dangerous to your health.
Combining the two increases the likelihood of:
- Grogginess or sleepiness
- Impaired breathing
- Reduced motor control
- Memory issues
- Chaotic or abnormal behavior
Individuals may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking Ambien abruptly or significantly reduce their dosage in a short amount of time. Even when individuals use the medication as directed by their doctor, they can still experience withdrawal symptoms. Signs of Ambien withdrawal include:
- Panic attacks
- Rapid heart rate and breathing
- Sweating or flushed face
- Nausea or vomiting
- Delirium (change in mental state, hallucinations, delusions, memory loss, agitation)
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Uncontrollable crying
An Ambien overdose is life-threatening and requires prompt emergency care. Taking a dosage above the recommended amount or mixing the medication with other substances can be deadly. The Drug Abuse Warning Network reported that 57% of emergency room visits for individuals overdosing on Ambien had also mixed the medication with alcohol or another drug.
Symptoms of an Ambien overdose can include:
- Drowsiness or inability to stay awake
- Severely slow breathing
- Slow heart rate
Other FAQs About Ambien
Can you take Ambien with melatonin?
It’s always best to speak with your doctor first before taking any medications or supplements. Combining the two leads to increased sedation and grogginess the next day.
Is Ambien a controlled substance?
The federal government has classified Ambien as a Schedule IV controlled substance. This means it has been shown to have a low risk for abuse and dependence.
What happens if you take Ambien and stay awake?
If you stay awake after taking Ambien, you’re much more likely to do activities you won’t remember doing the next day. This might look like engaging in sexual activity, eating, driving or talking on the phone with no recollection of doing so.
What does Ambien look like?
The extended-release version, Ambien CR, is a round and pink (6.25 mg) or blue (12.5mg) pill with an imprinted “A~” on one side. 10 mg immediate-release Ambien is an oblong and white pill with “AMB 10” imprinted on one side and “5421” on the other side. 5 mg immediate-release Ambien is an oblong and pink pill with “AMB 5” imprinted on one side and “5401” on the other side.
How long does it take for Ambien to work?
Ambien typically starts working within 30 minutes. Individuals need to plan when they will take their medication so that they can go to sleep immediately after taking it. That way, they can avoid driving, leaving home or staying awake to finish tasks.
How To Get Off Ambien
While Ambien is a potentially effective form of treatment for insomnia, it does come with the risk of addiction for some. Due to the life-threatening nature of Ambien misuse and withdrawal, it’s crucial to detox with support from a medical professional.
If you or a loved one are facing an Ambien addiction, there is help available for you. The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper offers comprehensive addiction treatment.
Our clients receive evidence-based treatment in each of our programs, from medical detox to aftercare. Contact our team today to find out how we can support you.
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.
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