In This Article
What is Ambien?
Ambien is the brand name of a drug known as Zolpidem, a sedative-hypnotic medication. It is a sleep aid drug that treats insomnia, which refers to difficulty falling or staying asleep. People take Ambien on an empty stomach to help them fall asleep easier or to help them stay asleep without interruptions.
Ambien is a nonbenzodiazepine Z drug that works by increasing GABA effects in the central nervous system at the same site as benzodiazepines in order to accelerate the sleep onset process.
It comes as an immediate-release tablet (Ambien) or in an extended-release form (Ambien CR), which are both taken by mouth. Zolpidem can also come as a sublingual tablet that’s placed under the tongue (Edluar and Intermezzo) and as an oral spray that’s sprayed over the tongue (Zolpimist), though those are not Ambien.
What is it Used For?
Ambien is used to help people fall asleep and stay asleep. It treats symptoms of insomnia, which may include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty with memory
- Negative impacts on one’s social life
- Negative effect on one’s career
- Impairments to academic performance
- Mood disturbances
- Excessive daytime drowsiness
- Behavioral issues
- Increased risk for accidents
In most cases, Ambien is best used as a short-term treatment (2 to 6 weeks) and should be combined with other methods such as therapy to help a patient develop healthy sleeping habits and patterns.
Side Effects of Ambien
Like all medications, there are some side effects of Ambien of which you should be aware. Some of these side effects include the following:
- Difficulty keeping balance
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Stomach pain or tenderness
- Changes to appetite
- Racing heart
- Numbness or tingling
- Unusual dreams
- Dry mouth or throat
- Ringing, pain, or itching in the ears
- Eye redness or yellowness
- Joint and muscle aches or cramps
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Rash, hives, or itchiness
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Chest pain
- Blurred vision
Ambien may also cause some seriously life-threatening sleep behaviors. For example, some people who have taken Ambien have gotten out of bed to drive their cars (sleep-driving), prepare and eat food, engage in sexual activities, make phone calls, sleepwalk, and more while not fully awake. You may not remember doing any of these activities after you fully wake up.
It’s important to follow the directions on your prescription label carefully. Only take Ambien as directed, and speak to your doctor or pharmacist about any questions you may have about your Ambien prescription. Alert your doctor immediately if any serious side effects occur.
You should not take Ambien if you:
- Have ever experienced a complex sleep behavior like sleepwalking after taking it
- Have consumed alcohol at any time during the day
- Have taken other medications that can also make you feel tired
- Have ever had an allergic reaction to drugs containing Zolpidem
- Have health conditions that cause you to be extremely tired
- Have a history of substance abuse
- Have mental health disorders like anxiety or depression that can lead to improper substance use or amplify symptoms of Ambien like fatigue
How Long Does Ambien Last?
Zolpidem is a fast-acting drug. The effects of Ambien are typically felt within 15 minutes of ingestion, however factors such as food consumption, body mass, and dose may influence this. Immediate-release tablets dissolve quickly to help people fall asleep, while extended-release tablets have two layers. The first dissolves quickly to help people fall asleep, and the second layer dissolves slowly in order to help keep them asleep.
Ambien's effects may last into the next day if you do not get a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep. These effects include sleepiness, unsteadiness, and the inability to drive.
How Long Does Ambien Stay in Your System?
Ambien usually only stays in your system for less than a day. Ambien’s half-life ranges from about 1.5 hours to 4.5 hours, and it averages about 2 hours for most people who take it. Of course, immediate-release tablets will be detectable earlier, and higher doses of prescription drugs will last longer in your system.
A blood test can typically detect Ambien in your blood for up to 20 hours.
A saliva drug test may be able to trace Ambien within 15 minutes of taking the medicine. It can also trace Ambien in your saliva for up to about eight hours after taking it.
A test of your hair follicle may show traces of Ambien for up to five weeks after the last time you took the drug.
A urine test can detect Ambien in your urine for about 24 to 48 hours after your last dose.
Ambien Addiction Potential & Symptoms
When you take sleeping pills like Ambien as directed for short periods, it is generally considered safe. However, Ambien is a federally controlled substance (C-IV) because it is habit-forming. Some people abuse Ambien and become dependent on it, and may start taking higher doses due to tolerance.
An estimated 46,000 adolescents between 12 and 17 years old misuse prescription tranquilizers and sedatives like Ambien. Another 1.7 million young adults between 18 and 25 also admit to using these kinds of drugs. And 4.3 million adults over the age of 25 report misusing prescription tranquilizers or sedatives.
Symptoms of Ambien addiction include the following:
- Taking the drug in a way other than prescribed (crushing or snorting instead of swallowing)
- Taking more tablets than directed
- Dosing more than instructed
- Taking someone else’s Ambien prescription
- Appearing overly tired or under the influence throughout the day
- Requesting regular refills
- Doctor-shopping to get more Ambien prescriptions
- Lying about Ambien use
- Letting personal and professional obligations fall to the wayside
- Experiencing overwhelming urges to use sedatives
- Needing to increase Ambien intake to achieve desired effects
Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms
Ambien withdrawal symptoms may include the following:
- Uncontrollable crying
- Memory loss
- Skin flushing
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Stomach cramps
If you or a loved one is experiencing Ambien withdrawal symptoms, seek medical advice from your healthcare professional. Treatment options for unhealthy drug use are available.
Ambien Addiction Treatment
Ambien addiction treatment is available. Here are some options to treat Ambien addiction:
- Traditional therapy to unpack triggers that cause you to abuse Ambien
- Inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation centers to help safely wean you off of Ambien
- Detox programs to help you become less dependent on Ambien (usually with the aid of other treatment options for your insomnia)
If you or someone you know has an addiction to prescription medications, reach out to your healthcare provider and treatment programs in your area for help.