Updated on March 26, 2024
6 min read

What are the Risks of Taking Ambien?

Key Takeaways

Sleep should be a time of rest and renewal, but for those struggling with insomnia, it can be a nightly battle of restlessness and frustration. Prescription sleep aids like Ambien offer the promise of relief.

However, it's essential to understand the potential risks associated with these medications, including the possibility of addiction if misused. By working closely with your doctor and following prescribed dosages, you can address your sleep concerns without undue worry about dependence.

Is Ambien Addictive?

Yes, Ambien can be addictive. Although classified as a Schedule IV drug, indicating a lower potential for abuse compared to some other medications, it can still lead to physical and psychological dependence. Over time, this can develop into a full-blown addiction.

Ambien works by boosting the activity of specific neurotransmitters in the brain, promoting calmness and relaxation. This effect can produce euphoria, making some people want to repeat the experience. This can lead to misuse and ultimately, addiction.

Additionally, since Ambien helps with sleep, some people develop psychological dependence, believing they cannot sleep without it.

Who is At Risk for Ambien Addiction?

While addiction can happen to anyone, some people are more at risk for Ambien addiction than others. You’re at higher risk if you:

  • Have a history of mental health illnesses or conditions
  • Have a history (and family history) of substance abuse
  • Have chronic insomnia or pain

Chronic insomnia and pain make you especially vulnerable because Ambien is not supposed to be used long-term. Most doctors recommend you don’t use it for longer than 10 days as it may not be as effective as when you started taking it, and you may feel like you need more of it to get sleep.

If your pain or insomnia is chronic, you may have to take medication long-term or consistently to address your problems. This can also lead to abuse, given that your tolerance to the drug may become higher, and your dependence may end up stronger.

Link Between Ambien Addiction and Stimulant Abuse

People who abuse stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine may also use Ambien to try and manage the "comedown" phase after stimulant use. Stimulants can cause sleeplessness, leading some to combine them with sedatives like Ambien.

It's important to understand that mixing stimulants and Ambien is extremely dangerous and potentially life-threatening. The conflicting effects can result in severe anxiety, heart problems, and even organ failure.


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What Are Ambien Addiction Symptoms?

Although Ambien has a low potential for abuse and dependence, you can still develop an addiction to Ambien. After taking the medication for an extended period, you may develop an addiction to it.

The most common signs of Ambien addiction include:

  • Taking larger or more frequent doses than prescribed
  • Strong urges or cravings to take the drug
  • Prioritizing taking Ambien despite knowing its risks
  • Inability to control use, leading to excessive and potentially dangerous intake
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Neglecting responsibilities and daily activities due to drug use
  • Devoting significant amounts of time to obtaining Ambien
  • Engaging in risky behavior while under the influence of the drug

If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, seek help immediately. You may still be able to taper your Ambien use so you can bounce back and find other solutions for sleep problems.

A study from 2018 found that about 751,000 people aged 12+ suffer from a disorder related to tranquilizer or sedative misuse—this includes Ambien.

What Are Ambien’s Withdrawal Symptoms?

Some side effects may occur after stopping Ambien use, especially if you do so abruptly and without medical supervision. They will typically last a day or two, but it entirely depends on the severity of your addiction, how you were misusing the drug, and how much of it you were taking.

If these symptoms continue after this period, contact your doctor immediately:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Flushing
  • Nausea and pain
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Uncontrolled crying
  • Panic attacks
  • Nervousness
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle and stomach cramps
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions

If you’re suffering through withdrawal, make sure you stay in close contact with your healthcare provider. They can adjust your dosage if your withdrawal symptoms are still causing you discomfort, and you need to be weaned off the drug slower.

Maintain clear communication with your doctor so they know if they’re successfully taking you off the drug or not. If your symptoms are too much to manage, you may relapse and overdose, so be careful and mindful of your body and how you’re responding to detox.

Symptoms of Ambien Overdose

If you take too much Ambien in one sitting, you may suffer through the following overdose symptoms:

  • Extreme Drowsiness
  • Confusion or Loss of Consciousness
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Slowed Heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired Motor Function
  • Nausea
  • Aches, Cramps, and Pains
  • Tremors and Shaking
  • Slurred Speech
  • Seizures

If you notice any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Let emergency services know how much Ambien was taken so the medical team can respond appropriately.

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What Are the Side Effects of Ambien?

Ambien use, addiction notwithstanding, can cause the following side effects:

  • Drowsiness and sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Hazy or “drugged feelings”
  • Diarrhea

The morning after taking Ambien, you may continue to feel drowsy. So don’t drive or perform potentially hazardous activities until you feel fully awake.

Additionally, Ambien has sedative, hypnotic, and anxiolytic properties. These effects can impair judgment and decision-making abilities. This can be fatal, so stay home or in a comfortable space until the effects disappear. If you develop an addiction, these side effects may be even stronger.

Severe Side Effects of Ambien Use

The more serious side effects of using Ambien require medical attention—especially if you’re suffering from these side effects via addiction. These include:

  • Aggression or agitation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Worsening of depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Memory loss
  • Anxiety
  • Sleepwalking
  • Dependence
  • Withdrawal

If you notice any of these side effects, get medical intervention immediately. You’ll need to slowly get off the drug, and your doctor will help you do that.

How Do You Treat Ambien Addiction?

Despite the lack of research on treating people addicted to Ambien, several programs are available to help. It’s important to remember that any form of addiction is a severe problem. 

Consider the following options:

  • Inpatient treatment: Involves checking yourself into a rehab facility for 24-hour medical supervision 
  • Outpatient treatment: A treatment program where you are freely allowed to leave the rehab facility
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT teaches you how to recognize and change thought patterns and behavior related to addiction
  • Psychotherapy: A therapist can help uncover underlying issues causing your addiction, such as depression or anxiety
  • 12-Step Programs: These programs provide peer support and develop social bonds among individuals struggling with addiction

Ambien Alternatives

Some medical alternatives to Ambien you can consider and discuss with your doctor are:

  • Lunesta (Eszopiclone)
  • Restoril (Temazepam) or Xanax (Alprazolam)
  • Silenor (Doxepin)
  • Rozerem (Ramelteon)
  • Antidepressants
  • Over-the-counter antihistamines
  • Quviviq (Daridorexant) and Trazodone
  • Melatonin

Consider lifestyle changes as well. Eating a well-balanced diet, avoiding electronics, refraining from exercising right before bedtime, and using relaxation techniques like warm baths or reading can promote healthy sleep patterns.

Ambien is a powerful drug that helps treat insomnia. Although it’s effective, it does have risks and side effects.

Despite it being a Schedule IV substance, Ambien can still be misused. Because of this, you need to monitor your drug use and talk to your doctor.

The safest way of coming off Ambien is to taper your dose over time and with medical supervision. Treatment centers provide various therapies, programs, and support that help manage addiction.

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Updated on March 26, 2024
9 sources cited
Updated on March 26, 2024
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  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2019.
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  6. Hannemann, K. “Do Sleep Medications like Ambien Increase Your Blood Pressure?” GoodRx Health, 2023.
  7. Lin et al. “Abstract 10392: Relationship Between Zolpidem Use and Acute Myocardial Infarction Risk: A Taiwanese Population-Based Case-Control Study.” Circulation, 2018.
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