Ambien Risks, Effects, and Addiction

Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic medication used to treat sleep disorders such as insomnia. It has a low risk of abuse. However, it is an addictive drug and users can develop a physical or mental dependency.
Evidence Based
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What is Ambien?

Ambien is the brand name of zolpidem, a drug used to treat insomnia characterized by difficulty with sleep initiation. Ambien binds to the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. This causes the release of the neurotransmitter GABA, which helps calm abnormal electrical signaling that contributes to sleep disorders. Ambien’s main job is to act as a sedative-hypnotic medication, creating feelings of drowsiness to help you sleep.

Ambien Risks, Effects & Addiction

Ambien is available as 5 and 10 mg tablets that patients take by mouth. Sleep problems should improve within 7 to 10 days after use begins. Medical professionals do not recommend using Ambien for more than two weeks because there is a potential for addiction and dependence. If it is used longer than this, it may also not work as well as it did when use first began.

A study from 2018 found about 751,000 people (12 and older) have a tranquilizer or sedative use disorder. This is about 0.3 percent of the U.S. population.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)
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Risks of Ambien

Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic medication that makes you sleepy. It is important to take the correct amount prescribed by your doctor and to use it properly to ensure safety. Since it acts quickly, it should only be taken right before getting into bed and no sooner.

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It is important to be aware of the risks associated with taking Ambien. For example, you may get out of bed while not being fully awake. During this time, you may perform activities that you are not aware of. It is possible that the next morning, you might not remember doing anything during the night. Combining Ambien with alcohol or other drugs that make you sleepy can increase the chances of this occurring.

Activities that have been reported include:

  • Making and eating food
  • Driving a car (known as “sleep-driving”)
  • Talking on the phone
  • Sleepwalking
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Side Effects of Ambien

The most common side effects of taking Ambien are:

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

The morning after taking Ambien, you may continue to feel drowsy; do not drive or perform any other dangerous activities until you feel fully awake.

More serious side effects that require medical attention include:

  • Aggression/agitation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Worsening of depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Memory loss
  • Anxiety
  • Getting out of bed while not being full away and unknowingly doing an activity

Over time, the brain becomes used to a drug’s presence. You may find yourself needing to take it every day to feel normal and sleep well. Some side effects that may occur after stopping Ambien use can include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Flushing
  • Nausea, stomach cramps, and pain
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Uncontrolled crying
  • Panic attacks
  • Nervousness

These symptoms will typically last 1 to 2 days; if they continue after this period, contact your doctor.

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Ambien Addiction Symptoms

Ambien is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. These drugs are defined as, “drugs with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence.”

However, it is possible to become addicted to Ambien. Addiction is characterized by a set of behaviors surrounding drug use. Someone who is addicted to Ambien might be unable to stop using it, may continue to do so despite knowing it is harmful, and may have cravings when not taking it.

When someone uses Ambien for an extended period of time, physical and psychological dependence can develop. This is when the body and brain rely on a drug to function normally, and when it is taken away, withdrawal can set in. Withdrawal is the set of symptoms experienced after stopping drug use.

Withdrawal from central nervous system (CNS) depressants, like Ambien, can become dangerous if seizures or respiratory depression (difficulty breathing) occur. Some common withdrawal symptoms people experience after stopping Ambien use include:

  • Insomnia
  • Muscle and stomach cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions

The safest method of withdrawal is tapering, where the dose of a drug is slowly lowered over time to prevent shock to the body’s systems. This process helps prevent severe withdrawal symptoms and allows the body time to adjust to the amount of drug being taken.

It is best to taper off and withdraw from Ambien under the direction and surveillance of a medical professional or certified detoxification center. Under their care, more severe withdrawal symptoms can be safely monitored and treated with other medications.

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Treatment Options

Despite the lack of research on treating people who are addicted to CNS depressants, like Ambien, there are programs available to help. Inpatient (residential) and outpatient programs at qualified treatment centers can help people overcome addiction and offer a better chance at recovery.

There are many different types of counseling available at treatment centers, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy helps teach people different ways of behaving, thinking, and how to react to situations involving drug use and abuse. CBT has successfully helped people overcome their use of CNS depressants, such as Ambien.

Overcoming addiction to Ambien is difficult to do alone. Find treatment today.

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Resources

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drug Scheduling.” DEA, https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling.

Food and Drug Administration. “Ambien Label - FDA.” FDA, Feb. 2008, https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2008/019908s027lbl.pdf.

MedlinePlus. “Zolpidem.” MedlinePlus, Nov. 2015, https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a693025.html.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “DrugFacts: Prescription CNS Depressants.” NIDA, Mar. 2018, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Annual National Report.” SAMHSA, Aug. 2019, https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf.

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Updated on: July 1, 2020
Author
Addiction Group Staff
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