What are the Risks of Taking Ambien?
In This Article
Sleep is an essential part of life. Yet, for millions of people, insomnia persists and disrupts lives. Prescription sleeping pills like Ambien are one way of addressing the issues that come with chronic sleeplessness.
As a powerful drug that helps regulate sleep, Ambien can come with unwanted risks and side effects. And if misused, it can lead to addiction.
Whether you’re considering Ambien as a medical solution or investigating its structure, this blog post covers its various aspects and implications.
What is Ambien?
Ambien, also known as zolpidem, is a clinical sleep medicine that combats the debilitating effects of insomnia. Insomnia is a condition that makes it incredibly difficult for people to fall asleep, causing significant distress and disruption to their daily lives.
Insomnia can stem from many factors, including:
- Chronic pain
Physicians most commonly prescribe Ambien to help people get the restful sleep they need to function optimally during the day.
How Does Ambien Work?
Ambien binds to the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. This process causes the release of GABA neurotransmitters, which help 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. It also reduces the time it takes to transition from a wakeful state into a deep sleep.
Dosage, Effectiveness, and Recommendations
The drug is available as 5 and 10 mg tablets you should take by mouth. Ambien works quickly and effectively; it generally helps you fall asleep within 15 to 30 minutes after consumption.
Your sleep problems should also improve within 7 to 10 days after you begin taking it. However, medical professionals don’t recommend using Ambien for more than 2 weeks. When the drug is used for over 10 days, gradually tapering the dose is recommended.
The drug poses a high potential for addiction and dependence. If you use it longer than 10 days, it may not work as well as when you began using it.
A study from 2018 found that about 751,000 people aged 12+ (about 0.3% of the U.S. population) suffer from a disorder related to the misuse of tranquilizers or sedatives.
Online Therapy Can Help
Over 3 million people use BetterHelp. Their services are:
- Professional and effective
- Affordable and convenient
- Personalized and discreet
- Easy to start
Answer a few questions to get started
What Are the Risks of Ambien Use?
Although Ambien is a commonly prescribed medication, it’s a sedative-hypnotic medication that makes you sleepy. That’s why you should only take the correct amount your doctor prescribed and use it properly to ensure safety.
Since it acts quickly, you should only take it right before getting into bed and no sooner. If you take it some other time, you may risk getting out of bed while not fully awake.
During this period, you may perform activities you aren’t aware of. It’s possible that the following day, you might not remember doing anything during the night.
Get Professional Help
BetterHelp can connect you to an addiction and mental health counselor.
Answer a few questions to get started
What Substances Can Interact with Ambien?
Combining Ambien with alcohol or other drugs that make you sleepy can increase the chances of the above example happening. The activities that people reported experiencing include:
- Making and eating food
- Driving a car or sleep-driving
- Talking on the phone
Ambien and Stimulant ADHD Medications
The use of Ambien and methylphenidate together doesn't currently indicate any interactions. Methylphenidate combats attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and falls under the central nervous system (CNS) stimulants category.
However, it’s important to note that this doesn't guarantee the absence of any interactions. Always consult with your doctor before taking Ambien with any ADHD medication.
Ambien and Illegal Stimulants
Some users take Ambien with illegal stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine. While mixing cocaine and Ambien doesn't result in any known life-threatening interactions, it can still be hazardous.
Meth is an illegal and highly addictive drug that has a stimulating effect on the CNS. Since it's a stimulant, combining meth with Ambien—a sedative-hypnotic—can cause your heart rate to slow down dramatically.
Their interaction can make your heart rate too slow to maintain a normal level of oxygen in the brain, increasing the risk of coma or death.
What Are the Side Effects of Ambien?
The most common side effects of taking Ambien are:
- Drowsiness and sleepiness
- Hazy or “drugged feelings”
The morning after taking Ambien, you may continue to feel drowsy. So don’t drive or perform dangerous or hazardous activities until you feel fully awake.
Ambien’s Impact on Blood Pressure
The use of sleep medications might impact blood pressure. Such varying side effects depend on the specific drug and frequency of use.
For instance, Ambien has been associated with occasional high blood pressure. However, such occurrences are unlikely. Abnormal blood pressure may also be due to an underlying cause.
Ambien’s Impact on the Heart
Prescription sleep aids like Ambien may negatively affect cardiovascular health. Evidence suggests the drug can increase your risk of developing heart disease.
Ambien and Mental Disorders
Ambien has sedative, hypnotic, and anxiolytic properties. These effects can impair judgment and decision-making abilities, which can cost lives.
That's why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings about taking the drug if you have a mental illness.
According to the FDA, Ambien’s effects on mental disorders include:
- Increased the risk of depression
- Worsened suicidal thoughts or actions
- Exacerbated pre-existing mental disorders
A clinical study also revealed that combining Ambien with SSRI antidepressants can:
- Escalate depression
- Trigger manic reactions
- Worsen other serious mental conditions
Severe Side Effects of Ambien Use
The more serious side effects of using Ambien that require medical attention include:
- Aggression or agitation
- Worsening of depression
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Memory loss
- Getting out of bed while not being entirely awake and unknowingly doing an activity
Over time, your brain adjusts and becomes used to Ambien’s presence. You may need to take it daily to feel normal and sleep well.
Phone, Video, or Live-Chat Support
BetterHelp provides therapy in a way that works for YOU. Fill out the questionnaire, get matched, begin therapy.
Answer a few questions to get started
What Are Ambien’s Withdrawal Symptoms?
Some side effects may occur after stopping Ambien use. They will typically last 1 to 2 days.
If these symptoms continue after this period, contact your doctor immediately:
- Trouble sleeping
- Nausea and pain
- Uncontrolled crying
- Panic attacks
- Muscle and stomach cramps
The Safest Withdrawal Method and the Importance of Professional Care
The safest withdrawal method is tapering, where doctors slowly lower drug doses over time to prevent shock to the body. This process helps prevent severe withdrawal symptoms. A tapering schedule also allows the body time to adjust to your dose.
It’s best to taper off and withdraw from Ambien under the direction and surveillance of a medical professional or certified detoxification center. Under their care, they will closely monitor more severe withdrawal symptoms. They can also provide treatment with other medications.
What Are Ambien Addiction Symptoms?
The Drug Enforcement Administration classified Ambien as a Schedule IV controlled substance. Schedule IV substances are “drugs with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence.”
However, you can develop an addiction to Ambien. Addiction manifests through a set of behaviors surrounding drug use.
The most common signs and symptoms of Ambien addiction include:
- Taking larger doses than prescribed or more frequently than recommended by a doctor
- Experiencing cravings for the drug
- Feeling compelled to seek out Ambien despite knowing its risks
- Inability to control use, leading to excessive and potentially dangerous intake
- Withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug
- 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
Physical and Psychological Dependence on Ambien
Dependence occurs when your body and brain rely on Ambien to function normally. You can develop physical and psychological dependence when you use Ambien for an extended period. Additionally, withdrawal symptoms set in when you stop taking the drug.
Withdrawal from central nervous system (CNS) depressants like Ambien can become dangerous. This is especially true when seizures or respiratory depression (difficulty breathing) occur.
Correlation Between Ambien Addiction and Stimulant Abuse
It’s common for those addicted to illegal stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine to take Ambien. They believe this practice relieves the “comedown” effects of stimulant abuse.
However, combining certain stimulants and Ambien is highly risky and potentially fatal. The dangers of mixing uppers and downers can lead to conflicting signals within the body, leading to unpredictable and potential organ failure.
Stimulant Abuse Statistics Related to Ambien
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provided the following numbers regarding those who misused zolpidem in 2018:
- 741,000 people aged 12+ (0.3% of the total population)
- 30,000 people aged 12 to 17 (0.1% of the total population)
- 711,000 people aged 18+ (0.3% of the total population)
- 132,000 young adults aged 18 to 25 (0.4% of the total population)
- 579,000 people aged 26+ (0.3% of the total population)
How Do You Treat Ambien Addiction?
Despite the lack of research on treating people addicted to CNS depressants, several programs are available to help. It’s important to remember that any form of addiction is a severe problem.
Consider the following options:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT teaches you how to recognize and change patterns of thought and behavior. It is beneficial in helping people manage their addiction by focusing on changing the person's environment.
- Psychotherapy: A therapist can help uncover underlying issues causing your addiction, such as depression or anxiety.
- 12-Step Programs: The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a widely available program that helps people find sobriety and recovery, provides peer support, and develops social bonds among individuals struggling with addiction.
- Residential and Outpatient Programs: In-patient (residential) and outpatient programs at qualified treatment centers can provide individual and group therapy. These treatment centers also offer medical supervision, medications to help reduce cravings, and relapse prevention tools.
Ambien in Comparison to Other Prescription Medications
Ambien has two alternatives, trazodone and zolpidem. All three of these drugs are in the same class of sedative-hypnotics.
While all three medications cause sleepiness and share some side effects, they each have distinct differences regarding effectiveness and addiction potential.
- Ambien: Ambien treats insomnia. Its variant, Ambien CR, can impair mental and physical abilities the next day. It can also cause behaviors like "sleep-driving," especially when you take it in high doses or with alcohol.
- Trazodone: Originally an antidepressant, doctors often prescribe it off-label for sleep. Trazodone is cheaper due to its generic forms and isn't a controlled substance. However, stopping it might cause withdrawal symptoms.
- Zolpidem: This drug is the generic name for Ambien and treats insomnia. It has similar side effects to Ambien, including next-day impairment and sleep-related behaviors. Its effects heighten when you mix it with alcohol or other sedatives.
Ambien is a powerful drug that helps treat insomnia. However, stopping it can be difficult due to its addiction potential and withdrawal symptoms. Ambien's side effects can also be dangerous, especially if you take it with stimulants.
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.
If you or someone you know is struggling with Ambien abuse, seek help immediately. Professional treatment can reduce the risks associated with withdrawal and relapse while supporting a full recovery.
Get matched with an affordable mental health counselorFind a Therapist
Answer a few questions to get started
- U.S. Department of Justice. “Drug Scheduling.” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 2018.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Zolpidem.” MedlinePlus, 2019
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “DrugFacts: Prescription CNS Depressants.” U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018.
- 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.
- “Drug Interactions between Ambien and methylphenidate.” Drugs.com, 2023.
- Hannemann, K. “Do Sleep Medications like Ambien Increase Your Blood Pressure?” GoodRx Health, 2023.
- Lin et al. “Abstract 10392: Relationship Between Zolpidem Use and Acute Myocardial Infarction Risk: A Taiwanese Population-Based Case-Control Study.” Circulation, 2018.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2018.
- “Ambien Alternatives Compared.” Drugs.com, 2023.