Designed as a fast-acting sleep aid to help combat insomnia, Ambien is also known for some of its more serious side effects like performing dangerous activities while half asleep. Ambien is also potentially habit-forming, making it especially unsafe to use outside of a prescription.
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What Is Ambien?
Ambien is a prescription sleep aid that is used to treat sleep disorders like insomnia. Ambien is classified as a sedative-hypnotic drug, which means that it affects the brain by reducing anxiety (sedative) and promoting sleep (hypnotic).
In addition to being a sedative-hypnotic, Ambien is also classified as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. A drug that is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant works by attaching to brain receptors called GABA, resulting in sedation. Benzodiazepines (like Xanax or Valium) plus opioids are also CNS depressants.
Sleeping pills like Ambien are categorized as Schedule IV drugs by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) due to their high potential for abuse and physical dependence.
Most prescription sleep medications, including Ambien, are designed to be used for the short-term treatment of insomnia. Long-term use can lead to dependence and addiction.
People with an Ambien prescription should use this medication only as directed and report any behavioral concerns to their doctor or healthcare provider. Additionally, users with Ambien prescriptions should not share this medication with others.
Prescriptions for Ambien may appear under one of these names:
- Ambien (brand name)
- Zolpidem (generic name)
In addition, other popular prescription sleep medications besides Ambien include:
- Lunesta (eszopiclone)
- Restoril (temazepam)
- Sonata (zaleplon)
Side Effects of Ambien Use
Ambien is a powerful sleep medication designed to help users fall asleep. However, Ambien may also cause additional side effects. Ambien also has the potential to be habit-forming and can lead to physical dependence.
Short-term side effects of Ambien may include:
If you feel groggy the next morning after taking Ambien, the FDA warns that you should NOT operate a vehicle or perform any dangerous activity until you are fully awake.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), prescription Ambien is fast-acting and should only be taken before bed. In addition, the FDA reports possible serious side effects that include abnormal behavior or thinking.
Some Ambien users experience performing certain activities after taking Ambien without recollection of doing so the next day.
The most commonly reported activities are:
- Preparing and/or eating food
- Talking on the phone
- Engaging in sexual activity
In addition, these serious (but less common) side effects may occur after taking Ambien:
- Memory loss
- Allergic reactions
- Worsening of depression
- Suicidal thoughts
The potential for any of these side effects increases with higher doses of Ambien. You should only take Ambien as it is prescribed by your doctor, and should avoid Ambien completely if you do not have a prescription.
Ambien Abuse and Addiction
Ambien abuse occurs when the user takes Ambien outside of their prescription guidelines (i.e. consuming larger doses), takes Ambien for reasons outside of sleep aid, or takes Ambien without a prescription altogether.
Ambien is a Schedule IV drug with a high potential for abuse and physical dependence. The FDA also cautions that patients with a history of substance abuse are not ideal candidates for Ambien prescriptions.
Signs of Ambien Addiction
Someone who has become addicted to Ambien may exhibit one or more of the following signs of addiction:
- Lack of control over Ambien use (including compulsive use)
- Continuing to abuse Ambien despite negative impact or harm
- Cravings for Ambien
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not taking Ambien
If you are concerned about your Ambien use or your habits around taking Ambien, you should speak with your doctor. There are many resources available to assist you.
Ambien is not designed for long-term use, as it can create a physical dependence in the user. Ambien withdrawal can occur after a sudden decrease or total discontinuation of Ambien use once a user has developed a dependence on the drug.
Ambien withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Mild dysphoria (low energy, depression)
- Stomach cramps
- Panic attack
Taking more Ambien than prescribed or mixing Ambien with other drugs (such as alcohol or other sedatives) can lead to an overdose.
Signs of an Ambien overdose may include:
- Marked confusion
- Unconsciousness, with the inability to rouse the person
- Slowed breathing
- Reduced heart rate
If you think someone is overdosing on Ambien, call 911 immediately. Remain with the victim and continue to monitor them until help arrives. In many cases, an Ambien overdose can be treated, but acting quickly is crucial to increase the chances of survival.
Ambien Addiction Treatment
Treatment for Ambien addiction is available for people with mild to severe addictions. Your doctor or another medical professional can work with you to determine what your specific needs are, and help you select from the available treatment options to help you recover.
In some cases, your treatment will begin with medical detox, which is a supervised detoxification process. Medical professionals will monitor you during medical detox as your body eliminates any Ambien from your system.
This detox can take place in an inpatient setting, but in many cases, detox can safely occur in an outpatient format.
Ambien Treatment Programs
Treatment programs for Ambien addiction offer both inpatient and outpatient settings. The type of treatment center you choose will be impacted by your level of addiction, any additional drug use, previous substance abuse history, and any mental health concerns.
Inpatient settings such as a residential program or inpatient rehab exist as structured environments where patients can reside 24/7. These types of rehab centers help the addict work through their physical symptoms as well as provide psychological support, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, to help the individual create better behaviors and patterns in their lives.
Outpatient settings may be recommended for those with a lower addiction risk (i.e. no additional drug abuse or history of substance use disorder). Partial Hospitalization Programs allow patients to visit a hospital or similar facility to receive care during the day, but they can return home in the evenings.
Other forms of outpatient care, such as Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) act as both a lower-intensity rehab for those with minor addiction concerns as well as a stepping stone for those who are in existing inpatient treatment facilities but would still benefit from ongoing support.
In 2019, the FDA announced that they would update the warning labels on certain sedative-hypnotics, including Ambien. This update was designed to make the risks of Ambien and similar sleeping medications more obvious to the user.
While rare, these “complex behaviors” instances resulted in patients engaging in various activities while not fully awake.
Of the 66 cases reviewed by the FDA, they report the following information:
- 46 cases of non-fatal but serious injuries (falls, burns, accidental overdose, near-drowning, self-injuries, exposure to extremely cold temperatures, and suicide attempts)
- 20 deaths were reported (carbon monoxide poisoning, falls, hypothermia, car crash, carbon monoxide poisoning, and suicide)
The rise of Ambien abuse has been statistically documented for nearly 15 years. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that in 2010, roughly one-third of Ambien-related emergency room visits resulted from the victim taking more than the recommended dosage. In 2018, 1 million Americans reported misuse of prescription sedatives.
Support for Friends and Family Members
It can be extremely difficult to watch a loved one struggle with addiction to Ambien, especially if that person is not yet seeking treatment. That is why several different types of support groups are available for friends and family members of addicts.
While your loved one is fighting their own battle, you must also contend with your worry for their well-being. Addiction can cause huge rifts in families, resulting in many heartaches. Many loved ones experience mixed emotions, from anger and resentment to guilt and fear.
The good news is that support groups are available both in-person and online to provide a safe and supportive environment for those negatively impacted by a loved one’s addiction.
Frequently Asked Questions About Ambien
Can Ambien be taken long-term?
Ambien is designed to treat insomnia for a short time—usually 1-2 weeks, but sometimes up to one month. Long-term use of Ambien greatly increases the user’s risk for experiencing some of Ambien’s potentially dangerous side effects.
These side effects can result in the user getting out of bed performing a variety of activities without a real awareness, or recollection the next day.
The most commonly reported activities include:
- Preparing meals (using a stove)
- Having sex
Is Ambien addictive?
Yes, Ambien is addictive. The DEA has classified Ambien as a Schedule IV drug due to its potential for being habit-forming and leading to addiction.
Signs of Ambien addiction may include:
- Obtaining multiple prescriptions of Ambien
- Using Ambien outside of the prescription’s parameters (taking more than prescribed, taking to feel high, or taking Ambien without a prescription)
- Spending significant time trying to acquire, use, and/or recover from Ambien
- Disregard for personal safety while using Ambien
Are there any risks associated with taking Ambien every night?
Yes. Ambien is considered habit-forming and is only designed to treat short-term sleep issues like insomnia. If you are struggling to sleep, you can speak with your doctor about long-term solutions that will be safer for you to use instead of a sedative-hypnotic like Ambien.