Ambien (generic name zolpidem) is a medication used to treat insomnia. A sedative hypnotic, it works due to the way it reduces brain activity. Used properly, Ambien is typically safe. However, when misused, it does hold potential for abuse. Misusing your prescription or using this drug recreationally could lead to addiction. Ambien abuse is dangerous, with adverse effects ranging from withdrawal, memory loss, organ damage, overdose, and more.
Ambien was originally thought to be safer than benzodiazepines, a class of drugs commonly prescribed for sleep disorders. In line with this thinking, prescriptions for this drug climbed. Subsequently, the opportunity for misuse and drug diversion rose as well. Contrary to these beliefs, over time, widespread reports of abuse and addiction surfaced. In July of 2002, zolpidem was classified as Schedule IV, the same category as benzodiazepine drugs.
What Is Ambien?
Ambien is a “Z-drug,” or nonbenzodiazepine drug. Despite this, its mechanism of action is actually similar to that of benzodiazepine sleeping aids. This is due to the way it binds to GABA-A receptors at benzodiazepine binding sites within the brain, as explained by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (BJCP). It should be taken directly before sleeping and only if you’re confident you’ll be able to stay in bed for seven to eight hours.
Ambien comes in a tablet form, either as an immediate release tablet or as the controlled-release version (Ambien CR). This medication only be used for short periods of time. This is due to the fact that after two weeks the efficacy may decline. Also, after more prolonged use the risk of dependence and withdrawal climbs.
Is Ambien Addictive?
The Journal of Research in Medical Sciences writes that “zolpidem can exert abuse capability, euphoric mood, tolerance, and withdrawal syndrome,” all of which increase a person’s risk for addiction. Typically, if you use Ambien as prescribed, the drug has a limited potential for dependence and abuse. The problem arises if you begin to misuse your medication, even if you’re simply seeking to self-medicate insomnia. This is considered abuse.
Recreational users may take the drug orally or snort it and often force themselves to stay awake so that they can experience the “feel good” effects. People abuse this drug to achieve a sedated and euphoric state similar to drunkenness. Some users claim they take it to increase pleasurable feelings during sex.
Over time, these individuals may need to take more of the drug to create this effect (a tolerance). Using Ambien in these ways puts a person at a greater risk for addiction. Individuals with a history of substance abuse or a mental illness face a heightened risk for Ambien abuse and addiction.
What Are The Side Effects And Symptoms Of Ambien Abuse?
According to the FDA, prescribed Ambien use can cause abnormal thinking, behavioral changes, complex behaviors, hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, or worsening depression. Ambien abuse could intensify these adverse effects and may also cause:
- Becoming more outgoing
- Bizarre behaviors
- Daytime drowsiness
- Decreased inhibitions
- Dry mouth
- Gastrointestinal troubles
- Impaired coordination
- Impaired judgement
- Memory lapses, amnesia, or blackouts
- Shallow or slowed breathing
- Slowed reflexes
- Slurred speech
Tolerance and withdrawal are signs of abuse, though they can occur with prescribed use as well. Within addiction, these factors are accompanied by compulsive and chronic drug-seeking.
What Are The Dangers Of Ambien Abuse And Addiction?
Ambien is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. This means it slows down your heart and breathing rates. Because of this, using it with alcohol or other CNS depressants like benzos or opioid painkillers may be dangerous. According to a 2014 DAWN Report, from 2005 to 2010 “the number of zolpidem-related emergency department (ED) visits involving adverse reactions increased nearly 220 percent.” In 2010, women made up two-thirds of these visits, while 50 percent involved other medications.
Ambien has been linked to an increased risk of:
- Falls and injury
- Risky sexual behaviors
- Withdrawal seizures
- Other diseases and illness
The FDA cautions that driving the morning after taking Ambien could be dangerous, due to the drug’s intensely sedative effects. This is especially true with the CR version.
A BMJ Open article asserted that individuals taking sleeping pills, including zolpidem faced a four times greater risk of death and for those taking larger doses, a 35 percent higher risk of cancer. Others studies find that zolpidem is associated with a seven times higher risk of acute pancreatitis and within elderly users, reversible dementia.
The Daily Express outlined a study which found an increased risk of heart attack and life-threatening cardiac events. The news source reported that “four standard dose pills a year – 35 milligrams – send the risk soaring by around 20 per cent. People taking the equivalent of 60 tablets a year could see the threat jump by half.”
Ambien Can Be Dangerous Even While You Sleep
Even within the bounds of prescribed use an individual may experience “complex sleep-related behaviors,” including operating a vehicle, cooking or eating while sleeping, or having sleep sex. These circumstances may be very dangerous and have been reported to cause car accidents, kitchen fires, consumption of toxic chemicals, and unintended pregnancies.
A Huffington Post article chronicled bizarre and catastrophic behavior which occurred under the influence of Ambien. The most frightening circumstance included a man murdering eight people. Others included sleep driving episodes which resulted in great bodily harm to pedestrians (death could also occur). Shocking accounts of Ambien being used as a date rape drug were also detailed. Abusing larger dosages of Ambien could increase the risk of these and other complex sleep-related behaviors.
Can You Overdose From Ambien?
Like many other drugs of abuse, Ambien does have the potential to cause overdose when taken in higher dosages. This danger spikes with polydrug abuse. Women and older individuals eliminate the drug more slowly which can also heighten the risk. Signs of overdose include:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Decreased heartbeat
- Slowed breathing
- Losing consciousness
Overdose can be life threatening. Should you suspect that yourself or someone else is at risk, contact emergency medical staff immediately.
How Is Ambien Addiction Treated?
Ambien abuse and addiction should be taken seriously. In more mild instances, outpatient treatment may be sufficient. For those who suffer from more serious cases or polydrug addiction, inpatient drug rehab is recommended. As this drug can create uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal, it should be slowly tapered. A medically supervised detox may be advised and may include the use of certain non-addictive medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction often results from a person self-medicating mental or emotional trouble. Effective rehab programs use behavioral therapy and counseling to address these concerns. These may be enhanced by treatment for co-occurring disorders, family therapy and support, and peer support groups. If you or a loved one stumbled into Ambien addiction by misusing the drug to self-medicate insomnia, treatment may help. Your recovery plan may include addressing this issue in an alternative way.
Get Help Today
If you’re fearful that your Ambien use is accelerating into abuse or addiction, reach out today. Together, we can build a plan to get your life back on track. DrugRehab.org is here to help you find and experience the freedom of sobriety. Contact us now.
For More Information, Be Sure To Check Out These Additional Resources:
- Consequences Of Injecting OxyContin (Oxycodone)
- Klonopin Withdrawal Symptoms
- The Dangers Of Snorting Vicodin (Hydrocodone)
- Environmental Risk Factors for Developing an Addiction
- Drug Addiction And The Brain
MedlinePlus - Zolpidem
U.S. Food and Drug Administration - Highlights of Prescribing Information
U.S. National Library of Medicine - An Increased Risk of Reversible Dementia May Occur After Zolpidem Derivative Use in the Elderly Population
U.S. National Library of Medicine - Prescription Sedative Misuse and Abuse