Ambien Abuse Side Effects, Symptoms, and Addiction Treatment
What Is Ambien Used For?
Ambien is a brand name for zolpidem tartrate, a sedative drug that is prescribed to treat insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep).
Other brand name formulations containing zolpidem include:
- Edluar—a sublingual tablet.
- Intermezzo—a sublingual tablet available in different doses.
- ZolpiMist—an oral spray formulation.
As a short-acting, non-benzodiazepine hypnotic drug, Ambien is effective in initiating and maintaining sleep.
When taken as prescribed by a doctor, zolpidem helps patients with insomnia. However, it can also cause undesired side effects—especially among those who abuse it.
Signs and Symptoms of Zolpidem Abuse
The unwanted side effects of Ambien use differ between individuals, but may include:
- Next-day drowsiness.*
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Delusions or hallucinations.
- Somnambulism (sleepwalking).
- Coordination problems.
- Amnesia or short-term memory loss.
*Concerns about next-day drowsiness are particularly pronounced in the case of extended-release formulations of zolpidem such as Ambien CR.
In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its labeling requirements for zolpidem to recommend lower initial doses in order to avoid next-day impairment, as well as to warn patients taking extended-release formulations not to drive or undertake other dangerous activities the day after taking the medication.
Side Effects of Ambien Abuse
Ambien abuse can lead to a number of negative consequences, which include:
- Physical dependence.
- Withdrawal symptoms.
- The risk of overdose—potentiated when Ambien is taken with substances such as alcohol.
Dependence—which can eventually result from prolonged substance abuse—is defined as a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, manifested by such signs as tolerance, withdrawal, a persistent desire to use Ambien, unsuccessful efforts to stop using the drug, and large amounts of time spent acquiring the drug.
When you’ve become dependent on Ambien, you may meet the diagnostic criteria for a substance addiction (or “substance use disorder“).
The American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-V identifies some of the symptoms of a sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder as:
- Taking a drug for longer than intended.
- Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or cease substance use.
- Compulsive desire to obtain a substance.
- Abandonment of once-enjoyed activities in favor of obtaining and using a substance.
- Continued drug use despite negative social, interpersonal, legal, or financial consequences caused by such use.
Ambien Overdose Symptoms
Overdose is a common danger associated with the abuse of many drugs, including zolpidem. Ambien overdose may be an accidental consequence of trying to achieve a more intense high or overcome tolerance to the drug. Additionally, an overdose is more likely to occur when an individual has taken Ambien in addition to drinking alcohol or consuming other intoxicating substances.
Another consideration is that sometimes, patients’ memories and cognition are impaired after taking Ambien, causing them to forget having taken a pill. If they do not remember their first dose and ingest more, they are at risk for an overdose.
Symptoms of an Ambien overdose include:
- Excessive drowsiness.
- Dangerously slowed breathing.
- Bradycardia, or slow heart rate.
Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms
Abrupt cessation of Ambien use can cause withdrawal symptoms, especially after a person uses the drug for a prolonged period of time and at high dosages. Withdrawal symptoms may last for weeks, depending on the degree of use.
Ambien withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Agitation and irritability.
- In severe instances, convulsions or seizures.
Seizures, if present during withdrawal, can present a medical emergency. Evaluation by a qualified medical professional is highly recommended prior to attempting to detox from Ambien. Withdrawal shouldn’t be attempted on one’s own if the risk of seizure exists—a period of closely monitored, or medically supervised detox/withdrawal will be necessary.
Teen Ambien Abuse
The number of prescriptions for anti-anxiety and sleep medications has risen in the past decade, and the abuse of such medications has also increased over this time. The National Institute on Drug Abuse corroborates this finding with studies reporting high school students who resist falling asleep after consuming Ambien in order to get high.
A study of nearly 3,000 secondary school students published in 2015 revealed that almost 9% of these adolescents had been prescribed an anti-anxiety or sleep medication during their lifetime. Furthermore, these teens were 10 times more likely to abuse such medications for non-medical purposes—such as for experimentation or simply to get high—than students who had never been prescribed the drugs. According to the authors of the study, the adolescents most likely to abuse these drugs were white, female, and had had valid prescriptions for several years.
Another survey of 300+ college students found that Ambien was one of the 5 most abused tranquilizer/sedative drugs. One common finding in both of these studies was the fact that non-medical abuse of prescription sedatives is driven not by street dealers or doctor shopping, but by the diversion of prescriptions from friends and family members. It is therefore important for adolescents and their families to be educated about the risks of taking sleeping aids that have not been prescribed by doctors and the dangers of sharing their prescriptions.
Ambien Abuse Treatment
Detox and Withdrawal
It is important for a person to be in a supervised medical setting during Ambien detoxification, as the process can produce uncomfortable and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Because Ambien works by slowing the brain’s activity, stopping use suddenly can cause an increase in brain activity which can rebound to the point that seizures occur. It bears repeating: patients should be warned not to stop taking Ambien abruptly. They should instead taper off the drug, since the potential for severe withdrawal effects exists.
Ambien Addiction Treatment
Treatment for an addiction often requires addressing the underlying problems causing the drug use in the first place. Ambien rehab centers may facilitate individual and group therapy, skills training, and more. The methods used vary among facilities and may include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, contingency management, and/or other interventions. It’s important to find a facility that offers the type of care that is right for you.
Resources, Articles, and More Information
For more information, please visit the following articles:
Professional treatment can start anyone battling a substance use problem on the path to a healthier and happier life. Rehab programs are located throughout the U.S., and a variety of treatment types is available. You can use SAMHSA’s Find Treatment portal to search for facilities. Many state government websites will also provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’
If you need help with drug abuse or addiction, American Addiction Centers (AAC) can assist you. Please contact us free at . You can also call free drug abuse hotline numbers.