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Ambien Abuse

Table of Contents

What Is Ambien?

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 in those who abuse it.

Signs and Symptoms

Is Ambien Addictive?

In recent years, zolpidem and related sedatives have largely replaced benzodiazepines like Valium as a short-term treatment for insomnia because they are considered to be safer–with less potential for abuse and dependence. However, those who continue to take Ambien for a longer period of time than recommended, or who abuse the drug for its potential euphoric properties can quickly develop a zolpidem dependency.

When taken for prolonged periods of time – even at a prescribed dose – Ambien use can be habit-forming.

The unwanted effects of Ambien use differ between individuals, but may include:

  • Next-day drowsiness.*
  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Delusions or hallucinations.
  • Somnambulism (sleepwalking).
  • Coordination problems.
  • Amnesia or short-term memory loss.

* Concerns about next-day drowsiness are particularly pronounced for extended-release formulations of zolpidem such as Ambien CR.

In 2013, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its labeling requirements for zolpidem to recommend lower initial doses to avoid next-day impairment and to warn patients taking extended-release formulations not to drive or undertake other dangerous activities the day after taking the medication.

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 taken in a setting of other substances such as alcohol.
  • Addiction.


Dependence, which can eventually result from prolonged 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’re may meet diagnostic criteria for a substance addiction (or “substance use disorder”).

man depressed

American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-V identifies some of the symptoms of a sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder as:

  • Taking the drug for longer than intended.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or cease use.
  • Compulsive desire to obtain the substance.
  • Abandonment of once-enjoyed activities in favor of obtaining and using the substance.
  • Continued use despite negative social, interpersonal, legal, or financial consequences caused by Ambien use.


Overdose is a common danger associated with the abuse of many drugs, including zolpidem. 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 after taking Ambien, patients’ memory and cognition are impaired, causing them to forget having taken the pill. If they do not remember the first dose and ingest more, they are at risk for an overdose.

Symptoms of Ambien overdose include:

  • Excessive drowsiness.
  • Dangerously slowed breathing.
  • Bradycardia, or slow heart rate.
  • Coma.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Abrupt cessation of Ambien can cause withdrawal symptoms, especially after using the drug for a prolonged period of time and at high dosages. Withdrawal symptoms may last for weeks depending on the degree of use.

Withdrawal symptoms in someone abusing Ambien may include:

  • Agitation and irritability.
  • Insomnia.
  • Cravings.
  • Nervousness.
  • Delirium.
  • 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.

Ambien Abuse Treatment

Detox and Withdrawal

It’s not too late to get help. Learn about treatment programs now. 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 the drug works by slowing the brain’s activity, stopping use suddenly can cause an increase in brain activity that can rebound to the point that seizures occur. It bears repeating: Patients should be warned not to stop taking Ambien abruptly but instead should taper off the drug, since the potential for severe withdrawal effects exists.

Addiction Treatment

Ambien addiction treatment may be conducted in either an inpatient or outpatient facility.

Treatment for an addiction often requires addressing the underlying problem causing the drug use in the first place. Ambien rehab centers may facilitate individual and group therapy, skills training, and more. The methods used among facilities vary 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.

If you or someone you care about displays symptoms of Ambien abuse, there is help available. Let us assist you in finding an Ambien rehab program that best fits your individual needs. Call today to receive more information on treatment options that are right for you.

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 some 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 such drugs. According to the authors of the study, the adolescents most likely to abuse these drugs were white, female, and had a valid prescription 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 nonmedical abuse of prescription sedatives is driven not by street dealers or doctor shopping but by 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 a doctor and the dangers of sharing their own prescriptions.

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