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Side Effects Of Ambien Abuse

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Get the facts of Ambien abuse side effects, symptoms, signs, and treatment options. A large number of drugs are associated with sedative addiction after chronic sleep apnea that can lead to deadly, life-threatening outcomes.

By We Level Up | Editor Yamilla Francese | Clinically Reviewed By Lauren Barry, LMFT, MCAP, QS, Director of Quality Assurance | Editorial Policy | Research Policy | Last Updated: October 20, 2022

Ambien Abuse Side Effects

What Is Ambien?

Zolpidem, sold under the brand name Ambien, among others, is a medication primarily used for the short-term treatment of sleeping problems. Ambien is used to treat insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep). Ambien belongs to a class of medications called sedative-hypnotics. It works by slowing activity in the brain to allow sleep. [1]

Ambien Abuse Potential

Ambien should normally be taken for short periods of time. If you take Ambien for 2 weeks or longer, Ambien may not help you sleep as well as it did when you first began to take the medication. Unfortunately, this drug may be habit-forming or may cause sedatives addiction.

Ambien, a nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic, binds to the benzodiazepine binding site on the gamma-aminobutyric acid type A (GABA-A) receptors. Many studies have reported the efficacy and safety of zolpidem in the treatment of insomnia, low abuse, and dependence capability. However, many cases of zolpidem abuse and dependence were reported around the world. [2]

Ambien Fact Sheet

Also known as Zolpidem


Brands: 

Edluar, Zolpimist, Intermezzo, Ambien CR, and Ambien


Availability: 

Prescription

Pregnancy:

Consult a medical professional


Mixing With Alcohol: 

Avoid. Very serious interactions can occur such as:

-Dizziness
-Confusion
-Trouble concentrating
-Coordination problems
-Impaired thinking and judgment
-Sleep apnea
-Drowsiness
-Decreased breathing
-Slowed heart rate
-Memory loss
-Sleepwalking


Drug class: 

Nonbenzodiazepine

Is Ambien Addictive?

Due to the common myth that they are thought to be safer and have less potential for misuse and dependence than benzodiazepines like Valium, zolpidem and related sedatives have essentially taken the place of these drugs as a short-term treatment for insomnia in recent years. However, individuals who abuse Ambien or take it for longer than is advised in order to experience its potential euphoric effects might easily become dependent on zolpidem.

Even at a prescribed dose, using Ambien for an extended period of time can lead to addiction.

Ambien Abuse Signs

The signs related to Ambien dependence include:

  • Tolerance
  • Signs of withdrawal
  • Use of the drug out of its therapeutic field (high doses, daytime consumption), with a goal other than treatment of insomnia, and they are unable to control the use of zolpidem (Ambien)

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revised the labeling guidelines for zolpidem in 2013. The FDA now advises lower initial doses to prevent next-day impairment and cautions patients taking extended-release formulations against driving or engaging in other risky activities the day after taking the drug.

Ambien (Zolpidem) is commonly prescribed for Insomnia and is one of the top 10 most abused prescription drugs in the US. Controlling anxiety and stress is the main reason or cause of Ambien abuse side effects.
Ambien (Zolpidem) is commonly prescribed for Insomnia and is one of the top 10 most abused prescription drugs in the US. Controlling anxiety and stress is the main reason or cause of Ambien abuse side effects.
ambien abuse

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Ambien Abuse Symptoms

Ambien abuse side effects will cause the user to become drowsy, tired, and lethargic. Even for someone who is not addicted to Ambien, there are certain side effects associated with taking the drug.

Short-term Ambien abuse side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • A headache
  • Unusual dreams
  • Dizziness
  • A feeling of having been drugged
  • Blackouts
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Uncontrolled sleepwalking, eating, or sexual activity

Ambien abuse side effects can also have rebound symptoms the morning after. “Hangover” or drowsiness and impaired cognitive function can make driving extremely dangerous. This rebound effect naturally increases with Ambien’s abuse.

Ambien Abuse Side Effects & Overdose

Ambien may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:

  • Drowsiness
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drugged feeling
  • Unsteady walking
  • Difficulty keeping balance
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Stomach pain or tenderness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
  • Pain, burning, numbness, or tingling in the hands, arms, feet, or legs
  • Unusual dreams
  • Redness, burning, or tingling of the tongue (with sublingual tablets)
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Ringing, pain, or itching in the ears
  • Eye redness
  • Muscle aches or cramps
  • Joint, back, or neck pain
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding

Some side effects can be serious. If you experience any of the following symptoms, or those listed in the IMPORTANT WARNINGS or SPECIAL PRECAUTIONS sections, call your doctor immediately:

  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Feeling that the throat is closing
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Yellow eyes or skin
  • Light-colored stools
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Blurred vision or other vision problems

Ambien may cause other side effects. Call your doctor if you have any unusual problems while you are taking this medication. If the victim has collapsed, had a seizure, has trouble breathing, or can’t be awakened, immediately call emergency services at 911.

Symptoms of Ambien drug overdose may include the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Coma (loss of consciousness for a period of time)
  • Slowed breathing or heartbeat

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Addiction

If you have developed an Ambien dependency, you may fit the diagnostic criteria for a chemical addiction (also known as a “substance use disorder”).

The following are some of the signs of a sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder, according to the DSM-V of the American Psychiatric Association:

  • Using the medication longer than is recommended.
  • Unsuccessful efforts to reduce or stop using.
  • Obsession with needing the substance.
  • Abandoning former interests in favor of getting and utilizing the drug.
  • Using Ambien despite the fact that doing so has negative social, personal, legal, or economic effects.

Dependence

Dependence is defined as a maladaptive pattern of substance use that causes clinically significant impairment or distress and is characterized by symptoms like tolerance, withdrawal, a persistent desire to use Ambien, unsuccessful attempts to stop using the drug, and a significant amount of time spent obtaining the drug. Dependence may eventually result from long-term abuse.

Sleepwalking and Other Activities

According to FDA, there are rare but serious injuries that have happened with certain common prescription insomnia medicines because of sleep behaviors, including sleepwalking. Serious injuries and death from complex sleep behaviors have occurred in individuals with and without a history of such behaviors, even at the lowest recommended doses, and the behaviors can occur after just one dose. These behaviors can occur after taking these medications with or without alcohol or other central nervous system depressants that may be sedating such as tranquilizers, opioids, and anti-anxiety drugs. [3]

A large number of drugs are associated with sedative addiction after chronic exposure, although the risk varies among them.
A large number of drugs are associated with sedative addiction after chronic exposure, although the risk varies among them.

Sleep-Driving

There are cases associated with Ambien abuse side effects that included:

  • Accidental overdoses
  • Falls
  • Burns
  • Near drowning
  • Exposure to extreme cold temperatures leads to loss of limb
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Drowning
  • Hypothermia
  • Motor vehicle collisions with the patient driving
  • Self-injuries such as gunshot wounds and apparent suicide attempts

Patients usually did not remember these events. 

Sleep-Eating

A sleep-related eating disorder has been described in association with Ambien abuse side effects. The effects can produce uncontrollable nocturnal eating.

Having Sex While Asleep

Often, the user who has taken Ambien has no recollection of these activities when they wake up. If you have depression, Ambien abuse side effects can make symptoms worse.

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Long-Term Effects of Ambien Abuse

Do not take a larger dose of Ambien, take it more often, or take it for a longer time than prescribed by your doctor. Do not stop taking Ambien without talking to your doctor, especially if you have taken it for longer than 2 weeks. If you suddenly stop taking Ambien, you may develop unpleasant feelings or mood changes or you may experience other withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Shakiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Stomach and muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Flushing
  • Tiredness
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Nervousness
  • Panic attack
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a part of your body
  • Seizures

Ambien Abuse Side Effects FAQs

What Are The Side Effects Of Ambien Abuse?

Ambien may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:

Drowsiness
Tiredness
Headache
Dizziness
Lightheadedness
Drugged feeling
Unsteady walking
Difficulty keeping balance
Nausea
Constipation
Diarrhea
Gas
Heartburn
Stomach pain or tenderness
Changes in appetite
Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
Pain, burning, numbness, or tingling in the hands, arms, feet, or legs
Unusual dreams
Redness, burning, or tingling of the tongue (with sublingual tablets)
Dry mouth or throat
Ringing, pain, or itching in the ears
Eye redness
Muscle aches or cramps
Joint, back, or neck pain
Heavy menstrual bleeding

What Are Common Ambien Abuse Effects?

If you have developed an Ambien dependency, you may fit the diagnostic criteria for a chemical addiction (also known as a “substance use disorder”).

The following are some of the signs of a sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder, according to the DSM-V of the American Psychiatric Association:

-Using the medication longer than is recommended.
-Unsuccessful efforts to reduce or stop using.
-Obsession with needing the substance.
-Abandoning former interests in favor of getting and utilizing the drug.
-Using Ambien despite the fact that doing so has negative social, personal, legal, or economic effects.

What Is The Process Of An Ambien Abuse High?

Even when used exactly as directed, Ambien can have a number of adverse effects. However, using Ambien excessively can have a wide range of negative short and long-term effects. Ambien misuse can occur purposefully or unintentionally in a variety of ways. When a person uses Ambien in a manner that isn’t prescribed by her doctor, that is regarded as substance abuse (e.g., crushing a pill and snorting it instead of swallowing it). When a patient increases her dosage of Ambien without her doctor’s consent, that is regarded as Ambien abuse. An individual is misusing Ambien if they combine it with other medications or alcohol, for example. If someone uses Ambien for a longer period of time than recommended, that may be called Ambien abuse. Ambien abuse occurs when a person uses it without a legitimate prescription. Even though Ambien is categorized as a sedative, usage of it in high dosages can cause the user to feel euphoric and energized. Yes, Ambien can result in a high if used improperly, to address the previous question.

How Do People Abuse Ambien?

Since Ambien is only authorized for short-term use of fewer than two weeks, it can be habit-forming, and many people take more and more of the medication in order to feel its effects, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine. After only a few weeks of using the prescription, individuals may start to build a tolerance, even if they don’t have an addiction.

Ambien use carries the danger of both physical and psychological dependence.

Many people who are unable to fall asleep experience desperation. They fear being without it and lose faith in their capacity to fall asleep on their own when Ambien is a successful tool in helping them overcome the issue, even if that sleep is not sound, long, or restorative.

How Is Ambien Abused?

Abuse includes using Ambien improperly or in any way not recommended by a physician. Abuse includes even taking an extra tablet to help you fall asleep. After developing a tolerance to Ambien, a person needs higher doses to fall asleep. This makes them more dependent on the medicine to fall asleep, and many users end up increasing their doses without consulting a doctor.

Although Ambien is intended to be taken right before bed, some people have been known to take it hours in advance. Insecurity and self-conscious behavior are flushed away by the exhilaration that results from this.

Ambien Abuse Statistics

Misuse of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs, including sedatives, is second only to marijuana as the nation’s most prevalent illicit drug use issue. All sedative and hypnotic drugs pose a significant risk of physical and psychological dependence.

According to National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2015, the most commonly used prescription sedatives were zolpidem products, such as Ambien®, Ambien® CR, and generic zolpidem, extended-release generic zolpidem, and similar products. An estimated 11.5 million people aged 12 or older used zolpidem products in the past year, representing 4.3% of the population. [4]

The following are some pertinent data on Ambien abuse in the US:

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than 250,000 persons abused Ambien and other sedatives in 2013.
  • The number of emergency room (ER) visits related to Ambien usage or overdose jumped from 6,111 in 2005 to over 19,000 in 2010, according to a report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN).
  • 68 percent of zolpidem-related ER patients are female, which is more than two-thirds.
  • 74% of ER visits related to Ambien use were made by patients over the age of 45.
  • In particular, narcotic analgesics (26%) and other sleeping or anti-anxiety medications (16%) were combined with zolpidem in 50% of ER visits linked to this drug.
Withdrawal from sedative addiction poses a risk of seizures, which can be very dangerous if not treated immediately.
Withdrawal from sedative addiction poses a risk of seizures, which can be very dangerous if not treated immediately.

Teen Ambien Abuse

Over the past ten years, both the number of prescriptions for anti-anxiety and sleep aids and the abuse of these drugs have soared. This conclusion is supported by research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse that indicates some high school students purposefully avoid going to sleep after taking Ambien in order to experience a high.

A 2015 study of roughly 3,000 students in secondary school found that nearly 9% of these teenagers had ever received a prescription for an anti-anxiety or sleep aid. Furthermore, compared to pupils who had never been prescribed such drugs, these teenagers were ten times more likely to abuse such substances for non-medical reasons, such as experimentation or just to get high. The study’s authors found that white, females, and teenagers with long-standing prescriptions were most prone to abuse these medicines.

Ambien was one of the top 5 most abused tranquilizer/sedative medicines, according to another survey of more than 300 college students. The non-medical abuse of prescription sedatives was shown in both of these investigations to be driven not by street dealers or doctor shopping but rather by the theft of prescriptions from friends and family members. Teenagers and their families should be informed about the risks associated with using sleeping pills that have not been prescribed by a physician and the perils of sharing their own prescriptions.

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Ambien Addiction Treatment Centers

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can provide the necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of withdrawals.

Medically-Assisted Detox

If you are experiencing Ambien abuse or Ambien and alcohol addiction, it’s crucial to first get an accurate assessment of all the symptoms. When the symptoms have been evaluated by a mental health professional, it may be determined that another form of mental condition is present and needs a particular type of treatment. Very often, some combination of psychotherapy, medication, and/or lifestyle changes are effective for coping with functional. 

Medical detox is often considered the first stage of treatment. It will help you navigate the complicated process of Ambien withdrawal, but it doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to drug use. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Psychotherapy 

Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of mental health disorders along with addiction, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves making changes in both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Solution Focused Therapy – is an approach interested in solutions that can be quickly implemented with a simple first step leading to further positive consequences.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use disorders and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures.

Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily. If you or a loved one are struggling with Ambien abuse side effects and a co-occurring mental health condition such as depression, contact one of our helpful treatment specialists today. We Level Up can provide information on dual diagnosis and detox programs that may fit your specific needs.

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Sources

[1] Zolpidem – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health
[2] Zolpidem dependence, abuse, and withdrawal: A case report – National Center for Biotechnology Information
[3] FDA adds Boxed Warning for risk of serious injuries caused by sleepwalking with certain prescription insomnia medicines – U.S. Food & Drug Administration
[4] Prescription Drug Use and Misuse in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Webmd.com. (2013.) Ambien CR. – https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-94117/ambien-cr-oral/details
ConsumerReports.org. News, Consumer Reports. (2010.)FDA Cuts Dose Of Ambien And Related Insomnia Drugs. – https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2013/01/fda-cuts-dose-of-ambien-and-related-insomnia-drugs/index.htm
EverydayHealth.com. (2014.) What Is Ambien (Zolpidem)? – https://www.everydayhealth.com/drugs/zolpidem
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2022). – Highlights of prescribing information.
Drug Enforcement Administration. (2018). – Drug scheduling.
U.S. Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). – Drugs of abuse: A DEA resource guide.

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