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Ambien Addiction – Treatment, Signs, and Risks

Most people want a quick, easy solution to their problems.  When it comes to sleep disturbances, few people are willing to change their lifestyles to address the problem.  In their mind, it’s easier to take a pill, and there are plenty of those available today.  But there’s a downside to that easy fix.  With those pills comes the possibility of unwanted side effects that may not be worth the risk. 

Many prescription or over-the-counter sleep medications cause unwanted symptoms such as daytime drowsiness.  With repeated use, these substances can also cause dependency.  But, in the 1990s, a new drug was introduced to combat those side effects.  Since then, the drug known as Ambien (zolpidem) has become the most widely used sleep medication in America.  

What is Ambien?

Ambien (zolpidem tartrate) is a sedative-hypnotic that provides relief from insomnia.  It belongs to a group of medicines known as central nervous system (CNS) depressants.  The drug works by slowing down the central nervous system to induce sleep.  It is available in immediate-release or extended-release tablets.  

Soon after taking a dose of Ambien, a person will become very sleepy and remain sleepy for some time.  The recommended time to take this drug is right at bedtime.  Also, it’s best not to take the drug if unable to stay in bed for at least 7 or 8 hours.  Ambien is intended for short-term use and should not be used for longer than two weeks due to the risk of developing a dependence on the drug.

Immediate-release forms of zolpidem include Ambien, Intermezzo, Edluar, and Zolpimist.  The extended-release form is known as Ambien CR and it consists of two layers.  The first layer is designed to dissolve quickly to help a person fall asleep.  The second layer dissolves slowly to provide longer-lasting results.

Ambien (zolpidem) was approved for medical use in 1992 and was available in generic form in 2007.  It is a Schedule IV drug under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA).  This classification means the drug has a low potential for abuse and a low risk of dependence.  However, when taken in high doses, it can produce euphoria.  This experience may lead a person to want more of the drug.  

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 500,000 Americans abuse Ambien.  Also, they report that about 38 million prescriptions were written for zolpidem (Ambien) in the US in a five-year period.

Risks and Side Effects of Ambien Use

At first, Ambien was touted as a safe sleep aid when used short-term.  But, it took over 20 years for the serious side effects to become apparent.  By then, millions of people were using or dependent on the medication. 

As with any prescription medication, side effects vary.  For instance, some individuals experience nausea and vomiting when first beginning to use the medication.  Others experience allergic reactions such as hives, swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat.  Allergic reactions may also result in breathing problems.  

One of the most concerning side effects of Ambien is that many people engage in an activity while under the influence of the drug and have no memory of it.   Some of the activities may include driving, making phone calls, walking around, eating, and more.  This type of sleep-walking can result in serious injuries or death.  These instances are often called Ambien blackouts.  

Other risks and side effects of Ambien may include the following:

Physical side effects:

  • Daytime drowsiness, dizziness
  • Headaches, lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Impaired vision
  • Slow breathing rate
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tolerance, dependence, or addiction

Cognitive or Psychological side effects:

  • Confusion, disorientation, hallucinations
  • Anxiety, depression, agitation, aggression
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself
  • Memory problems
  • Emotional blunting
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Unusual behavior
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Nightmares

Anyone experiencing one or more of the above symptoms should contact their physician right away.  Also, the side effects can be reported to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

Ambien should not be used with alcohol and may also cause adverse reactions when taken with other CNS depressants.  People who use Ambien should avoid operating machinery, driving a vehicle, piloting an airplane, or anything else that requires alertness.  

Signs and Symptoms of Ambien Dependence or Addiction

When used on a short-term basis, Ambien is considered safe. Anyone using Ambien must strictly follow dosage directions and never increase the dosage without consulting a physician. 

Signs that a person is dependent on or addicted to Ambien may include the following:

  • Withdrawal symptoms when the drug is withheld.
  • Strong cravings for the drug.
  • Buying Ambien illegally.
  • Using Ambien with other substances.
  • Forging prescriptions.
  • Unable to stop using the drug.
  • Doctor-shopping to get extra prescriptions for Ambien.
  • Using Ambien every night whether needed or not.
  • Sleeping through daily responsibilities or events.
  • Crushing the pills and snorting the powder.
  • Continuing to use Ambien regardless of dangerous behaviors.

Because Ambien carries a risk for dependence or addiction, it’s best to seek other non-addictive substances or natural methods to help with sleep disturbances.  Women who are pregnant or are breastfeeding should avoid Ambien.  People over the age of 65 should try other methods for addressing their sleep issues.  Unfortunately, despite these warnings, thousands of people have developed Ambien addiction and suffered life-changing consequences. 

It is possible to overdose on Ambien, especially when using the drug for recreational purposes.  Signs of overdose can include shallow breathing, slowed heartbeat, or loss of consciousness. 

Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms

Generally, Ambien starts working within 30 minutes.  The half-life of Ambien is about 2.5 to 3 hours.  This is the length of time it takes the body to eliminate half the dose.  Some individuals experience withdrawal symptoms when Ambien is suddenly discontinued.  This is an indication that the brain and body have become dependent on the drug.  The symptoms are similar to those experienced by individuals who try to withdraw from benzodiazepines. 

The withdrawal timeline varies with each person, but in most cases, it goes like this:

4 to 8 hours after last dose: Mild symptoms appear.
24 to 48 hours after last dose: Rebound insomnia, anxiety, tremors, cravings, delirium, psychosis, seizures.
3 to 5 days after last dose: Withdrawal symptoms begin to subside, but some can last for several weeks.  

Ambien withdrawal symptoms will vary in intensity depending on the dosage amounts and other factors.  The symptoms can include, but are not limited to:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety, panic attacks
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating 
  • Restlessness
  • Delirium

When these symptoms appear, some people seek more of the drug to make the symptoms go away.  Over time, this behavior leads to Ambien addiction and may result in severe consequences to the person’s health and life.

Treatment for Ambien Addiction at Cycles of Change Recovery

The best option for stopping Ambien is to gradually decrease the dosage according to a physician’s advice.  However, in many cases, professional addiction treatment is needed to help a person overcome Ambien addiction.

Research shows that most individuals need at least 90 days to completely change their addictive behaviors. Also, addiction specialists agree that inpatient programs provide the best environment for overcoming addictions.  Within a secure, comforting, drug-free atmosphere, clients can relax and focus entirely on healing.  

At Cycles of Change Recovery, we offer a comprehensive program that helps clients acquire the skills needed to avoid drugs.  Also, with our help, clients gain the confidence and self-esteem that will serve as a foundation for building a healthier, drug-free future. 

We understand that addiction is more than a physical issue.  It also involves emotional and mental aspects that contribute to substance abuse.  With that knowledge, we have created a program that helps clients heal mentally, physically, and spiritually so they can truly enjoy a purposeful, fulfilling life.

Contact us today at our Palmdale, California facility today to learn more about how we can help you overcome Ambien addiction.


medlineplus.gov – Zolpidem

dea.gov – Drug Scheduling


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