Ambien Addiction & Abuse
Ambien is , a nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic medication prescribed to treat insomnia. Zolpidem is also available under the brand names Edluar, Zolpimist, and a few others. Zolpidem is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for short-term use.1
Why Is Ambien Abused?
Ambien has been shown to be effective for up to 35 days in helping people fall asleep; longer-term use may not be indicated, as zolpidem’s efficacy beyond 4-5 weeks has not been demonstrated in clinical trials.2 Some people misuse Ambien to help manage anxiety, but it is not approved for this purpose.3 Ambien is a nonbenzodiazepine, and as such there is little medical data showing it is effective in treating anxiety.4 Using sleep medications for long-term insomnia is additionally discouraged due to the risk of developing dependence (meaning you come to need it to fall asleep, and may experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop using it). 4
Physiological dependence and addiction often go hand in hand. Although dependence alone doesn’t necessarily indicate the presence of a substance use disorder, people who develop significant physical dependence with Ambien may be more likely to continue use beyond prescribed parameters, which can place them at increased risk for compulsive misuse and addiction. Addiction means that you are no longer able to control your drug use and continue to use it despite negative consequences. Ambien dependence can fuel the cycle of addiction because people may start to crave the drug, feel unable to tolerate withdrawal symptoms, or be unable to sleep without it.
The Effects of Ambien (Zolpidem)
Ambien’s short-term and long-term effects can affect a person’s physical and mental state. These effects can vary from person to person and may change based on the dosage and length of time that you use the medication. In addition, some populations, such as the elderly and people with liver failure, may be more sensitive to Ambien effects.2
Immediate Effects of Ambien (Zolpidem)
Beyond its therapeutic effects, some of the short-term side effects of Ambien—namely, the potential for a dose-dependent, pleasant euphoria—may increase the likelihood of abuse. While the US Drug Enforcement Administration has listed zolpidem as a Schedule IV drug, meaning it has a low potential for abuse and dependency, some research evidence indicates that it may actually have significant abuse potential because of its reinforcing effects. The same research also suggests that zolpidem may have as high a risk of addiction as benzodiazepines. This may be a particular risk for people who have a previous history of other types of substance abuse, such as alcohol .5
Mixing Ambien & Alcohol
Mixing Ambien with alcohol or other central nervous system (CNS) depressants can amplify the immediate sedative effects of Ambien. Not only does this increase the risk of potentially-dangerous CNS depression, resulting in symptoms such as over-sedation, slowed reaction time, impaired coordination, and cardiorespiratory compromise, it can also increase your risk of unusual, complex sleep behaviors such as “sleep-driving,” which can pose obvious dangers to the affected individual, as well as those around them.2
Long term effects of Ambien (Zolpidem)
One of the most significant considerations regarding long-term Ambien use and misuse is the likelihood of physical dependence. Individuals who develop Ambien dependence may eventually need the drug to prevent withdrawal symptoms and to be able to fall asleep at all.4
Some long-term effects of Ambien use may include morning hangovers, memory loss (with amnesia reported in some cases), and, more rarely, dementia, and suicidal thoughts.4 Long-term Ambien use can also worsen pre-existing depression and anxiety.7
Some additional risks associated with Ambien dependence include an increased likelihood of withdrawal symptoms like rebound insomnia, where you are unable to sleep without taking the drug. In some cases, your sleep problems may seem worse than they were before you took Ambien. Additionally, some people may also experience seizures from withdrawal, but this is not a common effect.6
It is also possible to overdose on Ambien. Common Ambien overdose symptoms include:2, 7
- Somnolence (over-sedation).
- Impaired consciousness.
- Memory impairment or blackout.
- Slurred speech.
- Lack of control of voluntary movements.
- Cardiovascular problems.
- Respiratory depression.
- Death in association with anoxic brain injury (from slowed or stopped breathing).
Signs and Symptoms of Ambien Addiction
When used as directed for in the short-term, Ambien can be a safe, therapeutic medication. However, some of the risks of Ambien, such as those of physical dependence and addiction, may be significantly increased if the drug is used for periods longer than four weeks, if it is intentionally misused, or if it used in combination with other substances.4 Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that associated with problematic physical issues as well as changes in mental/behavioral health. The physical issues associated with Ambien addiction may involve changes in the way your body feels and functions, while the mental/behavioral changes can impact your behavior, mood, and psychological functioning.
Physical Symptoms of Ambien Addiction
Some of the signs and symptoms associated with Ambien intoxication, when frequently present or pronounced may suggest problematic use. These may include:7, 8
- Frequent drowsiness.
- Impaired reflexes and reduced motor skills.
- Slurred speech.
- Poor coordination or unsteady gait.
Behavioral Symptoms of Ambien Addiction
Though the characteristic behavioral changes may differ from one individual to the next, some potential signs of Ambien addiction include:8, 9
- Lying about or denying Ambien abuse.
- Using more Ambien than originally prescribed.
- Obtaining the drug illegally, forging prescriptions, or faking symptoms to get a prescription. Some people also “doctor shop,” meaning they visit multiple doctors to obtain more prescriptions.
- Legal troubles, such as arrests related to sleep-driving.
- Poor performance at work or school.
- Ignoring responsibilities so you can use.
- Cravings, or strong urges to use.
- New financial troubles, such as going into debt or being unable to pay bills.
- Strained or broken relationships related to Ambien use.
- Quitting previously loved hobbies or other activities you once enjoyed.
- Continuing to use despite knowing that you have developed adverse mental, physical, or social issues related to your Ambien use.
Some of these signs comprise elements of the individual diagnostic criteria that would be used to make a clinical diagnosis of Ambien addiction or sedative-hypnotic use disorder.
Ambien Withdrawal & Detox
While understanding the physical and behavioral symptoms of addiction can help you determine if you or someone you love truly has a problem, it is important to understand that the physical symptoms of ambien addiction and withdrawal can be the most challenging pieces of achieving sobriety.
That is why the first phase of addiction treatment for most programs often includes detox. Detox is generally a 5-7 day period in which you are supervised by clinicians or medical staff to ensure your health and safety are preserved. You can find more information on detox here.
Are You Struggling with Ambien Addiction?
Do you recognize any or several of the above signs, symptoms, or changes in behavior in yourself, a friend, or a loved one? Are you looking for help but are unsure where to start? If you suspect that you or someone you care about are struggling with Ambien addiction, please know that professional Ambien addiction treatment can help people stop the cycle of abuse and start leading a happier, healthier, and drug-free life.
How American Addiction Centers Can Help
As a leader among providers of addiction treatment in the United States, American Addiction Centers (AAC) is at the forefront of helping people reclaim their lives from addiction .7 American Addiction Centers provides care that treats people as a whole, by offering evidence-based care focused on addressing the underlying causes that contribute to addiction, as well as physical and mental health disorders, and readjusting socially without the use of substances.7, 8
Still Unsure About Seeking Treatment?
Deciding to seek treatment for ambien addiction can seem scary, especially if you don’t know what to expect. Substance use disorders are complicated and can affect every area of a person’s life, so a good treatment program will address all of these aspects.
Since addiction is experienced differently by each person, treatment should be tailored as well, by providing different settings, methods, and services based on a person’s individual needs.
Treatment doesn’t simply address addiction but also focuses on any other issues that may be present, including physical health conditions, mental health disorders, social issues, work concerns, and legal troubles.
If you are still unsure about how treatment works, how to ask for help, or how to get treatment, consider our rehab guides.