Ambien Addiction

Even though Ambien is widely marketed and known as a solution for insomnia, it has addictive characteristics that can make users develop a dependence on it.

Zolpidem addiction | Table of Contents

What is Ambien (Zolpidem)?

Ambien, the brand name of zolpidem, is a medication that is widely prescribed as a sleep aid. Ambien works by creating a strong sedative effect by binding itself to the neuroreceptors that reduce brain activity.

Ambien is usually available as a small, oblong tablet or as an extended-release tablet to be taken orally. Street names of Ambien may include no-gos, zombie pills, sleepeasy, tic-tacs, and A-minus.

When benzodiazepines, such as Halcion, came under public scrutiny for their addictive nature and side effects, Ambien was marketed as a safer alternative with a lower risk of addiction. It was initially developed to have the same medical impact as benzodiazepines but without its dangerous and habit-forming properties. However, experts later discovered that Ambien was also an addictive drug. Even though it may take longer to form an addiction to Ambien and withdrawals are less severe and fatal compared to Benzodiazepine, users still stand a chance of developing an addiction towards the drug.

Ambien was categorized as a schedule IV controlled substance in the hopes of averting individuals from abusing the drug for recreational purposes. However, it has been observed that many users abuse Ambien for its hallucinatory and euphoric effects. Unfortunately, the risk of Ambien abuse is very similar to that of benzodiazepine abuse.


What drug class is Ambien?

Ambien (Zolpidem) falls under the class of medications called sedative-hypnotics.

What is the drug Ambien prescribed for?

Ambien (Zolpidem) is used in treating insomnia.

How long should someone be on Ambien?

Ambien is typically recommended for less than six weeks.

Ambien Effects and Reasons for Abuse

It is considered abuse when Ambien is taken without a prescription, consumed more than what was prescribed or consuming it in a manner that is opposed to that of the doctor’s prescription.

When users start taking large amounts of Ambien to assist in sleeping, they start building up a tolerance to the drug. This strengthens the users’ dependence on the drug to sleep and causes them to increase their dosage without proper medical advice.

Most users take Ambien hours before going to bed, as this produces a euphoria that removes self-conscious behavior and insecurity. However, Doctors prescribe Ambien only to be taken immediately before hitting the bed.

Ambien is an effective central nervous system depressant. When taken in large doses, Ambien can slow down the heart rate and breathing, eventually leading to respiratory failure resulting in a fatal overdose.

It can be quite difficult to detect an Ambien overdose as the signs can be very similar to that of the drug’s effects. However, an unusual heartbeat or breathing rate is an indication that the user is in danger and requires medical help immediately.

Here are some of the signs of Ambien abuse:

  • Impaired co-ordination and balance
  • Frequent blackouts
  • Uninhibited sociability and talkativeness
  • Strange behaviors with no memory of it later
  • Sleepwalking
  • Hypersexual behavior


Can Ambien make you crazy?

Ambien has a reputation for its weird and wacky side effects, which include reduced awareness, changes in behavior, memory problems, hallucinations, and sleep walking.

Is Ambien good for sleep?

Ambien (Zolpidem), slows down brain activity, enabling you to sleep. The immediate-release version helps you sleep faster by dissolving right away. The XR version is composed of two layers — the first layer aids you to fall asleep, and the second dissolves slowly, so you stay asleep.

Can Ambien cause permanent memory loss?

All sleep medication should be used with caution in the elderly, as they can cause cognitive impairment, including amnesia.

Why is Ambien bad for you?

A new study has linked popular sleeping pills such as Ambien with a nearly five-fold increased risk of early death.

How long do Ambien hallucinations last?

People taking Ambien (zolpidem) have reported hallucinations that last anywhere between one and seven hours.

Does Ambien prevent deep sleep?

Taking drugs such as Ambien may help sedate a person, but sedation is not the same as sleep. In fact, these hypnotic drugs can limit the deeper brain waves produced during REM sleep.

Addiction to Ambien

Ambien belongs to a class of sedative-hypnotics that is intended for short-term use. Ambien is produced in two forms:

  • The extended-release form – This form is helpful for initiating sleep.
  • The quick-release form – This form is helpful for maintaining sleep.

Dependence on Ambien may form in as little as two weeks, even while following a prescription from the doctor. Ambien dependence is usually recognized by the symptoms of tolerance and withdrawals.

Withdrawal symptoms tend to emerge when the user decides to stop consuming the drug or reduce their dosage. Users tend to be unaware of their condition until they stop taking Ambien abruptly and realize that they can no longer sleep without the drug.

Signs of an Ambien addiction include:

  • Refilling the prescriptions quite often
  • Taking larger doses of the drug repeatedly
  • Experiencing intense cravings for Ambien
  • Engaging in dangerous activities but having no memories of it later
  • Spending too much money on the drug
  • Keeping away from family and friends

The behavioral traits that signify an Ambien addiction are:

  • Unable to sleep without taking Ambien
  • Doctor shopping, i.e., visiting more than one doctor to get many prescriptions for Ambien
  • Spending a considerable amount of time and money to use and obtain Ambien
  • Failing to cut down on Ambien use
  • Continuous use of Ambien, despite the risks of engaging in dangerous activities like sleep-driving
  • Frequent issues at work, school, or home (e.g., absences, poor performance, neglecting responsibilities, etc.)

Since Ambien is prescribed by doctors and is usually given to induce sleep, many tend to underestimate the addictive nature of Ambien. After a few weeks of use, Ambien starts to become less effective, resulting in the over consumption of the drug to acquire the same effects. During this time, some users find it challenging to give up on the drug as their insomnia worsens.


How quickly does Ambien work?

Ambien works pretty fast and stays in the body for a short time. It shows results within 30 minutes, with maximum effects reached for most people within 1 to 2.5 hours, depending on whether the person has taken an immediate or extended-release version of the drug.

Is Ambien safe to take?

Ambien is accompanied by its share of side effects. However, it’s considered safer and less addictive than other benzodiazepines.

What sleeping pill works better than Ambien?

Lunesta is reported to be slightly more effective than the immediate-release form of Ambien in helping you stay asleep as it comes in a longer-acting form.

Does Ambien CR work better than Ambien?

Both contain the same active ingredient, but the two-layered Ambien CR works differently as it last longer. It not only helps you fall asleep, it ensures that you stay asleep through the night. It makes sure you wake up less often, and even if you wake up, you’ll go back to sleep immediately.

Why is Ambien considered a controlled substance?

It is easy to form a dependence on a drug such as Ambien, and some individuals may abuse it. Therefore it falls under federally controlled substances (C-IV).

Dangers of Ambien (Zolpidem)

In general, doctors prescribe Ambien for a maximum period of two weeks. The medication’s effectiveness diminishes beyond this period, and users who continue taking Ambien may accidentally or intentionally end up abusing the drug.

Many users have reportedly undergone many unusual and strange side effects from Ambien use, including going through a drowsy state to engaging in risky activities with no recollection of it later.

Few of the activities induced by Ambien abuse while asleep are:

  • Sleepwalking
  • Making and eating food
  • Having sex
  • Driving
  • Talking on the phone

Users who take Ambien and force themselves to stay awake have a higher chance of performing these actions while being unconscious. This phenomenon occurs as the drug reduces natural brain activity, inducing drowsiness to the extent of intense sedation and calmness.

Some other side effects of Ambien abuse are:

  • Amnesia
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unsteady gait
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Mental confusion
  • Uncontrollable shaking

In January of 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered a reduction in the recommended dosage of Ambien for women in extended-release formulas — down from 10 mg to 5 mg or 12.5 mg to 6.25. This order came about mainly because women metabolize Ambien slower than men.

It is reported that around 10-15 percent of women have had intoxication (to the extent of impaired focus and driving ability) eight hours after taking Ambien.


Can Ambien cause psychosis?

There are many case reports of Ambien (zolpidem) causing psychotic reactions in patients who have no history of the condition.

What happens if you take Ambien on a full stomach?

Ambien CR works faster when you take it on an empty stomach. Therefore it is not recommended to take Ambien CR right after a meal.

Can you take Ambien for years?

Ambien is not recommended for long-term use.

What are other alternatives to Ambien?

Lunesta (eszopiclone) and Sonata (zaleplon) are sedative-hypnotics that are similar to Ambien.

Is there an over the counter version of Ambien?

Over the counter sleep medication like Nyquil Cold or Ambien Flu can help you fall asleep as well.

Ambien Hallucinations

Some individuals may experience Ambien-induced hallucinations that occur due to various factors that are still investigated by researches. These hallucinations most likely develop in individuals who co-administer Ambien at high doses with other drugs such as anti-depressants, alcohol, benzodiazepines, other sedatives or sleeping pills/tranquilizers, or anti-anxiety medications. These hallucinations may include tactile, auditory, and visual hallucinations.

Common Drug Combinations

Alcohol is one of the most common substances that is generally consumed along with Ambien. Some users tend to consume alcohol with Ambien to enhance the sedative effects of the drug. This is considered dangerous as both substances act as stimulants that depress the central nervous system.

Some users combine benzos like Valium with Ambien as well. This can be deadly, as Ambien is quite similar to benzos, and they both act as central nervous system depressants. When both of them are combined, the risks of respiratory failure and fatal overdose dramatically increase. The heart, brain, and lungs are also at risk of being damaged.

Ambien Abuse Statistics

  • Two hundred twenty percent increase: The number of Ambien-related emergency room visits increased by nearly 220 percent between 2005 and 2010, up to 19,487 visits in that year, according to a news report from SAMHSA.
  • Five hundred thousand: More than half a million people in the United States are currently abusing Ambien and other sedatives, as estimated by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  • Thirty-eight million: Approximately 38 million prescriptions for Zolpidem drugs were written between 2006 and 2011, according to IMS Health.

What is Ambien (Zolpidem) Withdrawal?

When an individual stops taking Ambien abruptly or reduce the usual dose without medical guidance, his/her body may react negatively due to the sudden change in habit and may cause symptoms of withdrawal to appear. This is considered highly risky, as Ambien withdrawal symptoms can be severe, and some of its complications may even lead to death. Thus, it is advised to undergo a medically supervised detox program as it can help prevent any potential risks of withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms appear when the brain tries to reestablish regular activities that were changed due to a substance. This makes Ambien Withdrawal difficult for users because of the changes that may have taken place in the bran due to the drug.

Ambien withdrawal has the reverse effects of taking the drug, and thus, suddenly stopping the consumption of Ambien generally leads to more severe symptoms.

Depending on the doses consumed, frequency of use, and other factors, an individual may generally experience the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Cravings for the drug
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps or discomfort
  • Uncontrollable crying or depression
  • Flushing
  • Panic attacks
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Rebound insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Seizures

Although Ambien’s primary purpose is to treat sleeping disorders, especially short-term insomnia, some may develop a dependence upon them and find it hard to sleep without them. This phenomenon is called “rebound insomnia’’. This condition is regarded as a withdrawal symptom where the inability to have a sound sleep returns, often in a worse manner than before.

The risk of rebound insomnia increases when a user stops the consumption of Ambien abruptly. During this time, the risk of other dangerous complications, such as seizures or even delirium, increases.

Ambien functions by suppressing the central nervous system by decreasing the activity of certain nerves in the brain. The abrupt stop of Ambien consumption causes the brain to amplify its activity to help rebalance the connections. As a result, causing withdrawal symptoms.

Rather than quitting Ambien consumption abruptly, it is advised to talk with a physician or a medical professional regarding detox programs that help reduce Ambien doses gradually over time to prevent the emergence of any complicated side effects.

Rebound insomnia may persist for several weeks during detox. However, once individuals overcome their withdrawal period, sleep would come once more.

Ambien Withdrawal Duration

The duration of withdrawal from Ambien generally varies from individual to individual. Symptoms are known to last for as little as a few days or for as long as several weeks.

The most intense and prolonged withdrawal symptoms are generally seen in users who consumed larger quantities of Ambien over a long period of time.

An ideal dose of Ambien is around 5 mg on a daily basis. However, most addicts end up consuming far larger doses, often 10-20 mg per day or, at times, even a hundred.

Users who consumed Ambien CR (controlled release) should be aware that their withdrawal symptoms may last longer than those who consumed regular Ambien. Ambien CR is intended to keep users asleep, whereas regular Ambien is intended to help individuals fall asleep. Ambien CR keeps individuals asleep by remaining in their bodies for a longer period.

Individuals going through detox generally appear symptom-free after a period of 2 weeks, with the worst of the withdrawal symptoms occurring between the 3rd and 5th day. Symptoms that remain after two weeks or more are no longer considered acute withdrawal symptoms but are known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).

PAWS may generally last 18-24 months, depending on several factors. However, the symptoms tend to reduce in impact with time. Anxiety, poor concentration, insomnia, poor appetite, mood swings, irritability, and agitation are some of the common symptoms of PAWS.

Detox for Ambien Withdrawal

An Ambien detox usually involves a tapering-down program. This process allows a user’s dosage to be gradually reduced over time, giving him/her space and time to readjust to living without Ambien. A tapered-down detox helps keep the body from overreacting to the sudden changes as this could lead to panic attacks, convulsions, and dangerously high blood pressure.

The ultimate goal of Ambien detox is to reduce discomfort and prevent harmful symptoms of withdrawal. Some individuals can taper off from the drug in as little as two weeks, while some may take a few months.

Certain physicians advise Ambien users to switch to a more long-acting benzodiazepine such as Valium since the withdrawal symptoms of Ambien are quite similar to Benzos. Valium has been proven to help ease severe withdrawal symptoms of Ambien without the recurrence of any seizures.

It is important to note that Valium should not be used as a replacement medication as this, too, is an addictive substance intended for short-term use. Valium should only be prescribed by a physician as a medication to taper off Ambien.

Treatment for Ambien (Zolpidem) Addiction

It is essential to address both the physical and psychological effects of the drug on the user to treat Ambien addiction successfully. Detox is the first step of addiction treatment, executed through a taper-down schedule created by a physician to help the individual withdraw slowly from the drug without facing any adverse side effects.

The next step of treatment after detox is generally inpatient rehabilitation or long-term outpatient rehabs. Counseling and support groups also play a significant role in the recovery process.

Though most rehabs are capable of providing treatment to individuals with an Ambien addiction, some treatment centers are better equipped than others.

Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient rehab treatment is structured around a strict routine to help restore balance to a recovering addict’s life. Daily activities may include counseling, free time, support groups, and other activities. The strict structure of inpatient rehabs helps individuals addicted to Ambien restore and establish healthy sleeping habits.

Most Ambien users who try to stop consumption on their own relapse during the first few days of withdrawal as they experience severe insomnia. However, when the option of taking Ambien is removed, users are forced to focus on treatment and recovery.

An effective detox program is necessary to avoid dangerous withdrawal symptoms and to help ease discomfort. Therefore, medically assisted detox is also included in many inpatient rehabs as a part of their treatment program.

Individuals checking into inpatient care for an Ambien addiction generally stay between 30 to 90 days, but those who stay longer may increase their chances of long-term recovery.

Inpatient care is an ideal solution for those struggling with multiple addictions. Withdrawal symptoms arising from a polydrug addiction can be more intense than the symptoms of Ambien withdrawal alone. The chances of relapse are often higher for polydrug addiction.

Outpatient Clinics, Ongoing Treatment, and Relapse Prevention

Outpatient rehab is regarded as the best alternative for individuals with a mild to moderate Ambien addiction. Outpatient treatment allows individuals to maintain their jobs and personal life during treatment.

Patients at outpatient clinics sometimes attend group meetings and therapy at night, multiple times a week, to avoid major disruptions to their day-to-day life. Doctors in outpatient clinics help individuals addicted to Ambien gradually reduce their doses until it’s safe to quit entirely.

After the completion of the detox process, ongoing treatment is vital in maintaining sobriety. Patients are advised and encouraged to continue counseling and attend group meetings. These activities help an individual avoid relapse, as they have a strong support structure in place during trying times.

Tips for Managing Sleep Without Ambien

Retraining your biological clock

The presence of a regular bedtime helps the body’s internal clock adjust to a particular time of sleep. Most individuals following a routine sleep schedule naturally become tired and are prompted to sleep during their regular bedtime.

Ongoing counseling

Going to therapy routinely helps former addicts stay sober and sleep better. Since insomnia is often the symptom of an underlying issue like anxiety, stress, or depression, therapy can help one identify and deal with such issues.

Reducing stress

There are many activities available that can help reduce stress and induce proper sleep. Meditation, regular exercise, and even occasional massages are some such activities.

Cancel out distractions

Having a distraction-free sleep environment can make it easier to fall asleep. Putting up curtains with dark shades, blocking out light, leaving on a fan, and refraining from watching television or using your phone before bed are few effective ways to minimize distractions.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine

Stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol affect our sleep negatively.

“Alcohol may assist individuals in relaxing and falling asleep for a short period, but it can disrupt sleep over the course of the night.”

-National Sleep Foundation.

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