Ambien Addiction and Abuse
What is Ambien?
Ambien is one of several non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic drugs prescribed to help with certain types of sleep problems. Ambien is used to treat insomnia and is the branded version of the generic drug zolpidem.2
Ambien and other non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics are sometimes referred to as “z-drugs”. Ambien is available in both immediate- and continuous release tablets that are intended for oral use. Ambien is thought to slow certain types of brain activity to allow people an easier time falling or staying asleep.2
Ambien is intended for short-term use. The drug may not be as effective with longer term use2 (clinical studies have demonstrated efficacy for only 35 days).1 The potential for abuse and physiological dependence may increase if the drug is used in larger doses, more frequently, or for longer periods of time than prescribed.2 The high that someone may experience from a sedative medication like Ambien is said to be similar to that of intoxication from alcohol.3
Other types of z-drugs include:4
- Other forms of zolpidem, such as Ambien CR, Edluar, and Zolpimist.
- Eszopiclone (Lunesta).
- Zaleplon (Sonata).
Sedative-hypnotic drugs like Ambien are widely used, with some estimates pointing to as many as 33% of elderly patients in North America being prescribed a benzodiazepine or z-drug for their sleep problems.3
Sedative-hypnotic Use Disorder
A sedative-hypnotic use disorder, like other substance use disorders, is diagnosed by treatment professionals using a set of criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).
A person who meets at least 2 criteria in a year-long period may be diagnosed with a sedative-hypnotic use disorder. A few of the criteria include:5
Ambien Addiction Signs
Although an official addiction diagnosis should be made by a qualified professional, there are several adverse drug effects and other signs that, when consistently present, may suggest potential misuse in person who is using Ambien.6 These can include:1
- Profound drowsiness or uncharacteristic tiredness during the day.
- Frequent dizziness, weakness, or lightheadedness.
- Anterograde amnesia or memory loss.
- Marked confusion.
- Feeling “drugged” in association with the use of this medication.
- Frequently elevated mood or euphoria.
- Gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea.
- Simultaneous use of alcohol or other drugs while taking Ambien.
Ambien Effects on the Body and Brain
Tolerance, dependence, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms are possibilities when someone takes Ambien—even if they take it in the manner their doctor prescribed.3
Historically, z-drugs have been preferentially used over benzodiazepines and barbiturates for sleep issues since they are associated with fewer side effects, however there have been increasing numbers of reports of certain types of adverse events.3
For example, some patients have reported hallucinations, psychosis, as well as bizarre and complex behavioral effects when taking zolpidem.3 In people who develop a significant amount of physiological dependence while using Ambien, associated withdrawal symptoms to look out for can include:1, 2
- Stomach and muscle cramps.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Sweating and/or flushing.
Can You Overdose on Ambien?
Ambien overdose is possible, especially if Ambien has been combined with other substances, specifically central nervous system depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines. Overdosing on zolpidem alone or with another substance can cause:1
- Cardiovascular and or respiratory compromise.
- Extreme sleepiness and loss of consciousness.
Medical professionals might recommend both short- and long-term treatment if someone is diagnosed with a sedative-hypnotic use disorder. In the short term, the patient may need to detox from Ambien and other substances, sometimes at a detox facility to monitor for and medically manage potentially serious withdrawal symptoms.
In the longer term (after detox and withdrawal management), patients who attend a treatment facility would participate in different types of counseling and therapy.
- Motivational interviewing might be used when a patient may not yet be fully committed to sobriety and recovery. This approach has the clinical professional motivating the patient through empathy, pointing out discrepancies between the patient’s goals and their substance use, and capitalizing on optimism.3, 7
- Cognitive behavioral therapy is commonly used in substance abuse treatment for many different types of substances and addictions. Through this, clinical professionals can help patients realize the triggers in their lives that might lead to substance abuse and build up tools to deal with these triggers in the future.3
Depending on the facility the patient attends, aftercare planning and a way to stay in touch with their peers or staff can continue to help them stay on the path to recovery.
Addiction Treatment at Recovery First
Recovery First Treatment Center offers addiction treatment for Ambien, other sedative-hypnotics, and a host of other substances. The facility also has the tools to help those who might be using multiple substances—such as Ambien and benzodiazepines—and those with mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.
If you’re interested in more information about Recovery First’s approach to treatment, call our Admissions Navigators any time day or night at .
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Ambien a controlled substance?
Yes. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has labeled Ambien a Schedule IV substance. This means that it is thought to have relatively lower potential for abuse and risk of dependence compared with higher scheduled drugs such as heroin and cocaine.8 However, this classification does not mean that it cannot be abused or cause tolerance or dependence.2
Is Ambien safe?
Ambien is safe to use, provided that a medical professional has prescribed it and that you use Ambien as intended. Ambien does have side effects, even when used properly, including:1
- Allergic reactions such as swelling and skin reactions.
- Dry mouth.
If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor. If Ambien doesn’t help your sleep problems after 7-10 days, it’s recommended you talk to your doctor about different options.1
Does Ambien cause weight gain?
Weight gain is not listed as a side effect by the company or the FDA.1 However, there have been a handful of incidences where complex behavioral changes—such as sleep eating—have led those who take Ambien to consume food while asleep.9
Does Ambien cause dementia?
There has been some evidence that Ambien may increase the potential for a patient 65 years old or older to develop a type of reversible dementia.10 It has not been definitively proven, and there’s a theory that lack of sleep—not the use of Ambien—could be the potential catalyst.11