Dangers of Ambien Addiction
Although Ambien is a commonly prescribed drug, it is also a drug that is misused and abused. The statistics on Ambien use are hard to know for certain, but benzodiazepines, which are similar in composition to Ambien, are abused by around 5.4 million people per year. 1 In Nevada, benzodiazepines make up approximately 26% of all prescribed medications.2 This page will help you understand the scope of Ambien abuse and how to know how and where to get into a treatment program for Ambien recovery.
What is Ambien?
Ambien is the brand name of the drug zolpidem, which is part of a group of prescription medications known as “z-drugs.” Other z-drugs include zaleplon (marketed under the brand name Sonata) and zopiclone (brand name, Lunesta). Ambien and other z-drugs were developed as alternatives to more traditional benzodiazepines that are prescribed for insomnia, such as Restoril, Versed, Dalmane, and Halcion.3.4 Z-drugs were thought to be less addictive and much safer than traditional benzodiazepines, but there are still risks associated with Ambien, as well as Sonata and Lunesta.4 Ambien is a short-acting medication that is classified as a hypnotic. Ambien acts to inhibit the activity of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which leads to drowsiness.5
Side Effects of Ambien Use
The most common side effects from Ambien are dizziness, diarrhea, and drowsiness in the first few weeks of taking it. After a month or so, the drowsiness tends to go away, but a drugged feeling occurs in some people.6(adverse reactions) Some people experience hallucinations, worsening depression, or changes in thoughts or behaviors.6(warnings) Long-term use can lead to tolerance, meaning that someone needs to take more of the drug to achieve the same effects. Furthermore, Ambien can lead to physical dependence and addiction in people who use it, which will be discussed further in the next section.5
Is Ambien Dangerous?
Another side effect of Ambien use is complex sleep behaviors. A complex sleep behavior happens when you are either fully or partially asleep, and you engage in activities such as cooking, driving, sleepwalking, or taking additional medications. Some of these activities can be incredibly dangerous; for example, people on Ambien have walked outside in extremely cold weather, shot themselves, overdosed, and fallen. The FDA notes that 20 deaths have occurred since 1992 from complex sleep behaviors with people taking Ambien.4 However, for most people, the side effects are less dramatic.
The addictive potential of Ambien is a real danger that has unfortunately gone underreported. When Ambien and the other z-drugs were marketed, the major selling point was that they were much less addictive than traditional benzodiazepines. While Ambien may not be as addictive as Xanax, for example, recent research indicates that z-drugs have the potential for tolerance, physical dependence, and withdrawal. In addition, recreational abuse of Ambien is common. One of the reasons for the increasing misuse and abuse of these drugs is that they are not usually monitored by drug treatment programs. The rates of abuse rise with taking higher doses or when a person injects Ambien. 5 (misuse, abuse section) There are numerous reports that the abrupt discontinuation of Ambien and other z-drugs results in symptoms of withdrawal like those experienced by people who suddenly stop taking benzodiazepines. These Ambien withdrawal symptoms include:5
- high blood pressure.
- stomach pain.
- mental confusion.
Ambien is involved in numerous episodes of overdose and drug use disorders as reported by physicians. Around 11% of all adverse reactions reported from the use of Ambien involved either misuse or overdoses. Negative outcomes have also been reported when people take Ambien with other drugs, such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants, or alcohol. 5In addition, Ambien is more likely to result in a fatal outcome than other types of z-drugs.5Studies indicate that Ambien abuse and dependence have occurred in people with no prior drug misuse, but the research is not conclusive. However, Ambien abuse is more likely to occur when a person has either an underlying psychiatric issue or suffers from chronic pain.7 Other research confirms that Ambien is more addictive than previously thought and should be prescribed with caution.8 The use of hypnotics, including Ambien, has been associated with an overall increase in death rates.9
Signs & Symptoms of Ambien Addiction
The research literature contains reports of Ambien addiction, with people reporting using Ambien to get high, having discovered Ambien for recreational purposes. However, Ambien addiction also occurs in those who have been prescribed Ambien for sleep disorders, 5Whether you have been prescribed Ambien, or obtained it through other means, the signs of addiction to Ambien include:10
- Increased conflict with family members over your use of Ambien.
- Spending a good deal of time looking for, using, and recovering from the use of Ambien.
- Using Ambien when you are engaging in risky activities, such as driving or swimming.
- Being unable to fulfill your responsibilities at home or work because of your Ambien use.
- Foregoing hobbies and leisure pursuits in favor of taking Ambien.
- Trying to cut back on Ambien use, but being unable to do so.
- Continuing to take Ambien, even knowing that it makes physical or mental issues worse.
- Taking more Ambien than you originally intended to take.
- Cravings to use Ambien.
- Tolerance to Ambien, needing to take more of it to achieve the same effects.
- Physical withdrawal if suddenly stopping use of Ambien.
Treatment for Ambien Addiction
Treatment for Ambien addiction depends on numerous factors that can only be determined through a careful assessment of your medical and mental health needs, but it generally follows the approach to other types of benzodiazepine addiction treatment. While some people will be better detoxing on an outpatient basis, others with a more severe addiction should detox in an inpatient setting. Due to the numerous potential withdrawal symptoms, particularly those that are more significant (i.e., seizures, hallucinations, mental confusion, and severe insomnia), medically supervised treatment is important.
Detox is typically the first stage of treatment to safely get Ambien out of your system, and in some cases, a physician may prescribe medication to help ease your withdrawal symptoms. It is important to note that detox is not treatment, and detox should be followed by ongoing treatment to determine what led to your Ambien addiction. Ongoing treatment will help you understand the triggers for your addiction and how to avoid relapse once you have completed treatment. 11
How to Get Help for Ambien Addiction
If you or a loved one need help with an Ambien addiction, American Addiction Centers is a leading provider of Ambien rehab and treatment in Nevada and across the United States. At American Addiction Centers, you will find compassionate staff members who will work with you to determine the best treatment plan for you. Please call our 24/7 free and confidential helpline today to speak to one of our treatment advisors to start your journey to recovery from Ambien addiction.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Key substance use and mental health indicators: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
- Reno Police Department. (2019). Prescription drug misuse in Nevada: Local trends and case studies.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020).
- Food and Drug Administration. (2019). Taking z drugs for insomnia? Know the risks.
- Schifano, F., Chiappini, S., Corkery, J.M., & Guirguis, A. (2019). An insight into Z-drug abuse and dependence: An examination of reports to the European Medicines Agency database of suspected adverse drug reactions. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 22(4), 270-277.
- Food and Drug Administration. (2008).
- Licata, S. C., Mashhoon, Y., Maclean, R. R., & Lukas, S. E. (2011). Modest abuse-related subjective effects of zolpidem in drug-naive volunteers. Behavioural Pharmacology, 22(2), 160–166.
- Chiaro, G., Castelnovo, A., Bianco, G., Maffei, P., & Manconi, M. (2018). Severe chronic abuse of zolpidem in refractory insomnia. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 14(7), 1257–1259.
- Kripke, D. F., Langer, R. D., & Kline, L. E. (2012). Hypnotics’ association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study. BMJ Open, 2(1).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). The science of drug use and addiction: The basics.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
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