How Ambien Affects Your Body & Mind
Ambien is a medication that treats insomnia and is prescribed around 12 million times a year in the United States.1 While Ambien is taken by many people, it is not without its dangers. In fact, Ambien is associated with around 64,000 emergency room visits per year due to overmedication and adverse reactions.2 In addition, many people abuse Ambien recreationally.3 The purpose of this page is to inform you of the side effects of Ambien and how to get help if you become dependent or are abusing it, whether you are in Nevada or anywhere in the United States.
The Purpose of Ambien Prescriptions
Ambien is considered a “z-drug,” a group of drugs that were marketed in the early 1990s as an alternative to benzodiazepines for the management of insomnia. Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium, Halcion, and Dalmane, were the prescription of choice for many years to help people with insomnia. However, there was serious concern around the use of benzodiazepines because they were highly addictive and frequently abused.4,5 Both Ambien and benzodiazepines inhibit a neurotransmitter called GABA, which then leads to a person being able to fall asleep. When Ambien, along with Sonesta and Lunesta, came to the market, they were hailed as a much safer alternative to benzodiazepines and were thought to have little potential for addiction and abuse. However, recent studies have raised concerns about the safety of Ambien and its potential for abuse. 3
Side-Effects of Ambien
The most frequently reported side effects of Ambien are drowsiness, dizziness, diarrhea, and feeling drugged the next day. 6 In addition, next-day sleepiness when using Ambien has been cited as a serious concern by the FDA, which issued guidance and suggested that people take lower doses of Ambien to help combat next-day drowsiness and impaired driving.7
Physical Side Effects of Ambien
In addition to the most common side effects, there are other physical side effects of Ambien that, while not common, are reported quite frequently, including:8
- Low energy.
Other side effects that are fairly rare include:9
- Low blood pressure (hypotension).
- Blurred and/or double vision.
- Dry mouth.
- Joint and/or muscle pain.
- Whirling sensations.
- Urinary tract infection.
- Lower respiratory infections.
- Abnormal liver functioning.
- Bile flow issues.
- Lowered lung functioning.
- Loss of appetite.
- Chest pain.
- Excessive sweating.
- Pounding heart.
- Sores in the mouth.
Certainly, some of these side effects may be more severe than others. Some may be inconvenient, while others can be serious and require urgent medical intervention. Other side effects of Ambien are truly adverse reactions, which can be life-threatening. If you experience a serious reaction, you should call 911. While these adverse reactions are rare, they can occur and can result in:8
- Swelling of the face, tongue, and throat.
- Trouble breathing.
Cognitive & Behavioral Side-Effects
In addition to the physical side effects noted in the prior section, cognitive and behavioral side effects are associated with Ambien. These side effects are less frequently reported, but include:8.9
- Memory loss.
- Mental confusion.
- Agitation and irritability.
- Changes in sexual desire.
- Suicidal thoughts.
People do not overdose on Ambien very often, but it is critical to note that mixing Ambien with benzodiazepines or alcohol can result in an overdose, as all of these substances impact the central nervous system. The combination of these medications can result in severe cognitive impairment. In addition, the use of Ambien by elderly people is of concern due to the possible increased risk of falls and cognitive issues, but additional research is needed to fully determine the impact of Ambien on older people.10(p 3)
Complex Sleep Episodes
Other cognitive side effects called complex sleep episodes can also occur. While rare, it is important to be aware of these troubling side effects. Complex sleep episodes involve people engaging in behaviors that they do in their sleep and are unaware of at the time. People who take Ambien and similar medications, such as Sonata and Lunesta, may experience complex sleep episodes in which they cook, eat, and drive while asleep. People have fallen, had car accidents, burned themselves, shot themselves, and wandered outside in freezing temperatures while taking these medications. The FDA notes that a total of 66 serious complex sleep episodes involving Ambien and other related drugs have been verified since 1992, with 20 of these resulting in death.5
Ambien Dependence & Abuse
When Ambien was first introduced in 1992, it was touted as having a low potential for abuse and dependence, which made it a desirable alternative to highly addictive benzodiazepines. However, mounting evidence suggests that Ambien can cause physical dependence and has the potential to be used recreationally and induce euphoric highs. When you are physically dependent on a substance, this does not necessarily mean that you are abusing the substance. Physical dependence means that you need a substance to feel “normal.” However, people can move from physical dependence to abuse when they take Ambien in ways that it was not prescribed, such as injecting it or taking more than prescribed.11
The potential for abuse tends to be higher in people who have other issues with dependencies on other drugs or alcohol but abuse can occur in people with no prior history of drug misuse.3 When a person with no other drug or alcohol dependency issue develops a problem with Ambien, they are more likely to have a co-occurring psychiatric disorder or suffer from chronic pain. In general, high doses that are beyond the normal therapeutic dose of Ambien are more likely to result in dependence and abuse. However, it is important to note that these issues can happen in people who are not abusing Ambien and do not have a history of substance misuse.12
Whether you were prescribed Ambien or obtained it through other means, you can develop an Ambien use disorder. The signs of an Ambien use disorder include: 13
- Interpersonal conflict with loved ones over the use of Ambien.
- Finding yourself taking more Ambien than you originally planned to take.
- Driving, swimming, or engaging in other high-risk activities under the influence of Ambien.
- Not fulfilling your responsibilities at home, work, or school due to the use of Ambien.
- Giving up things like hobbies and leisure activities that you used to enjoy, due to using Ambien.
- Trying to stop using Ambien, or cut back, and being unable to do so.
- Using Ambien takes up a great deal of time. You also spend a lot of time finding Ambien or recovering from using Ambien.
- Using Ambien, despite being aware that it worsens any physical or emotional conditions you have.
- Developing tolerance to Ambien, which means you need more of it to get the same effects.
In addition, withdrawal can be a sign of an Ambien use disorder. You are physically dependent on Ambien when you have signs of withdrawal when you stop using Ambien. The most frequent signs of physical withdrawal from Ambien are:3
- High blood pressure.
- Abdominal pain.
Getting Help for Ambien Addiction
American Addiction Centers is a leading provider of Ambien rehab and treatment in Nevada and nationwide. At American Addiction Centers, you will find compassionate and caring staff members who will work with you to determine the best-personalized treatment plan for your Ambien addiction. At American Addiction Centers, we can help you comfortably manage your Ambien withdrawal in a safe and supervised environment. 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.
- com. (2021). Zolpidem tartrate.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). The DAWN report: Emergency room departments attributed to overmedication that involved the insomnia medication zolpidem.
- 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.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020).
- Food and Drug Administration. (2019). Taking z drugs for insomnia? Know the risks.
- Food and Drug Administration. (2008). Ambien CR.
- Food and Drug Administration. (2013). Some sleep drugs can impair driving.
- (2021). Ambien side effects.
- (2021). Ambien side effects by likelihood and severity.
- Concordia University St. Paul. (2017). Zolpidem (Ambien®): An introduction for professionals.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Tolerance, dependence, addiction. What’s the difference?
- 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.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). The science of drug use and addiction: The basics.
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