Ambien Use, Abuse & Addiction
Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
You struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, and your insomnia begins to interfere with work or school. What happens next? Head to the doctor, and you could get a prescription for Ambien.
Zolpidem (the generic form of Ambien) is a sedative-hypnotic drug that slows activity within your brain. After a few doses, you could find that sleep comes easier.
But some people abuse Ambien. They:
- Take the drug without a doctor’s prescription.
- Use more than doctors recommend.
- Take the drug to feel high.
Abuse Ambien for too long, and you can develop an addiction. Your life revolves around getting or taking zolpidem, and you’ll keep taking the drug despite the consequences.
What Is Ambien?
More than 8 million Americans take prescription sleeping pills like Ambien. They hope medications will settle their racing thoughts and deliver relief from persistent sleeplessness. When taken properly, zolpidem can do just that.
Zolpidem is chemically formulated to slow electrical activity inside your brain. For at least eight hours, you will feel sedated and relaxed. You won’t be able to jump up and worry, as you’ll feel a desperate craving for sleep.
A medication like this can break a streak of sleeplessness. A short, drug-induced recess could be just what you need to start sleeping soundly every night. Most people use Ambien for just a few weeks, and they can then rest without the help of chemicals.
More than 3 million people used Ambien in 2019. Check in any medicine cabinet in America, and you might find white or orange tablets stamped with “AMB” and the dosage level.
Ambien Side Effects Everyone Should Know
Prescription medications are generally considered safe when used as directed by a doctor. But drugs like Ambien are powerful, and they can deliver unexpected consequences.
Common Ambien side effects include the following:
These are serious side effects associated with Ambien:
- Unconscious behavior: People sleep, drive, eat, and talk while in Ambien-induced sleep states. You will awaken and remember nothing.
- Unusual thoughts: Some people become outgoing or aggressive. Others become depressed or suicidal.
- Memory loss: You may forget things you’ve done at night, and you may struggle to remember things you learned during the day.
Using Ambien with another medication could make complications worse, and more than 400 drugs interact with zolpidem. Get the medication from your doctor, and those drug interactions could be avoided. Your doctor or pharmacist will spot them and suggest an alternative.
But if you buy the drug from dealers or borrow doses from friends, you could step right into problems you weren’t aware of.
Why Do People Abuse Ambien?
Years ago, doctors used sedatives to help people sleep. But drugs like Valium are easy to abuse, and many people with prescriptions took too many and got hooked. Zolpidem and other sedative-hypnotics seemed safer until researchers discovered something.
In 2007, researchers found that zolpidem was more addictive than previously thought. Study after study confirmed that fact, and the dangers became clear.
In time, experts discovered Valium and Ambien seemed similar to drug abusers. Both drugs made users feel relaxed and a little bit high.
People abuse sedatives and sedative-hypnotics for all sorts of reasons. But often, abuse begins due to sleeplessness. Almost 21 percent of drug users say they need these drugs to help them sleep.
Consider someone with a longstanding cocaine habit. Stimulant drugs keep this person awake and edgy for days, and in time, their bodies crave sleep. But their cocaine doses are active and keep the mind whirling. Ambien is enough to stop that process and allow the user to sleep.
Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms Are Serious
You’ve taken Ambien for weeks, and you’re ready to quit. But deep inside your brain, your cells are dependent on the drug. Stop quickly, and those cells will react.
Within about 48 hours of your last dose, you may develop the following symptoms:
- Panic attacks
- Stomach cramps
- Uncontrollable crying
Your symptoms peak in a few days, but you might remain uncomfortable for a week or more.
Anyone who has taken Ambien for several weeks can expect withdrawal symptoms. Physical dependence can happen to anyone.
The real danger occurs in people who are both physically and psychologically addicted to Ambien. Someone like this has cells that need Ambien to function properly. And this person has habits and opinions and feelings that keep the abuse alive.
Withdrawal symptoms in an addicted person can quickly lead to relapse. You know that the drug you’ve taken can make you feel better physically. And emotionally, you don’t think you can stop using the prescription without help.
Once you relapse due to withdrawal, you may believe that you will never get sober. Each time you try to quit, you think you’ll need the drug so much that you’ll be forced to return to it.
How Is Ambien Addiction Treated?
It’s never smart to quit Ambien quickly. A tapering dose allows your brain and body to adjust to life without the drug.
People with an Ambien addiction need more than simple detoxification. You need to learn how to build healthy habits, new connections, and supportive relationships. A life like this can help you avoid the temptation to use again.
An addiction treatment program can address the reasons why you abused zolpidem in the first place. In treatment, you can build a healthier life that doesn’t include drug abuse.
Zolpidem. (November 2019). U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Sleepless in the States: Nearly 9 Million Pop Pills for Shut-Eye. (August 2013). NBC.
Ambien Interactions. Drugs.com.
Evidence of Zolpidem Abuse and Dependence: Results of the French Centre for Evaluation and Information on Pharmacodependence (CEIP) Network. (August 2007). British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics. National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics.
Prescribing Information. (February 2008). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.