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Signs of Ambien Abuse

Ambien is a highly effective sedative that can treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. However, approximately 500,000 individuals in the United States are estimated to abuse this drug. 

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Key Facts

  • Signs of Ambien abuse include excessive drowsiness, nausea, depressed breathing, euphoria, memory loss, and cognitive issues.
  • Early intervention for Ambien abuse is always associated with a reduced long-term risk of negative physical and mental health outcomes.

What Is Ambien?

Ambien is a prescription medication that contains zolpidem tartrate. It’s FDA approved for the short-term treatment of insomnia, typically involving an inability to fall asleep. Other brand-name forms of zolpidem tartrate include Zolpimist, Intermezzo, and Edluar.

Ambien is a sedative that activates the neurotransmitter GABA. This slows down activity in the central nervous system. The result is a sedative effect, which helps users to fall and stay asleep.

Ambien was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1992 due to increasing concerns about the habit-forming effects of benzodiazepines. Ambien has since become the most commonly prescribed medication for insomnia.

While Ambien is generally considered safe when used as directed, it can cause serious problems. In 2019, researchers published a study of Ambien abuse based on calls made to emergency services. Of the more than 206,000 calls regarding zolpidem between 2003 and 2017, 40% typically involved drug use disorder.

In 2021, researchers published a study of Ambien abuse and determined that problems were more common in women, people with poor mental health, and people with underlying pain syndromes.

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Ambien Abuse?

Ambien abuse refers to the consumption of the drug in any other way than what is explicitly written on the prescription label, such as consuming higher doses of the drug or using it more frequently than prescribed.

Ambien abuse can produce both physical and psychological effects. If you are abusing Ambien, it is likely that you will experience a combination of these effects.

Physical Effects

Some of the short-term side effects associated with Ambien include the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Sedation
  • Doing things like driving without remembering it

Ambien abuse can quickly escalate to addiction, particularly once physical dependence forms.

Physical effects associated with long-term abuse of Ambien include the following:

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Loss of motor coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Physical fatigue
  • Unconsciousness
  • Respiratory problems
  • Staggering gait
  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Increased risk of pregnancy complications
  • Muscle pain
  • Problems with muscle control

Mental & Emotional Effects

Some of the short-term mental health side effects associated with Ambien include the following:

  • Abnormal thoughts and behavior
  • Memory loss
  • Anxiety

Ambien abuse can have mental and emotional effects, such as these:

  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Cognitive fatigue
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Hypersexual behavior
  • Uninhibited sociability

Ambien abuse can also have an impact on your cognitive health. For example, in 2015, researchers performed a study on more than 8,400 people 65 and older with dementia and more than 16,800 without. They found that people who used zolpidem had a higher rate of dementia than those who didn’t use the drug.

In a literature review published in 2021, researchers examined data from multiple sources about zolpidem use and mental health changes. They found people developed several mental health issues on the medication, such as these:

  • Compulsive behavior
  • Self-harm
  • Violent acts

How to Recognize Ambien Addiction

Ambien abuse can quickly escalate to addiction, particularly once physical dependence forms. Someone who is addicted to Ambien will consistently abuse the drug by consuming it in a way other than intended. Other signs and symptoms of Ambien addiction include the following:

  • Consistent grogginess
  • Changes in behavior
  • Continued abuse of Ambien despite negative effects in various areas of life
  • Issues at work or school as a result of Ambien abuse, such as missing days or having a decline in performance
  • Financial difficulties as a result of Ambien abuse
  • Health problems resulting from Ambien abuse, such as respiratory difficulties or memory loss
  • Isolation from family and friends  
  • Persistent cravings for Ambien
  • Combining Ambien with other substances of abuse, like alcohol
  • Depression
  • Coordination and balance issues
  • Withdrawal symptoms when Ambien use is stopped or reduced
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you or someone you know experiences suicidal thoughts, this should be considered an emergency. Contact your doctor as soon as possible or call 911.

Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms

If you experience withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to reduce your Ambien dose or stop taking it altogether, it’s a sign that physical dependence is present. Ambien withdrawal symptoms will be more severe if you have consumed the drug for longer periods of time or in higher doses. 

The following are possible symptoms of Ambien withdrawal:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Panic
  • Tremors
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Seizures
  • Cramping
  • Difficulty regulating emotions

Ambien has a half-life of approximately two to three hours, and withdrawal symptoms may occur as soon as six to eight hours following your last dose. Withdrawal symptoms will likely peak between one and five days after the last use of the drug. They’ll then gradually decline for up to two weeks. 

It is rare for withdrawal symptoms to last more than two weeks, but some symptoms may persist beyond that timeline for some people. Talk to your doctor if symptoms are still present at that point. 

Ambien Overdose: What to Do

The best thing to do if someone you know is overdosing on Ambien is call 911. Ambien-related emergency cases have increased in the past five years, with women accounting for a significantly higher number of cases than men. This may be due to a smaller average body mass index (BMI) of women, thus increasing the relative physical risk when a similar dose has been consumed. 

The following signs are potential indications of an Ambien overdose:

  • Reduced respiratory rate 
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Extreme drowsiness and slurred speech
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Entry into a coma-like state

Individuals who are over the age of 65 are at a greater risk of overdosing on Ambien. Additionally, the consumption of multiple drugs in conjunction with Ambien (known as polysubstance abuse) increases the risk of an overdose. 

One of the most common causes of emergency room visits related to Ambien is combined use of this medication with alcohol. Consuming Ambien in conjunction with other sedatives and some antidepressants can interfere with neurotransmitter production and activity in the brain, leading to an extreme state of sedation and a potential risk of coma. 

Treatment Options for Ambien Addiction

Ambien can be addictive, which is why the drug is usually only prescribed for short-term use. If you’ve been abusing Ambien, professional addiction treatment is recommended. 

For those who have been abusing Ambien in high doses and for prolonged periods of time, medical detox may be necessary. You’ll stop using the medication in a medically supervised environment, often on a tapering schedule during which you gradually reduce your dosage of the drug until you aren’t taking any. Additional medications may be prescribed during detox to ease specific withdrawal symptoms.

Types of Treatment

While detox is an important part of the recovery process, it isn’t enough on its own. Rehab may offer these approaches to recovery:

Treatment TypeDescription
Inpatient rehabThis involves continual medical care and supervision. Treatment may include medical detox, individual and group therapy, educational sessions, alternative treatments, and support group meetings. 
Outpatient rehabYou’ll live at home or in a sober living environment while visiting a treatment center for regular sessions most days of the week. 
Support group meetingsMany rehab centers recommend clients participate in peer support groups, such as those in the 12-step model. In these meetings, participants can learn from their peers and begin to build a support network in recovery.


In some cases, a doctor may prescribe an alternative sedative that is not habit-forming to manage sleep issues during Ambien withdrawal. Some of the commonly used pharmaceutical options for individuals recovering from Ambien addiction include the following:

  • Restoril
  • Lunesta
  • Rozerem
  • Certain antidepressants
  • Over-the-counter antihistamines 

Always consult with your doctor before taking any medication as you go through the withdrawal process. Many medications can interfere with detox and addiction treatment. 

Your doctor will also likely recommend that you implement various lifestyle changes to promote good sleep hygiene. Examples include establishing a set sleep/wake schedule, setting up a good sleep environment (dark, quiet, and cool), and limiting the use of screens in the hours before bed.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are some of the questions we hear most about Ambien abuse:

What is Ambien used for?

Ambien is FDA-approved for the short-term treatment of insomnia. If you struggle to fall asleep, even when you feel calm and relaxed, your doctor might provide a short course of Ambien to help.

How much Ambien do you take?

People with insomnia typically take 10 mg once daily for insomnia right before bedtime.

Can you overdose on Ambien?

Yes. People who take too much Ambien can experience slow breathing, coma, and a slow heartbeat. Some people have died due to taking too much of this medication.

Updated April 23, 2024
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