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Ambien: Uses, How To Identify & Addictive Qualities

Written by Renee Deveney

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Trisha Sippel, PhD

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Last Updated - 08/06/2021

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Updated 08/06/2021

Key Takeaways

  • Ambien is intended to be used to treat insomnia and anxiety by helping people relax and fall asleep.
  • Ambien should be taken as directed by a physician and never used by someone to whom it is not prescribed.
  • Even when used as prescribed, Ambien has the potential to be addictive. For that reason, it should only be used as a short-term solution.

Ambien is a medication used to treat insomnia. It has the potential to be addictive if used other than prescribed.

Ambien is a prescription sleep aid that is used to treat insomnia. It is meant to be taken short-term, to help someone fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. While it is effective for most people, it can cause harmful side effects in some. Because of Ambien’s effects on the brain, it can also be highly addictive.

What Is Ambien?

Ambien is a prescription sleep medication that is used to treat insomnia. It affects the brain to make a person calm and sleepy.  How does Ambien do that? It binds to the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) A receptor and suppresses signaling pathways in the brain and central nervous system, causing a person to feel drowsy and fall asleep.

There are two versions of Ambien: Ambien and Ambien CR. Ambien CR is an extended-release formula that has a quick-dissolving outer layer to help a person fall asleep right away and a slow-release inner layer that helps them stay asleep. Ambien must be prescribed by a physician, who will help you determine which type is right for you.


Due to its effects in helping a person fall asleep, Ambien is classified as a sedative and hypnotic. Ambien belongs to the drug class miscellaneous anxiolytics, sedatives and hypnotics. It is grouped with other anxiolytics (anxiety relievers), sedatives, and hypnotics that are not similar to other drugs in their specific groups and have unique mechanisms of action.

Ambien is a controlled substance. It is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule IV drug, which means that it has a low chance for being addictive and a low chance for a person becoming dependent on it.

What is Ambien Used For?

Ambien medication is most often used as a sleep aid. It can also be used to treat anxiety-related sleeping problems.

  • Sleep problems: Ambien is a sleeping pill. It is used for people who are experiencing insomnia, which is when a person has a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep. Ambien induces sleep by suppressing pathways in the brain that keep a person awake.
  • Anxiety: Ambien is also used for anxiety that is co-occurring with sleep issues. When a person is not sleeping well, it can enhance their anxiety. Ambien not only helps a person sleep better, but also has relaxing and calming effects that can ease anxiety symptoms.

Ambien Dosage

Ambien dosage should be determined on an individual basis. A physician will help the individual determine the lowest dose that will have an effect on them. This is the dose that they should take. Ambien is available in 5 mg and 10 mg pills. In general, the recommended dose for adults is 10 mg of Ambien per day. The max dose that should be taken in a day is 10 mg.

Ambien CR dosing is a little different, due to its extended release formula. It is available in 6.25 mg and 12.5 mg tablets. The recommended dose for adults is 12.5 mg taken right before bedtime. The max dose per day is 12.5 mg.

Both Ambien and Ambien CR should be taken right before bed, as it is fast-acting and the person will start to feel the effects shortly after taking it. The sleep-inducing effects will last for seven to eight hours, so the person should make sure that they can get a full night of sleep after taking it. It should also be taken on an empty stomach, as taking it with a meal or shortly after eating will take longer for it to work.

Ambien is meant to be a short-term treatment for a person who is experiencing insomnia. It should only be used for a few weeks at a time. The longer a person takes Ambien, the higher their risk of addiction.

Ways Ambien is Taken

Ambien comes in pill or tablet form and is meant to be taken by mouth. The best way to take Ambien is as prescribed. Taking Ambien other ways, such as snorting or injecting can be dangerous. People may take Ambien in these ways if they are trying to get high from it.

  • Ingestion: Ambien pills or tablets should be taken by mouth and swallowed. Ingesting Ambien allows it to be broken down and absorbed in proportion to the amount prescribed. An Ambien spray also exists, that is meant to be sprayed into the mouth and ingested in a similar manner to the pill.
  • Snorting: Snorting ambien is usually done by crushing the pill or tablet into a powder and snorting it through a rolled up paper or straw directly into the nose. This method decreases the time it takes to feel the effects of Ambien. This is not a recommended route of administration, as Ambien is not meant to be snorted. Snorting Ambien can be very dangerous and can lead to an Ambien use disorder.
  • Injection: Similar to snorting, some people may choose to inject Ambien to feel its effects faster. Shooting ambien is usually done by crushing the pill and dissolving it in water prior to injecting it directly into a vein. This is extremely dangerous and Ambien should not be taken this way. Injecting Ambien may lead to dependence and addiction.

What Does Ambien Look Like?

Ambien comes in pill form that is meant to be taken by mouth. What the Ambien pill will look like depends on the dose of the pill. Ambien pictures can be found online.

To identify Ambien pills, you can look at the color and the inscription on the pill. Both pill doses are capsule-shaped and film-coated.

  • The 5 mg pill is pink with AMB 5 imprinted on one side and 5401 on the other side.
  • The 10 mg pill is white and imprinted with AMB 10 on one side and 5421 on the other side.

Ambien CR pills are slightly different. They are round and convex on both sides with an “A” imprinted on one side. The 6.25 mg pill is pink while the 12.5 mg pill is blue.

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Other Names for Ambien

Another name for Ambien is zolpidem tartrate. Ambien is the brand name for zolpidem, which is the generic name for the drug. Additional brands also exist including Edluar, Intermezzo, and Zolpimist.

Ambien Side Effects

In addition to its calming and sleep-inducing effects, Ambien can have unwanted side effects. Side effects of Ambien include:

  • Feeling tired or drowsy during the day
  • General weakness
  • Feeling “drugged”, light-headed or dizzy
  • Loss of coordination
  • Anxiety
  • Stuffy nose
  • Dry mouth
  • Throat or nose irritation
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain

The most well-known side effect of Ambien is parasomnia, where a person may have unusual behaviors while sleeping. This can include walking, driving, eating, or even having sex while sleeping. Crimes have also been reported to happen while someone was on Ambien. These events are rare; however, the FDA issued a warning about these activities in 2019 to alert people considering taking Ambien that they can occur.

Ambien Addiction

When used for longer than intended or in doses higher than prescribed, Ambien can be addictive. Ambien addiction can start when someone uses Ambien other than for its intended purpose. Due to its interaction with neurotransmitter receptors in the brain, Ambien can give a person a euphoric feeling, sometimes called a “high”, when used at doses higher than prescribed. At high doses, it can also make a person have more energy versus having a sedative effect. When a person uses Ambien to get high, it can lead to an addiction.

Ambien should always be taken as prescribed and never taken by someone who does not have a prescription. As a controlled substance, it is illegal to take or even possess Ambien without a prescription.

View Sources

Food and Drug Administration. “Ambien Prescribing Information.” April 23, 2008. Accessed August 8, 2019.

Food and Drug Administration. “Ambien CR Prescribing Information.” December 20, 2007. Accessed August 8, 2019.

Drugs.com. “Miscellaneous anxiolytics, sedatives and hypnotics.” August 1, 2018. Accessed August 8, 2019.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drug Scheduling.” Accessed August 8, 2019.

Drugs.com. “Ambien Side Effects.” Updated January 23, 2019. Accessed August 10, 2019.

Food and Drug Administration. “FDA requires stronger warnings about rare but serious incidents related to certain prescription insomnia medicines.” April 30, 2019. Accessed August 10, 2019.