Ambien is a prescription sleep aid used to treat insomnia. In addition to its intended effect of inducing sleep, Ambien can have additional unwanted side effects. These side effects are not very common but can occur more frequently with long-term use of Ambien. Ambien is not recommended to be used for longer than a few weeks at a time.
Due to its effects on the brain, Ambien can also be addictive if used other than prescribed. Ambien addiction can have serious consequences and lead to long-term effects. This article will describe the side effects of Ambien use and addiction.
How Is Ambien Taken?
The best way to take Ambien is as prescribed. Ambien comes in pill or tablet form and is meant to be taken by mouth. Taking Ambien through other routes — such as snorting or injecting it — can be dangerous, but these are ways people may take Ambien if they are trying to get high from it. Taking Ambien through those routes can lead to serious side effects and may trigger the person to develop an addiction to Ambien.
Signs of Addiction
There are several signs of Ambien addiction that a person using Ambien should be aware of. If you know someone taking Ambien, you should also be aware of these signs to make sure they are not at risk for becoming addicted to Ambien. The signs of Ambien addiction include:
- Tolerance: Tolerance occurs when someone regularly takes the same dose of a drug but no longer feels the drug’s effects. Ambien tolerance can occur if a person takes the recommended dose of Ambien, but it doesn’t help them fall asleep or stay asleep. When a person develops a tolerance to a drug, they may try to take a higher dose to feel the effects again.
- Dependence: Dependence occurs when a person feels the need to take the drug to feel normal. This can stem beyond a psychological need for the drug and branch into a physical need for the drug. When this happens, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the drug. Ambien dependence can occur if a person starts to feel that they need Ambien to fall asleep. Ambien is meant to be a short-term solution to insomnia and is not meant to be used long-term.
- Habit: Another sign of addiction is when a person makes a habit of taking a drug. Ambien is habit-forming for some people. When they come to rely on it to fall asleep, they may make a habit of taking it every night. Eventually, a person may not be able to fall asleep without it, which can lead to addiction.
If a person is experiencing the signs of Ambien addiction, it is important that they get help. Ambien addiction can have serious health effects but is treatable if a person is willing to stop taking the medication.
Long-Term Effects of Ambien Use
Ambien is meant to be used for a few weeks, not long term. Long-term side effects of Ambien can occur if a person uses it for longer than recommended. Many of the long-term effects of Ambien use can also occur as side effects during normal Ambien use. These include both physical and behavioral side effects.
Common long-term physical side effects of Ambien use include:
- Weight Gain: While taking Ambien alone has not been linked to weight gain, people may partake in unusual behaviors while on Ambien. Ambien can cause weight gain if used a person experiences a sleep-eating. This can occur without the person knowing, and has been linked to significant weight gain in some people.
- Headache: One of the common side effects of Ambien use is a headache. This can also be a sign of withdrawal from Ambien. If used long-term, the chances of experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping Ambien use increases.
- Drug Tolerance: Ambien tolerance can develop if a person takes Ambien for more than a few weeks. Tolerance results in Ambien no longer working to help a person fall asleep.
- Constipation: Ambien can cause constipation. It is one of the side effects that occur in people with normal Ambien use.
In addition to physical effects, Ambien can have long term effects on the brain. Since Ambien works by binding to a neurotransmitter rector and suppressing pathways in the brain, it can significantly alter those pathways when used long-term. This can cause changes in behavior or mood, including:
- Hallucinations: Visual and auditory hallucinations have been reported with Ambien use. Ambien associated hallucinations occur in less than 1% of adults, but are more common in children, occurring in 7.4% of the pediatric population. Ambien is not recommended for use in children.
- Sleep-Walking: Episodes of sleep-walking have been reported with Ambien use. Some people have also reported sleep-driving while taking Ambien. Either activity can be very dangerous. Using alcohol or other CNS depressants in combination with Ambien or taking more Ambient than the prescribed dose increases the risk of these behaviors. If you become aware of doing any activity while sleeping during Ambien use, speak with your doctor right away.
- Memory Loss: In many cases, episodes of sleep-walking, sleep-driving or other activities while sleeping and using Ambien have been accompanied by memory loss. A person may have no recollection the next morning of the activities they did while sleeping. This is sometimes termed “Ambien blackout.” If you experience memory loss associated with Ambien use, talk to your doctor immediately.
- Depression: Ambien can cause depression, as it is one of the side effects of Ambien, though it rarely occurs. In patients who already have depression, Ambien can make it worse. In this population, there is an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. Caution should be taken when prescribing Ambien to someone who has major depressive disorder.
- Sleep Apnea: While healthy individuals taking Ambien have not been reported to have breathing problems, people with sleep apnea who take Ambien may experience compromised respiratory function. Caution should be taken when using Ambien if a person has sleep apnea,
- Dementia: Dementia is one of the side effects that occur rarely with Ambien use. Because of its effects on the brain, Ambien can cause some people to feel confused or have a “foggy head.” A study in Taiwan found an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease among older people who regularly took Ambien long-term.
- Euphoria: Due to its effects on the brain, taking Ambien at doses higher than the recommended amount can lead to euphoria. For this reason, some people will misuse the drug to get high. This can be very dangerous and lead to an addiction to Ambien. Ambien should always be taken as prescribed.
Sexual Side Effects
People taking Ambien have reported having sex while on the medication, but not remembering it. This may occur from a person experiencing sexsomnia while on Ambien, which is the medical term for someone having sex while sleeping, similar to sleep-walking. Ambien doesn’t have specific sexual side effects. However, people have reported that it decreases inhibitions similar to alcohol or other CNS depressants.
Effects on the Elderly
Ambien may affect elderly people differently. Ambien side effects may be enhanced in the elderly, especially impaired cognitive or motor functioning after use. Elderly people may also be more sensitive to the sedative effects. For these reasons, elderly people are usually started on a lower dose of Ambien and should be monitored closely while using it.
Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms
Ambien withdrawal symptoms can occur if a person has been using Ambien for a while and then stops using it. If higher doses of Ambien are being used or a person has used it for an extended period of time, withdrawal symptoms are more likely to occur.
The side effects of Ambien withdrawal include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Stomach cramping
- Feeling lightheaded
- Uncontrolled crying
- Panic attacks
- Abdominal discomfort
Between 2005 and 2010, the number of men that visited the ER due to overmedication with Ambien rose 150% from 6,607 visits to 16,523. Men made up 32% of all emergency department visits for overmedication in 2010.
Between 2005 and 2010, the number of women that visited the ER due to overmedication with Ambien rose 69% from 15,216 visits to 25,749. Women made up 68% of all ER visits for overmedication in 2010. As a result, the FDA published revised dosing recommendations for Ambien in women in 2013, stating that women are more sensitive to the drug and take longer to clear it from their system.
It is not recommended to prescribe Ambien to anyone under the age of 18. However, teens may misuse Ambien for its euphoric effects. There were 19,000 adolescents aged 12–17 who reported misuse of sedatives such as Ambien in 2017, which makes up 0.1% of the teenage population in the United States.
Ambien abuse among people older than 65 is not that common. This could be due to the lower dosing regimen used in seniors. Senior visits to the ER resulting from overmedication only accounted for 11% of all visits in 2010.
Ambien Abuse & Treatment Trends in South Florida
Prescription medication use other than intended has become an increasing problem in South Florida. Ambien use is among the prescription drugs that have been associated with overdose deaths in South Florida. In 2010, there were 240 reports of Ambien use in people who were autopsied by medical examiners. Of those, 18% were considered deaths caused by Ambien overdose. The incidence increased in 2013 when, in the first six months of the year, there were 155 medical examiner occurrences of Ambien use in deceased people, with 21% being considered as Ambien overdose for the cause of death.
Due to the increasing trend of prescription drug abuse in Florida, there are several resources that have been created to help treat substance use disorders. Treatment centers like The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health are available in South Florida that offer comprehensive treatment plans.
Ambien Overdose Symptoms
You can overdose on Ambien if you take amounts high enough to significantly suppress your central nervous system function. Ambien overdose is very dangerous and can lead to death. Ambien overdose can be avoided by sticking to physician directions and not using it in ways other than prescribed. Snorting or injecting Ambien significantly increases the risk of overdose since the drug effects will occur more rapidly and more of the drug may be absorbed than if taken orally as directed.
Ambien overdose symptoms include:
- Impairment of consciousness
- Severe drowsiness
- Suppression of heart rate
- Slowed or stopped breathing
How to Get Off Ambien
While Ambien can temporarily help a person with insomnia, it is not recommended for long-term use. If a person has been taking Ambien for an extended period, they may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using it, including insomnia recurrence. To stop using Ambien but still sleep well, a person can slowly taper off Ambien by using lower doses or using it less frequently. This will allow their body to slowly adjust to lower and lower amounts of Ambien until it is no longer needed. To avoid withdrawal symptoms, stopping Ambien use should be done under the supervision and guidance of a medical expert.
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Key Points: Understanding Ambien Addiction and Abuse
Here are a few key points to remember about Ambien side effects and Ambien addiction:
- Ambien has the potential to be addictive when used other than prescribed
- Becoming tolerant to or dependent on Ambien or making its use a habit are signs of Ambien addiction
- Ambien side effects can occur with normal use but are usually worse or exaggerated in people who use Ambien in the long term or in doses higher than recommended
- It is possible to overdose on Ambien when used in high amounts, which can potentially be fatal
If you or a loved one has become addicted to Ambien or are suffering from a co-occurring substance use disorder, The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health is here to help. We have comprehensive treatment plans that will help you overcome your use disorder. Please contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health today for more information.
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Cheng, H.T., et al. “The Association Between the Use of Zolpidem and the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease Among Older People.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, November, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2019.
Bose, Jonaki, et al. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2017. Accessed July 26, 2019.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Emergency Department Visits Attributed to Overmedication That Involved the Insomnia Medication Zolpidem.” The DAWN Report, August 7, 2014. Accessed August 10, 2019.
Food and Drug Administration. “FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA approves new label changes and dosing for zolpidem products and a recommendation to avoid driving the day after using Ambien CR.” May 14, 2013. Accessed August 10, 2019.
Hall, James N. “Trends of Nonmedical Prescription Drug Misuse in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach Counties, and the State of Florida: 2010.” Epidemiologic Trends in Prescription Drug Misuse. Accessed July 26, 2019.
Hall, James N. “Drug Abuse Trends in Miami-Dade County Florida: June 2014.” The Miami Coalition. Accessed July 26, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.