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.