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Ambien (Zolpidem) Addiction | Side Effects, Withdrawal, Overdose, & Treatment Options

Published on November 17, 2020
white oval shaped pill resembling an Ambien sleeping pill

Many health care providers prescribe Ambien for short-term use as a sleep aid. When taken as prescribed, it works well for people who suffer from sleeping disorders like insomnia.

However, not everyone takes Ambien as prescribed. Some people abuse it to feel euphoric or “high.” Abuse often leads to addiction, which is also known as substance use disorder (SUD).

If you or a loved one struggles with Ambien addiction, recovery is possible at a substance abuse treatment center. 

What Is Ambien?

Ambien is the brand name for a prescription drug called zolpidem

It belongs to a group of medications called central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Other CNS depressants include alcohol, opioids, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium. 

Along with being a CNS depressant, Ambien is classified as a non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic: 

  • Non-benzodiazepine” means that while the drug produces effects that are similar to those of benzodiazepines, it has a different chemical structure
  • “Sedative-hypnotic” means the drug can make you feel calm and sleepy by slowing down your brain activity 

Side Effects Of Ambien

As with all prescription drugs, Ambien may cause side effects. The most common side effects of Ambien include:

  • drowsiness 
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • heartburn
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • pain in your stomach, back, joints, or neck
  • dry mouth
  • strange dreams
  • appetite changes

The medication can also cause more serious side effects such as:

  • vision problems, including blurred vision
  • rash and/or itching
  • yellowing of the eyes or skin
  • swollen face, eyes, lips, tongue, or throat
  • trouble breathing or swallowing
  • chest pain
  • pounding heartbeat

Contact your health care provider if you experience these or other unusual side effects.

Ambien Abuse & Addiction

Ambien can cause euphoria (intense joy), especially at high doses. That’s why some people abuse it. 

You’re abusing Ambien if you take it in a manner not prescribed by your doctor, including when you:

  • take it without a prescription
  • take higher doses than prescribed 
  • take it more frequently than prescribed
  • take it for a longer period of time than prescribed
  • crush the pills and snort them
  • mix it with alcohol or other drugs

If you abuse Ambien, you may become addicted to it. Long-term Ambien use, even as prescribed by a doctor, can also lead to addiction.

Signs Of Ambien Addiction

People who abuse or are addicted to Ambien may:

  • experience intense cravings for the drug
  • feel unable to control their drug use
  • avoid friends and family members
  • neglect responsibilities at work or school
  • visit multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions of Ambien
  • need increasingly higher doses of the drug to achieve the desired effects, also known as “tolerance”
  • need the drug to function normally, also known as “physical dependence”

Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms

If you’re physically dependent on Ambien, you might experience unpleasant physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms if you try to stop taking it. 

The most common Ambien withdrawal symptoms include:

  • sweating
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • trouble sleeping
  • uncontrollable crying
  • uncontrollable shaking
  • increased heart rate
  • hallucinations 

In rare cases, Ambien withdrawal can also cause seizures.

You’re more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the drug cold turkey. To avoid or decrease the severity of withdrawal symptoms, talk to a doctor or treatment facility about gradually reducing your dosage or visiting a detox program instead. 

Ambien Overdose

Overdose can occur if you ingest a large amount of Ambien. People who abuse or are addicted to the drug face a higher risk of overdose, which can be life-threatening. 

Signs of Ambien overdose may include:

  • extreme drowsiness 
  • agitation
  • hallucinations
  • trouble breathing or slowed breathing
  • slowed heart rate
  • seizures
  • loss of consciousness or coma

Call for emergency medical services right away if you or someone you know displays signs of overdose. 

The person who overdosed will likely be transported to an emergency room, especially if they’re experiencing severe symptoms such as trouble breathing or loss of consciousness. 

Ambien Addiction Treatment Options

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, it’s important to seek help from an addiction treatment program.

Available on an inpatient or outpatient basis depending on your needs, these programs offer services such as:

  • medical detoxification, in which a team of medical professionals can help you slowly and safely get Ambien out of your system while closely monitoring your physical and mental health
  • cognitive behavioral therapy, in which a mental health professional can help you change unhealthy behaviors, learn coping skills, and reduce the risk of relapse
  • wellness activities, such as exercise, yoga, and meditation

Before you complete treatment, you and your health care providers can develop a personalized aftercare plan to help you maintain your recovery. 

Many aftercare plans include peer support groups, ongoing therapy, and, in some cases, medications to help treat underlying mental health concerns that may contribute to drug use. To learn more about our treatment options for Ambien abuse and addiction, please contact an Ark Behavioral Health specialist today.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Annals of Pharmacotherapy - Beyond benzodiazepines: alternative pharmacologic agents for the treatment of insomnia
Journal of Medical Toxicology - The clinical and forensic toxicology of Z-drugs
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Prescription CNS Depressants DrugFacts
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - Ambien Label
U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Zolpidem

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