Ambien is a brand name for the popularly prescribed sleeping medication zolpidem tartrate.
Classed as a Z-drug, this sedative-hypnotic can assist with rectifying a short-term sleep problem. However, Ambien has many side effects, including depression, memory loss, drug tolerance, sleepwalking and even hallucinations.
Before taking the medication, we recommend considering healthier alternatives to overcome a sleep problem. After all, Ambien should only be prescribed as a short term solution.
In this article, we look at the dangers and effects of taking Ambien, including some of the stranger ones, so that you can make better-informed decisions around your own personal health. We also advise how you can spot a problem in yourself or in someone else and what you can do about it.
What is Ambien & what is it used for?
Ambien is a brand name for the drug Zolpidem Tartrate, a prescribed medication that assists with sleep problems. It is not a benzodiazepine. It works in a similar way to other Z-list drugs such as Zopiclone & Zimovane.
The drug works by increasing the action of GABA on the central nervous system (CNS) and inducing sedative and hypnotic effects. Meaning it can help a person to fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer.
Prescribing indications for the drug is for the short-term relief of insomnia and only when other safer alternatives have been explored. This is because of possible side effects but also because it is an addictive drug that can lead to drug tolerance and dependence.
Ambien is taken orally and is available in tablet form, sublingual form and oral spray. It is also available in immediate-release and extended-release 1
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) informs that Ambien, along with other Z-list drugs, should only be prescribed for a maximum of 2 weeks, starting with the lowest possible dose.
Dosage guidelines are:
- For adult patients – 10mg once daily at bedtime. For debilitated patients, the elderly dosage should be prescribed.
- For elderly patients – 5mg once at bedtime to reduce the risk of possible adverse effects 2,3
NICE further reinforces that Ambien should only be prescribed when non-drug measures such as sleep hygiene, counselling and CBT have failed and when the insomnia is severe, disabling or causing extreme distress.
The prescribing guidelines from NICE recognise that Zolpidem has some severe and potentially very serious side effects. This is why they should not be prescribed as the first-line of treatment for sleep problems and only used as a short term measure.
It is important that you do not drink alcohol or take drugs your doctor is unaware of whilst taking Ambien. You also should not drive or operate heavy machinery if you feel drowsy the following day.
Who should not use Ambien
Certain people will be at higher risk of suffering adverse complications. Because of this, it is not advised for people who suffer from certain conditions.
Ambien is NOT suitable for people with:
- Marked neuromuscular respiratory weakness.
- Respiratory failure.
- Myasthenia gravis.
- Obstructive sleep apnoea.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding — the risk of neonatal respiratory depression and withdrawal symptoms.
- Severe hepatic impairment.
- Psychotic illness 2
Ambien should be prescribed with extreme caution for people with:
- Chronic pulmonary insufficiency – There is an increased risk of respiratory depression.
- Who are elderly – Avoid prescribing if possible due to increased risk of adverse effects, including falls and fractures.
- History of drug or alcohol abuse – Extreme caution is advised due to its addictive properties and potential for abuse.
- Muscle weakness – Can increase muscle weakness as a side effect
- Psychiatric illness including depression – Can cause depression, hallucinations and solemness and make an existing condition worse.
- Hepatic and renal impairment – The medicine can interfere with the body’s renal system and prevent it from functioning as it should. Indications are to avoid completely if the condition is severe 2
Sadly, as with most controlled prescription drugs, and can be purchased from the dark web without a prescription. We cannot stress enough how dangerous this is!. Not only is there an increased risk of developing a tolerance and dependence, but there will also be an increased risk of suffering adverse effects; due to not being assessed by a qualified healthcare professional.
WARNING: Darkweb prescription drugs and ‘legal highs’ are often counterfeit drugs and are not FDA approved. They may contain any number of ingredients. Any one of which you may react to adversely.
Daytime Drowsiness or Fatigue
The most common side effects of Ambien
- Abdominal pain
- Impaired coordination
- Impaired concentration
- Cognitive fog
- Dry mouth
- Drowsiness that continues into the next day
- Lack of muscle control
- Involuntary muscle movements
- Muscle weakness
- Respiratory depression
- Slurred speech
- Vomiting 3
- Changes in behaviour
- Decreased levels of consciousness and awareness
- Hallucinations (seeing and/or hearing things that are not there)
- Suicidal ideation and attempt
- Solemness 3
Ambien may also carry some adverse-strange effects that you would not expect from a prescription drug. These weird side effects have become somewhat notorious.
Weird side effects include:
- Severe amnesia
- Inappropriate behaviours
- Sleep eating (and cooking), and even sleep-driving 3,4
Some people have reported some very bizarre side effects, including vivid hallucinations
Drinking alcohol or taking other CNS depressants whilst taking the drug will increase the risk of these side effects occurring and increase their severity
Ambien abuse & addiction
Addiction to prescription drugs has steadily risen in the United Kingdom over the past few years. Statistics include all types of drugs; however, sleeping pills, in particular, are becoming more prevalent in the UK. Prolonged use for (more than two weeks) can cause tolerance to the drug’s effects. When this happens, you will find yourself needing to take larger doses in order for it to work. You may also be tempted to abuse Ambien by mixing it with alcohol or other drugs such as opiates or benzodiazepines in order to increase the drug’s sedation properties. 5
Ambien abuse is extremely dangerous and can be fatal. Those that have previously suffered from a drug or alcohol use disorder will be much more likely to abuse the drug and go down the dark and perilous road of addiction. This is why it should only be prescribed with extreme caution and only after having tried other safer methods of addressing sleep issues.
Ambien will only work for a short period of time in assisting with sleep and only when taken exactly as prescribed. It can be easy to become dependent, both physically and psychologically.
Some people enjoy the effects and purposely stay awake whilst its hypnotic effects kick in, or they mix Ambien with alcohol to achieve blackout. These are both common forms of abuse.
Another form of abuse is snorting Ambien
Crushing and snorting Ambien is known as insufflation. Not only can snorting cause extreme damage to the nasal passages and lining, but it can also cause tolerance and dependence on the drug to form much quicker. A person who snorts the drug will also be at much higher risk of overdose, risky and strange behaviours, adverse effects and death 6
When mixed with alcohol, sedatives or opiate drugs, there is a considerable risk of suffering respiratory depression and arrest. Abusing the drug is what causes the most Z-drug related deaths.
Addiction to drugs can be characterised by compulsive drug seeking and taking and adverse consequences to health, occupation and personal relationships. Despite this, a person addicted will continue to use it in ever-increasing amounts.
Spotting the signs of abuse and addiction in another could help give you the confidence to challenge their behaviour and ultimately assist them in accessing life-saving treatment.
Signs of Ambien abuse & addiction :
- Using multiple doctors to access more than one medication prescription
- Taking more than prescribed (i.e. multiple tablets in one go or taking them during the day)
- Buying from the internet or from street dealers
- Lying to or manipulating healthcare professionals in order to get the drug
- Stealing the drug from relatives or friends
- Crushing the drug into a powder and mixing it with alcoholic beverages
- Having numerous packets of the drug in their possession
- Suffering from withdrawal symptoms
- Use has caused falls, memory loss, blackouts, confusion, accidents – still, they continue to use it.
- A person seems excessively sleepy/drowsy, frequently throughout the day and beyond the two week prescription period
- Developing a tolerance and dependence (This should not happen if a prescription is followed precisely)
- Changes in physical appearance and health
- Suffering severe mood swings
- Social isolation
- A decline in cognitive ability and overall functioning
- Depression and anxiety
Symptoms of Withdrawal
Image Source: VeryWell Mind
Ambien withdrawal can include symptoms such as tremors, panic attacks, insomnia and flu-like symptoms
Many people who become dependent, addicted, or abuse Ambien will quickly find they are unable to continue sourcing the drug from their doctor. This is due to it being a controlled drug with very specific prescribing guidelines.
When a doctor refuses to prescribe an addictive drug, those who are abusing or addicted will often resort to getting the drug from the internet or swap to a similar drug with the same effects.
Drug addiction and substance use disorders are brain disorders that compel the sufferer to continue seeking and taking a substance despite it causing untold damage and distress, as well as possible harm to others. Someone suffering from Zolpidem addiction will find the compulsion to use so overbearingly that they feel they have no choice in the matter, even when to continue can carry a serious risk of death.
Studies indicate that the brain and body can become dependent and that a gradual dose reduction is required to prevent serious reactions after stopping the medication.
Additional withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Muscle cramps
If you or someone you love has developed a problem with Ambien and wants to stop but find you cannot, professional and effective help and treatment is immediately accessible by contacting us here at Detox Plus UK.
Legal Status (UK)
In the UK, Ambien and zolpidem are considered controlled, Class C drugs and fall under the Amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 which came into force on 10 June 2014, which include specification changes for zolpidem.
Treatment for an Ambien addiction or abuse disorder is available in the form of detox and rehabilitation.
If Ambien is costing you more than just sleep and has become a problem for you, we strongly recommend professional help. We understand that the thought of withdrawal can be terrifying; we assure you, you will receive the very best in professional help and medical care with every step.
If you choose to undertake a treatment programme with us, you will be provided with a full medical detox which includes a monitored drug taper to address any dependence. This will enable you to stop safely and comfortably. Following on from this, to ensure you do not return to using. Numerous evidence-based therapies will be applied to address and heal all aspects of your life.
At Detox Plus UK, we know there is no one size fits all when it comes to successfully treating addiction. We, therefore, intricately tailor all of our treatments to ensure you are receiving the very best and most effective care at all times.
Call us now for a free and confidential assessment of your individual treatment needs and find out how we can help you or a loved one.
References and Sources
- “Zolpidem Tartrate”. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
- What issues should I be aware of when prescribing Z-drugs? Prescribing information – insomnia https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/insomnia/prescribing-information/z-drugs/
- NICE (2004) Guidance on the use of zaleplon, zolpidem and zopiclone for the short-term management of insomnia (NICE technology appraisal 77). National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence
- Emergency department visits for adverse reactions involving the insomnia medication zolpidem. (2013)archive.samhsa.gov/data/2k13/DAWN079/sr079-Zolpidem.htm
- The dangers of snorting Ambien (Zolpidem insufflation) https://vertavahealth.com/ambien/insufflation/