Marketed under the brand name Ambien, zolpidem is a hypnotic drug that is prescribed for insomnia. At the recommended doses, zolpidem is generally safe and non-addictive, but when you take more than the prescribed dose or use the drug for non-medical reasons, it can cause dangerous side effects.

In spite of the potential hazards of abusing Ambien, zolpidem is used recreationally for its sedative, psychoactive qualities. Some users report experiencing euphoria, hallucinations and an increased sex drive when they take Ambien at clubs or parties. Others report negative effects like poor motor coordination, confusion, nausea or delusions.

At high doses, Ambien can cause a fatal overdose, especially when it’s ingested with other sedative drugs or combined with alcohol. If you’ve been taking Ambien without a prescription or using the drug to get high, you may not know that abusing this supposedly safe sleep aid can have deadly consequences.

Is Ambien Addictive?

Zolpidem is similar to benzodiazepines like alprazolam (Xanax) or lorazepam (Ativan) in that it affects the way your brain processes GABA, a neurotransmitter that creates feelings of sedation and tranquility. Zolpidem is supposedly less addictive than drugs classified as benzodiazepines, yet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that Ambien is unsafe for individuals with a history of alcohol or drug addiction.

Ambien is prescribed for short periods of time, generally for no more than four weeks. If it’s taken for longer than a few weeks, signs of chemical dependence may develop:

  • The need to take higher doses of Ambien to relax or fall asleep
  • Withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop taking the medication
  • Feelings of restlessness, anxiety or depression if you can’t get the drug
  • Cravings for the drug and a preoccupation with getting more

Recreational users are more likely to become addicted than those who take Ambien as directed for legitimate medical reasons. The more of this sleep aid you take, the greater the risk that your brain will become tolerant to elevated levels of GABA, and that you will need higher doses to achieve the effects you’re looking for.

Zolpidem on the Streets

Ambien is one of the most frequently prescribed hypnotics in the United States. From 2004 to 2007, 64 percent of the prescriptions dispensed for common sedatives were for Ambien, according to the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Because this medication is considered safer and less addictive than barbiturates, benzodiazepines and other tranquilizers with a high potential for abuse, it’s not difficult to find Ambien in households around the country.

Many recreational users obtain zolpidem from friends or family members at no cost. The drug can also be purchased on the streets through the black market or from online suppliers. Users who have a legitimate need for Ambien can obtain more of the drug by seeking prescriptions from multiple doctors, forging prescriptions or pretending to lose medications that have been dispensed.

On the streets, Ambien is known by the slang terms “ambo,” “no-go,” “A-minus,” “zombies” or “tic-tacs.” Zolpidem is available as an oral tablet, an extended-release tablet or an oral spray. When abused recreationally, the tablets are often ground up into a powder, which can be snorted, injected or mixed into alcoholic beverages.

Risks of Abuse

Zolpidem supposedly gives recreational users a giddy, spacey sense of sedation, but this central nervous system depressant can also cause severe side effects, such as:

  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Confusion about time and place
  • Frightening hallucinations
  • Dizziness and lack of balance
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Amnesia
  • Respiratory depression
  • Loss of consciousness

Some Ambien users report that they have driven a car, had sex or performed other activities that they later couldn’t remember. Zolpidem has reportedly been used as a predator drug to facilitate date rape. When blended into alcoholic beverages, the sedative effects of zolpidem are intensified. Users who ingest the drug unknowingly can lose consciousness and become the victims of crimes.

Recreational zolpidem abuse is on the rise. The number of emergency room visits associated with Ambien abuse increased by 155 percent between 2004 and 2009, according to Addictive Behaviors. If you or a loved one is abusing zolpidem, you may not realize how serious the problem really is. At Black Bear Lodge, we’re here to answer your questions about zolpidem addiction and help you start the process of recovery.