Woman sleepingAmbien is a popular brand-name version of the sleep aid zolpidem. Its popularity stems from the perception of it as a safer alternative to other tranquilizers. It does have a lower risk of tolerance, dependence, and addiction than outdated and now rarely prescribed barbiturate sleep aid like Seconal and Nembutal. These drugs have a high risk of addiction and fatal overdose. Ambien may also be safer than other still commonly prescribed drugs like Ativan and Valium. These benzodiazepines may be prescribed for insomnia on a short-term basis, but they are primarily meant to be used to control seizure or anxiety symptoms as needed. Regular use comes with greater potential for dependence.

How Does Zolpidem (Ambien) Affect Brain and Body?

Ambien may be a safer alternative to other drugs, but it is not a safe drug. Zolpidem is a rapid-onset hypnotic drug. It is prescribed to people who have trouble falling asleep. When used as prescribed, Ambien may cause drowsiness and speed up how quickly a person goes to sleep. Individuals misuse the medication by taking too much, taking the drug without a prescription, or taking the drug for unintended or recreational purposes. Misuse can result in a euphoric or hallucinogenic high.

Ambien abuse can cause a number of adverse side effects. These side effects can occur immediately. They can also accumulate after weeks, months, or years of use. Zolpidem is a central nervous system depressant. It affects neurological activity and vital functions by altering the brain’s response to GABA, a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for making you feel sleepy and calm. Ambien also slows down your breathing and heart rate. This is why misusing the drug puts you at risk of respiratory failure, unconsciousness and death. Other common immediate side effects include the following:

  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Aggression
  • Clumsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness

These and other risks of Ambien abuse magnify when individuals take the drug with alcohol, benzodiazepines or other sedatives that depress the central nervous system. The American Journal of Therapeutics states that patients who were treated in emergency rooms for an Ambien overdose were more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit if they had also ingested alcohol or other prescription drugs.1

Complications Related to Zolpidem (Ambien) Use

Ambien abuse can cause a number of negative side effects in the days or weeks after taking the drug. One of the most disturbing short-term risks of Ambien use is retrograde amnesia.

The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reports additional Ambien-related complications such as the following:

  • Sensory disturbances
  • Delusional thinking
  • Nocturnal eating
  • Sleepwalking2

Recreational use increases these risks. Even if users don’t experience extreme side effects, they may feel sluggish, tired, confused and foggy-headed after taking Ambien. Ambien can also contribute to depression and anxiety symptoms. It may even cause trouble sleeping.

Any Ambien use creates risk. The British Medical Journal reveals, “Patients prescribed any hypnotic had substantially elevated hazards of dying compared to those prescribed no hypnotics.” People taking hypnotic drugs such as Ambien face a, “greater than threefold increased hazards of death even when prescribed <18 pills/year.”3 Causes of death include motor vehicle accidents, respiratory problems, heart disease, suicide and some forms of cancer. Recreational use increases the likelihood of any and all of these outcomes.

Break Free of Zolpidem (Ambien) Dependence at Black Bear Lodge

The most common long-term risks of Ambien abuse are dependence and addiction. Even medically advised and appropriate use should not continue for longer than four weeks. After dependence develops, users will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the drug. Sleeplessness, anxiety, headaches, muscle pain, nausea, tremors and convulsions may occur. Long-term users may even experience seizures in withdrawal if their recovery is not medically supervised and managed.

If you need help recovering from Ambien abuse, the personalized treatment programs at Black Bear Lodge can give you the support you need to clear the drug safely from your system. After detox, our comprehensive rehab program will prepare you for a healthy, positive future. If you’re ready to talk about change, we’re here for you. Let us answer any and all early questions and guide you through the recovery process.


1 Zosel, Amy, et.al. “Zolpidem Misuse With Other Medications or Alcohol Frequently Results in Intensive Care Unit Admission.” American Journal of Therapeutics. Jul. 2011. Accessed 6 Jun. 2017.

2 Inagaki, Takuji, et.al. “Adverse Reactions to Zolpidem: Case Reports and a Review of the Literature.Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2010. Accessed 6 Jun. 2017.

3 Kripke, Daniel F, et.al. “Hypnotics’ Association with Mortality or Cancer: a Matched Cohort Study.” British Medical Journal. 2012. Accessed 6 Jun. 2017.