Ambien Addiction: Signs, Risks, and Treatment Options
While prescribed for valid medical reasons, Ambien may lead to dependence and can be dangerous for some people. Learn more about Ambien addiction including recognizing the signs of dependence and how to get you or your loved one help.
Around 70 million Americans struggle with chronic sleep issues.1 Sleep deprivation can lead to several issues such as chronic disease, mental illness, decreased work performance, and increased risk of injury.1
Central nervous system (CNS) depressants like Ambien, known under the generic name zolpidem, are often prescribed to treat sleep disorders.2 Although a doctor may prescribe a person CNS depressants, long-term use can lead to tolerance.2 This means that a person needs a higher or more frequent dose to get the same effects they did previously.2 Ambien, like other CNS depressants, can lead to substance use disorder (SUD) or Ambien addiction.2
If you or someone you know is worried about Ambien misuse, this page discusses the risks, signs, and symptoms of addiction as well as Ambien addiction treatment options.
What Is Ambien?
CNS depressants are a group of drugs that include hypnotics, sedatives, and tranquilizers.2 They act by increasing inhibitory brain activity and are prescribed to treat anxiety, panic, or sleep disorders.2 Different types of CNS depressants are prescribed by doctors for different issues.2 For example, while tranquilizers are used to treat anxiety, hypnotics and sedatives like Ambien are prescribed to treat insomnia and induce sleep.2
Most CNS depressants largely act by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity in the brain.2 GABA is a chemical that inhibits brain activity, causing a relaxing effect as well as drowsiness.2
Ambien has a short half-life and is quickly absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract.3 It’s often prescribed for short-term use (around 10 days to up to 4 weeks), typically in 5 mg or 10 mg oral doses, and is available in either immediate or extended-release forms.3, 4
Long-term use of Ambien can lead to tolerance and dependence, even when prescribed by a doctor.2 When tolerance occurs, a person will require a higher dose to experience the desired effect of induced sleep and reduced sleep latency. A person with dependence may experience withdrawal symptoms from Ambien if they abruptly reduce or stop taking the drug.2 Medically supervised detox can benefit people struggling with addiction to a CNS depressant like Ambien to help ensure comfort and safety.2
When used regularly or at higher doses than prescribed, a person is more likely to experience tolerance and dependence, as well as addiction. Because of the high potential for Ambien abuse, this drug is typically not recommended as a first-line treatment for most people.3
CNS depressants like Ambien have additive effects with other sedatives, hypnotics, and tranquilizers (including benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium, as well as alcohol).5 Taking Ambien in combination with other CNS depressants, as well as with opioid painkillers, increases the risk of next-day impairment, abnormal behavior changes, and dependency.6 Combining these substances can also lead to a life-threatening overdose where a person stops breathing.7
Is Ambien Addictive?
Yes, using or misusing Ambien or other prescription CNS depressants can lead to problem use and the development of a substance use disorder (SUD), which occurs when a person’s recurrent, uncontrollable use of a substance causes significant negative physical, occupational, or social consequences.2
People can become addicted to Ambien by taking the drug for prolonged periods, or by misusing the drug. Misuse of zolpidem or Ambien includes taking more than prescribed, taking someone else’s prescription, or taking the drug to get high.2
People who misuse Ambien or other prescription CNS depressants might swallow pills in their typical form or sometimes open capsules or crush pills.2
Risks of Ambien Use
There are several potential adverse side effects of Ambien use. Most common adverse effects include:3, 4
- Feeling drugged or dizzy the next day.
Complex behaviors while not fully awake have also been known to occur, including sleep-driving, sleepwalking, and others. The risk of experiencing these behaviors increases with the dose taken and use with other CNS depressants and alcohol.5
In rare cases, anaphylaxis, including swelling of the glottis, larynx, and tongue, has occurred after a person’s first or subsequent doses of Ambien. When this occurs, it is important to tell your doctor and seek emergency care, as some patients have had additional symptoms such as shortness of breath, throat closing or nausea, and vomiting.5
It is not recommended for people with depression to take Ambien as it can worsen their symptoms and can increase suicidal actions and ideation.3, 5 Because the risk of Ambien dependence and misuse is high, it is also not recommended for those with a history of drug misuse.3, 5 Overdose is also a risk, as extreme CNS depression from zolpidem can lead to cognitive impairments, coma, cardiovascular and respiratory depression, and death.3, 5
What Are the Signs of Ambien Misuse and Addiction?
If you are concerned that you or someone you care about may be misusing Ambien or struggling with a zolpidem addiction, knowing what signs to look for can help.
In clinical settings, sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorders are professionally diagnosed based on a person presenting 2 or more characteristic signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes within 12 months. As outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), these criteria include:8
- Taking the drug in larger amounts than intended.
- Wanting to stop using the drug but being unsuccessful in doing so.
- Spending a significant amount of time obtaining the drug or recovering from its effects.
- Craving or experiencing strong urges to use the drug.
- Failing to fulfill home, school, or work obligations due to drug use.
- Continued to use the drug despite interpersonal problems caused by drug use.
- Giving up important activities in favor of drug use.
- Partaking in physically hazardous situations due to drug use.
- Continuing to use the drug despite the knowledge that physical or psychological problems are likely being caused or worsened by drug use.
- Tolerance development, marked by an increased amount needed to gain desired effects or a notably diminished effect from using the same amount previously used. (This criterion does not apply to prescription use under medical supervision.)
- Withdrawal, as shown by withdrawal symptoms or taking the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms. (This criterion also does not apply to prescription use under medical supervision.)
Getting Better Sleep Without Ambien
Sleep is as important as food or water to the body.9 Without it, we lessen our ability to form and maintain the neural pathways in the brain that help us learn new things and create memories.8, Lack of sleep also negatively affects our attention and focus.8 A chronic lack of quality sleep has been shown to increase the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, obesity, and more.9
Fortunately, there are many ways to support healthy sleep that do not include taking medication, including:10
- Removing electronic devices like computers, smartphones, and televisions from your bedroom.
- Keeping your bedroom dark, relaxing, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature.
- Keeping a consistent bedtime, even on weekends.
- Avoiding large meals as well as alcohol or caffeine before sleep.
- Getting physical exercise during daytime hours to help you fall asleep more easily at bedtime.
Getting Help for Ambien Addiction
If you or a loved one are struggling with Ambien misuse or addiction, several treatment options and settings are available. The right treatment for you will depend on several factors, such as how long you have been misusing Ambien, whether you also misuse other substances, and whether you have a co-occurring disorder, such as anxiety or depression.
While not always necessary, treatment may begin with Ambien detox, which is designed to help patients go through the withdrawal process as comfortably and safely as possible. During this period, patients are monitored by professional staff who can address potential complications that may arise.11 Detox can help patients navigate this uncomfortable period and make the transition to ongoing treatment easier. Ongoing addiction treatment for Ambien may take place in various settings, such as:11
- Inpatient rehab: With inpatient Ambien rehab, patients live at a treatment facility and receive 24-hour care, monitoring, and support from professional staff, which can be a good fit for patients with severe addictions or those without stable living situations. Treatment may include a combination of behavioral therapies (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy), evaluation/treatment for co-occurring disorders, medication, and mutual support groups.
- Outpatient rehab: With outpatient Ambien rehab, patients receive care similar to that of an inpatient program. Patients attend treatment at a facility during the day but return home in the evenings, which can be a good fit for those with less severe addictions, stable living situations, and reliable transportation to and from treatment.
You can start the process of finding an Ambien rehab center by scheduling an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to provide medical recommendations and referrals if necessary. You can also use an online resource, such as SAMHSA FindTreatment.gov or our rehab directory, which lets you filter by insurance, location, and type of care.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of evidence-based addiction treatment across the U.S. Our admissions navigators are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when you contact . We can help you verify your insurance, navigate your coverage, and provide information on Ambien misuse treatment.