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Ambien (Zolpidem) abuse, addiction & recovery FAQ

Home Substance Guide Ambien (Zolpidem) abuse, addiction & recovery FAQ

What is Ambien used for?

Ambien is a prescribed sedative medication for adults eighteen and over who are suffering from insomnia or who have trouble falling asleep.  There are three main types of insomnia which Ambien can treat. Acute insomnia usually lasts up to one month which is often situational, which can occur when someone is experiencing a life change, such as taking on a new job or moving to a new place. Chronic insomnia, which lasts longer than one month can be tied to a mental health disorder or medical disorder. Lastly, transient insomnia lasts for less than one week and could be caused by stress or an environmental factor.

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How long should you take Ambien? How often?

Ambien is a controlled substance which is meant for short term use for usually no longer than two weeks. It is highly recommended to take Ambien shortly before falling asleep and only when you are able to get a full night’s rest of 7-8 hours.

What are the side effects of Ambien?

Ambien has been known to cause common side effects such as next day drowsiness, diarrhea, headaches, muscle aches or stuffy/runny nose. More fatal and serious side effects include memory loss, anxiety, or allergic reactions like swelling of the tongue/throat. Ambien has also been known to cause parasomnia, when patients are not consciously aware of what they are doing while asleep. Some Ambien patients have been reported to sleepwalk, sleep drive, have sex in their sleep, talk on the phone or make food without remembering doing so the next day.

Additional serious side effects can occur such as depression, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, and aggressive behavior. It is best to immediately contact a healthcare provider upon experiencing any of these more serious side effects.  Patients prescribed Ambien should tell their healthcare provider if they are taking any other medications, both prescription, non-prescription, herbal supplements or vitamins.

The Food and Drug Administration strongly recommends all health care professionals caution Ambien patients about the potential for next day impairment related side effects, a common one being driving or operating machinery while feeling drowsy.

How does Ambien make you feel?

Ambien may cause drowsiness, dizziness, lethargy, and lightheadedness to the central and peripheral nervous system. Constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain may occur to the gastrointestinal system.

What is the recommended dose for Ambien?

The recommended dose of Ambien is 5mg for women or 5-10mg for men and to be taken one time shortly before bedtime, 7-8 hours before waking up. The dosage can be increased from 5 to 10 mg if the patient is still experiencing trouble falling asleep, however next day impairment is more likely to occur by taking 10mg. The FDA has even encouraged healthcare providers to provide the lower dosage of 5mg for men as well as the elderly population due to the increased risk of impairment or falls. Ambien dosage should never exceed 10mg and is known to be effective under 10mg. In 2010, 13,180 Ambien related emergency department visits involved adverse reactions among women, which was more than double for men.

A study conducted by the U.S. Medical Expenditure Panel Survey revealed that the higher end of the dosage for Ambien of 10mg or 12.5mg (CR) was prescribed to 64% of adults 65 and over and 68% percent of women. Seventy percent of patients in the study who were prescribed Ambien exceeded the recommended 2-week time frame of using the medication with some using more than a 100 day supply. This study brought more insight to the medical community overprescribing the drug. Dr. Thomas Moore, a physician of the Institute for Safe Medicine Practices advises “Ambien is effective only for short-term use; because women and the elderly have 45% to 50% higher blood levels, use the lower recommended dose; avoid multiple drugs that target the same gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors or depress the central nervous system; warn patients about next-day impairment that they may not be aware of can occur.”

What type of drug is Ambien?

Ambien belongs to the drug class defined as sedative hypnotics which produce calming effects on the brain to help induce sleep.  This drug increases the actions of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA. Stimulation of GABA and its receptors help to trigger the need to fall asleep.

What is the generic version of Ambien?

The generic form of Ambien is called Zolpidem, which produces the same effects as the brand name Ambien.

How often can you take Ambien?

Ambien should only be taken once per day before bedtime. It is only intended to be a short-term treatment which should not exceed a total of two weeks, or else a dependency can begin to develop. Those taking Ambien should discuss with their physicians or a mental health care provider what the underlying cause of their insomnia may be such as depression anxiety, stress, or PTSD, and begin treatment for these causes.

How long does Ambien take to work?

Ambien has a half-life of 2.5 hours and begins to cause a feeling of drowsiness in just 15-30 minutes. Taking Ambien on a full stomach can slow down the onset of its effects and may delay falling asleep.

Does Ambien cause memory loss?

Clinical trials have been conducted on correlations between memory loss as a result of Ambien and found that Ambien was attributed to memory loss in less than 1% of patients. Memory loss is very rare, however a condition called anterograde amnesia can occur, in which the brain loses the ability to formulate new memories while taking Ambien.

Is Ambien safe to take during pregnancy?

It is not recommended to take Ambien during pregnancy. The active drug in Ambien is considered a category C drug by the Federal Drug Administration. This means that studies have been conducted on animals resulting in side effects to the mother’s unborn fetus, such as decreased weight in the babies. There have not been enough studies conducted on humans as there are many risks associated with this.

For mothers that have taken Ambien during the end of their pregnancy, infants experienced difficulty breathing after birth. If a lack of sleep is being experienced during pregnancy, it is best a physician is consulted to address the issue.

What happens if Ambien is abused?

If Ambien is used for more than the 2-weeks suggested, patients will begin to develop a dependency.  A tolerance will begin to build up for the drug, resulting in the need to take more to achieve the same effect. Patients may realize they have become dependent on Ambien if they can no longer fall asleep without it. Signs and symptoms of Ambien dependency include, nausea, vomiting, shaking, and possibly seizures upon abrupt discontinuation of the medication.

When taking Ambien, do not drink alcohol. Ambien combined with alcohol increases risk of seizures, slow heart rate, coma, and esophageal damage. Ambien can also cause other interactions if mixed with antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and sedative antihistamines like Benadryl.

What are Ambien overdose symptoms?

Symptoms of Ambien overdose include excessive sleep which can lead to a coma, convulsions, respiratory failure and cardiovascular failure. In the case of an Ambien overdose, a gastric lavage may need to be conducted to remove the substance from the stomach. Respiration, blood pressure and pulse will also need to be closely monitored as in the case of any overdose.

How can I overcome Ambien addiction?

Addiction treatment at Recovery Centers of America consists of a medically monitored detox as part of inpatient addiction treatment. Dependence and addiction on any substance should be treated by medical professionals who can prescribe medications to make the withdrawal safer and more comfortable. Call 1-800-Recovery if you believe yourself or a loved one may be struggling with Ambien.


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