Last updated: 04/22/2019
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Ambien, the tablet form of Zolpidem, is used to treat insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep), and it belongs to a class of medications called sedative-hypnotics. By slowing activity in the brain, it allows people to drift to sleep. However, many doctors warn that relying on a sleep medication may not be the best long-term solution for insomnia, as Ambien and other sleep medications can mask the cause of insomnia—an underlying condition that needs treatment. It can also cause side effects and may lead to dependence.
Over the last decade, there have been a rise in Ambien use, Ambien addiction, and emergency room visits caused by the drug. ED [emergency department] visits related to zolpidem (Ambien)—one of the most popular prescribed non-benzodiazepine hypnotics in the United States—also more than doubled during this period, from about 13,000 in 2004 to about 28,000 in 2008.
Misuse v. Abuse?
Before getting into the symptoms and treatment of Ambien abuse, it’s important to understand the point at which misuse become abuse because that is the tipping point for addiction.
Many people end up taking larger doses of medication than what their doctor prescribed or take medication prescribed for another person. If the intent behind these choices was to gain relief from sleeplessness, they may only be guilty of misuse.
For example, if one Ambien isn’t stopping insomnia, a person may on occasion take two. As long as it is an occasional choice that their doctor is aware of and not a regular habit or a secret decision, it falls into the category of misuse. The same is true of taking a single dose offered by a friend during a particularly sleepless period.
However, once a person begins taking Ambien for the feeling of euphoria it offers, it becomes prescription drug abuse. In fact, any non-medical use of Ambien is considered abuse. It is about intent. If the medication is taken from another person, used after it is no longer necessary, taken in larger amounts than prescribed for the sole purpose of getting high, that is Ambien abuse.
The perception of risk of prescription drug abuse declined 20 percent from 1992 to 2008, based on data from a National Institute on Drug Abuse survey.” Because of the perceived safety of prescription drug abuse, numbers of nonmedical users are on the rise. 52 million persons in the United States age 12 or older had used prescription drugs nonmedically at least once in their lifetime, and 6.2 million had used them in the past month.
What users seem to be overlooking is that abuse of Ambien and other prescription drugs isn’t safe because they were administered by a medical professional. Any user who actively takes the drugs to get high runs risks.
Common side effects reported by the US National Library of Medicine are:
- ‘drugged feeling’
- unsteady walking
- difficulty keeping balance
- stomach pain or tenderness
- changes in appetite
- uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
- pain, burning, numbness, or tingling in the hands, arms, feet, or legs
- unusual dreams
- redness, burning, or tingling of the tongue (with sublingual tablets)
- dry mouth or throat
- ringing, pain, or itching in the ears
- eye redness
- muscle aches or cramps
- joint, back, or neck pain
- heavy menstrual bleeding
Severe side effects (those requiring you contact a doctor immediately) are:
- swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, or throat
- feeling that the throat is closing
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- shortness of breath
- pounding heartbeat
- chest pain
- blurred vision or other vision problems
Symptoms of overdose include:
- coma (loss of consciousness for a period of time)
- slowed breathing or heartbeat
The Morning After
Ambien is also well-known for causing a “hangover” in the morning and the risks associated with that were bad enough that the FDA actually lowered the standard dosage in 2014 to ensure morning driving could be done without risk of an accident. People who abuse Ambien often exist in that fuzzy hangover state throughout the day and are a risk to themselves and others because of it.
Additionally, Ambien users have reported doing things while asleep that they don’t remember, such as driving or preparing and eating food. These are incredibly dangerous because the users aren’t fully conscious. Abusers of Ambien often undertake activities without being fully conscious.