What is Ambien Addiction? What does Ambien Addiction Look Like & What Are the Side Effects?

Written by Jonathan Strum

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Updated 10/25/2022

Ambien is a popular prescription medication used to treat insomnia, a condition that affects a large segment of the population. Between 1993 and 2015, insomnia diagnoses in the U.S. increased from 800,000 to 9.4 million. Although Ambien is one of the most common drugs prescribed to treat this disorder, the medication is also associated with dangerous side effects. 

The generic name of Ambien is zolpidem. This medication is classified by the FDA as a Schedule IV drug, which indicates that it has a potential for dependence and addiction. It is meant only for short-term use to help someone adjust to normal sleep patterns. Unfortunately, many individuals who take this drug are unable to fall asleep or remain asleep without it.

What Is Ambien?

Ambien belongs to a class of drugs known as Z-drugs. The medication is categorized as a sedative-hypnotic medicine, meaning it provides a calming effect and induces sleep. It produces these effects by binding to GABA receptors in the brain. 

Ambien is available in different formulations that can help a person sleep in different ways. For example, some individuals need help falling asleep, while others have trouble waking up in the middle of the night or waking up too early.

Ambien Dosage

Ambien is available as a 5 mg and 10 mg immediate-release tablet. This formulation is useful to help someone fall asleep. Zolpimist is an oral spray version of Ambien that can also help someone fall asleep. It releases 5 mg of medication per spray. The maximum dosage of either form is 10 mg per night. Ambien also comes as a 6.25 mg and 12.5 mg controlled-release tablet, which allows small amounts of the drug to be released slowly in the body. 

Some individuals may wake up in the middle of the night, which affects the quality of sleep received. To assist with this issue, a sublingual formulation (SL) that dissolves underneath the tongue is available in 1.75 mg for women and 3.5 mg for men. 

What Does Ambien Look Like?

The appearance of Ambien can vary in shape, color and imprinting:

Ambien Side Effects

There are rare but serious side effects associated with Ambien that have been reported, including sleepwalking, sleep-driving and engaging in other activities during sleep. These side effects can lead to falls, serious injury and death. As a result, the FDA put out a major warning in 2019 to educate the public on these side effects and risks. 

Ambien side effects that are more common include

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty with coordination
  • Uncontrolled shaking
  • Muscle pain
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth

Next-Day Side Effects of Ambien

Doctors recommend using the lowest effective dose of Ambien possible. This is because blood levels of the drug may be high in some patients the morning after taking the medication. 

It is important to note that even though a person may feel fully awake, certain side effects may still occur the next morning. These effects include

  • Impaired mental alertness
  • Drowsiness
  • Inability to operate a vehicle

Long-Term Side Effects of Ambien

Ambien is associated with various long-term side effects, including

Ambien Side Effects in Elderly

Because the elderly are more vulnerable to the effects of Ambien, the FDA recommends the lowest effective dose possible. For example, an elderly person should not take more than 5 mg of immediate-release Ambien. Elderly people are more likely to experience impaired motor and cognitive function, so Ambien’s potential to cause falls and confusion is a greater concern for them. There is also data showing that the risk for dementia may be increased in older adults who take Ambien. 

How Long for Ambien to Kick In?

Both the immediate-release and controlled-release forms of Ambien reach peak blood levels in 1.5 hours. This means that a person can start to feel the effects as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion. 

Sublingual zolpidem reaches peak blood levels between 35 and 75 minutes. Its onset of action is rapid and quicker than tablets, which need to be digested before the effects can be felt. The effects of Zolpimist may be felt as soon as 15 minutes after oral spray is used. The onset of action for all forms of Ambien can be affected by factors like gender, age and other conditions that a person may have. 

How Long Does Ambien Last?

The amount of time that Ambien’s effects last depends on which formulation is prescribed. Sedation from Zolpimist and sublingual zolpidem can last for approximately four hours. The controlled-release version of Ambien is a two-layered tablet. The first layer is released immediately, which is why it has the same onset of action as the immediate-release tablet. The second layer is released at a slow rate, which causes it to last longer than the immediate-release tablet. The effects from Ambien CR can last for over six hours

If someone is using alcohol, opioids or other drugs, the effects can be intensified and may last longer in some cases. Gender, age and co-occurring conditions will also influence how long any formulation of Ambien lasts. 

Ambien Half-Life

The half-life of a drug is the time it takes for half of the drug to be completely eliminated from the body. The half-lives of the different forms of Ambien differ slightly. Immediate-release and controlled-release Ambien have a half-life that ranges between 1.4 and 3.8 hours. The sublingual form of Ambien has a half-life of approximately 2.5 hours, and Zolpimist has a half-life of about 2.7 hours

How Long Does Ambien Stay in Your System?

Typically, it takes around five half-lives for a drug to be fully eliminated from the system. Based on the half-lives, a dose of immediate- or controlled-release Ambien is generally eliminated from the body in seven to 19 hours. A dose of the sublingual or oral spray form of Ambien is eliminated after approximately 12.5 hours. 

The most common way to test for Ambien is through the urine. This drug can be detected in the urine for up to 72 hours. Blood and hair samples are not usually used to test for Ambien use; however, the drug can be detectable in the blood for up to 48 hours and in the hair for up to several months after the last dose. 

Is Ambien Addictive?

Sleep disorders have become more common over the past several decades, and Ambien is a popular drug used to treat people suffering from insomnia. In fact, Ambien was ranked as the 28th most prescribed medication in 2021. However, it is a controlled substance, indicating that it has the potential for addiction and abuse.

Taking this medication long-term can lead to tolerance, meaning that higher doses of the drug are required to produce the same sedative effect. People who have a history of addiction or who regularly use alcohol or drugs are at increased risk of addiction to Ambien. 

Can You Overdose on Ambien?

It is possible to overdose on Ambien; however, the risk is far greater when this medication is mixed with other substances, such as alcohol or opioids. Symptoms of an overdose include

  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Slow and labored breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Coma

If you suspect an overdose, contact 911 immediately. Emergency personnel can attempt to stabilize any symptoms associated with Ambien overdose. A medication called Flumazenil may be given to counteract the effects of large amounts of Ambien. 

Ambien Withdrawal

If Ambien is stopped abruptly or the dose is decreased too quickly, a person can experience withdrawal from the drug. Ambien withdrawal symptoms are more severe when someone takes higher doses of Ambien or combines it with other substances, such as opioids, benzodiazepines or alcohol. 

Withdrawal symptoms can occur within 48 hours of stopping the medication. Symptoms associated with withdrawing from Ambien can be very uncomfortable, and they may last for weeks if not properly managed. This is why someone experiencing withdrawal should seek guidance and treatment through a medical professional or licensed rehab facility. 

Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline

Withdrawal symptoms that occur within 48 hours include

  • Fatigue 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Flushing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Panic attack
  • Nervousness
  • Seizures (rare)

Withdrawal symptoms that may arise after seven days include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression

If left untreated, these negative effects can persist for six to eight weeks. A person who may be dealing with withdrawal should be under the proper care of medical professionals to lessen the discomfort and prevent potential serious effects. 

How To Stop Taking Ambien

The first step to coming off Ambien is to lower the dose slowly over the course of several weeks. In order to do this safely, however, you should seek help from a doctor or an accredited rehabilitation center. The Recovery Village Columbus is a full-service facility that offers a safe and accepting environment to those who are ready to stop taking Ambien or other substances.

Ambien Detox Treatment

Detox is the process of allowing the body to slowly eliminate a drug from its system. However, withdrawal symptoms can make the detox period difficult to get through without help. Fortunately, The Recovery Village Columbus offers a medically assisted detox program that helps make the process as comfortable as possible. During medical detox, our team of health care professionals can assist with any physical, mental and emotional symptoms that may arise from withdrawal.

Ambien Addiction Treatment

Insomnia is a widespread disorder affecting a growing number of people throughout the country. Ambien is a common drug prescribed to treat this disorder, but it is only meant for short-term use. People who use it longer tend to become tolerant to the drug, requiring a higher dose to feel the same sedative effects. This can lead to addiction and withdrawal, especially if it is being used in combination with alcohol or other substances.

The Recovery Village Columbus is a trusted rehabilitation center that offers inpatient, partial hospitalization and outpatient Ambien treatment. Our facility offers a supportive environment and a variety of indoor and outdoor amenities, including two gyms, a rec room and an art studio. We are conveniently located 15 minutes from the airport and have an array of restaurants, hotels and shopping centers nearby. 

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