Long-Term Effects of Ambien Misuse
Many people suffer from sleeping difficulties, and as a result, several medications have been developed with the intention of treating these conditions. One such medication is Ambien, a brand name formulation of zolpidem.
This page will explain what Ambien is, the potential long-term effects of Ambien misuse, and how to get treatment for Ambien addiction.
What Is Ambien?
The active component of the drug Ambien is zolpidem. Zolpidem is a non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic drug that is prescribed to help people sleep.1
Immediate-release formulations of zolpidem have a fast onset of action and a relatively short half-life, meaning that the medication works quickly and does not remain in a person’s system very long. This makes Ambien primarily useful in helping people fall asleep or to initiate sleep.1
The drug is not prescribed to help people stay asleep or maintain sleep unless the drug is prescribed in an extended- or controlled-release form.1
Some research studies suggest that Ambien can also be used as a muscle relaxant and may even be capable of controlling some seizures, although the dosage required for seizure control would be extremely high. However, the drug is not approved by the FDA for these purposes.2
Zolpidem and similar pharmaceutical agents (e.g., other so called “z-drugs”) were promoted as an alternative to other prescription sedative-hypnotics more likely to cause physical dependence, such as benzodiazepines.
However, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) currently lists zolpidem as a Schedule IV controlled substance, indicating that, though relatively low, there is some risk of misuse and dependence. Thus, products containing zolpidem can only be obtained with a prescription from a physician.
How Does Ambien Work?
Like benzodiazepines, zolpidem works to increase the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.
Increased GABA activity is associated with decreased firing rates of neurons within the brain and spinal cord. This accounts for its sedative effects. Though zolpidem appears to be molecularly distinct from benzodiazepines, it influences activity at the GABAA receptor, which is the same receptor that benzodiazepines interact with to exert their effects.
With a similar mechanism of action and physical effects profile as benzos, there is also a risk of overdose on high doses of zolpidem products. The benzodiazepine antagonist drug flumazenil reverses some of the sedative effects of drugs that bind to GABA receptors and can be used in cases of an overdose on both benzodiazepines and zolpidem products.3
Prescription Sleep Aids Like Ambien Are for Short-Term Use
One of the reasons these drugs are only designed to be used in the short-term is that tolerance develops very rapidly and people often need significantly higher amounts of the drug in a short time to get the same effects.4
Sedative-hypnotic drugs like Ambien and benzodiazepines (when indicated for insomnia) are best used as short-term solutions while the person develops behavioral methods to help them initiate and maintain sleep. This could involve the use of:
- Behavioral therapy.
- Relaxation training.
- Diaphragmatic breathing.
- Other non-pharmaceutical methods.
Short-Term Effects of Ambien
The primary therapeutic effects of Ambien include:5
- Initiation of sleep.
Ambien Side Effects
Side effects may include:5
- Memory impairments.
- Insomnia when the drug is discontinued—commonly referred to as rebound insomnia.
- Unusual dreams.
- Parasomnias—abnormal, sometimes complex sleep events.
- In rare cases, hallucinations.
- Nausea and heartburn.
- Light-headedness and/or dizziness.
- Difficulties with balance.
- Unsteady gait.
- Physiological dependence.
Your ability to drive or operate machinery the day after using Ambien may be impaired due to potential problems with attention and decreased reaction time, even if you feel rested and alert.5
Additionally, you may have an increased risk of falls, decreased reaction time, and problems with coordination the day after Ambien use.5
Parasomnias are sleep disorders where individuals engage in activities that they would normally perform while they are awake, but they engage in these activities while they are actually asleep. Zolpidem has been implicated in some cases where people have been:6
- Driving while asleep.
- Eating while asleep.
- Having sex while asleep.
These cases are very rare. The most common manifestation of a parasomnia is sleepwalking.6
The use of Ambien with alcohol can increase the risk of parasomnias and other side effects. Misusing the drug (e.g., using it in excess of prescribed parameters) may also contribute to this risk.6
Use of drugs that increase the activity of GABA, such as benzodiazepines and zolpidem, may be associated with the development of short-term memory problems.7
Zolpidem is recommended for use with caution in the elderly, as they may be at increased risk for more pronounced cognitive effects, including issues with memory for recent events or with forming new memories.8
You can also securely now. Please don’t wait another day to get treatment for Ambien misuse.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.
While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.