Ambien Symptoms and Warning Signs

People abusing Ambien may perform activities like cooking and driving in their sleep. Ambien abuse can also lead to changes in mood and problems at work or home.

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Signs of Ambien Use

Woman passed outMany people taking Ambien don’t realize how quickly they can become dependent on the drug, even if they are following their prescription.

Friends and family may not have any idea that their loved one is abusing Ambien, both because it is a prescription drug and it is generally used right before sleep.

Continued Ambien use often results in tolerance, whereby the body has adapted to the presence of the drug and the user needs to take a larger dose to feel the same effects.

As someone’s tolerance increases, they may start taking more than one pill to fall asleep. They may also exhibit unusual behavior without having memory of their actions.

Some of the signs of Ambien abuse include:

  • Uninhibited sociability and talkativeness
  • Frequent blackouts
  • Strange behavior with no memory
  • Sleepwalking or sleep activities
  • Hypersexual behavior
  • Impaired coordination and balance

Dangers of Ambien (Zolpidem)

Ambien is designed to calm the mind and body to induce sleep for people struggling with insomnia. In lower doses, Ambien is an effective medication for the treatment of short-term insomnia. When taken at higher doses, however, it can produce a number of unpleasant side effects. Doctors generally prescribe Ambien for two weeks at most. Beyond that time frame, it may not be as effective. People who continue to take Ambien may end up accidentally — or even intentionally — abusing the drug. Any dose of Ambien used outside of a doctor’s instructions is considered abuse.

Many Ambien users have reported strange and disturbing side effects from the drug. Some of these effects involve users going from a sleeping state to engaging in complicated activities without any recollection of their actions.

Sleep Activities on Ambien

  • Sleepwalking
  • Making and eating food
  • Having sex
  • Driving
  • Talking on the phone

I’d wake up to find in my bed cheese and crackers and a sharp knife on a plate (hey, at least I was classy). One morning I wandered into the kitchen to make coffee and discovered a pot of soup over an open flame on the stove. I had no idea how it got there.

- Former Ambien addict and writer Laurie Sandell, Glamour, 2008

Ambien inhibits natural brain activity, inducing drowsiness to the point of intense sedation and calmness. People who take Ambien and force themselves to stay awake are much more likely to perform unconscious actions and not remember them.

Other side effects of Ambien abuse might include:

  • Amnesia
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unsteady gait
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Mental confusion
  • Uncontrollable shaking

In January of 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered a reduction in the recommended dosage of Ambien for women — down from 10 mg to 5 mg, or 12.5 mg to 6.25 in extended-release formulas. This is because women metabolize Ambien slower than men.

There have been reports of acute intoxication (to the point of impairing focus and driving ability) eight hours after taking Ambien in 10-15 percent of women.

Another risk of Ambien abuse is overdose. While Ambien alone can cause an overdose, mixing the substance with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol greatly increase the risk of overdose, respiratory failure, and death.

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Ambien Hallucinations

Ambien-induced hallucinations may occur in some individuals, depending on various factors that researchers are still investigating. Individuals who co-administer Ambien at high doses with drugs such as anti-depressants, alcohol, benzodiazepines, other sedatives or sleeping pills/tranquilizers, or anti-anxiety medications used are more likely to develop adverse side effects like hallucinations. Hallucinations may include auditory, visual, or tactile hallucinations.

Adverse effects such as hallucinations and psychosis have been reported, particularly with [Ambien]. Increasing reports of bizarre and complex behavioral effects from z-drugs have prompted regulatory agencies to issue warnings and restrictions on prescribing, dispensing, and using z-drugs.

- Addiction specialist Dr. Michael F. Weaver, Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 2015

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Recognizing an Addiction to Ambien

Ambien was formulated to temporarily treat sleep disorders. If a friend or loved one is using Ambien for any other reason or without a doctor’s prescription, it may be cause for concern. Even people using Ambien appropriately may become addicted to it over time.

Behaviors that may indicate an addiction to Ambien include:

  • Being unable to sleep without taking Ambien
  • Seeing more than one doctor for prescriptions
  • Spending a lot of time and/or money trying to acquire Ambien
  • Trying and failing to cut down on Ambien use
  • Continuing to use Ambien despite dangerous actions like sleep-driving
  • Frequent issues at work, school, or home (e.g. absences, poor performance, neglecting responsibilities, etc.)

Intervention and Next Steps

Many Ambien users may not think they have a problem if a doctor prescribed the drug to them. If Ambien is becoming a problem in someone’s life, talking to them about their drug use can help them see the issue. Staging an intervention is a useful way to persuade an addicted person to get help.

During an intervention, family and friends read prepared speeches with the goal of getting the addicted person treatment. It’s also important to outline consequences for the addicted person if they don’t agree to get help. Many former addicts say consequences given by their family was their deciding factor for getting treatment.

It is often helpful to hire a professional interventionist, especially if your loved one is struggling with more than one addiction. Interventionists help ensure the intervention is both civil and productive.

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Withdrawal and Treatment

Ambien may seem like a harmless prescription to some, but the withdrawal symptoms from the drug can be dangerous. Symptoms from Ambien withdrawal usually begin within 48 hours after the last dose was taken. Depending on the amount used, frequency of use, and other factors, the individual may experience the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Cravings for Ambien
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps or discomfort
  • Uncontrolled crying or depression
  • Flushing
  • Panic attacks
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Rebound insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Seizures

Quitting Ambien “cold turkey” increases the possibility of experiencing stronger withdrawal symptoms.

The first step in treating an Ambien addiction is guiding the user through detox and the withdrawal period. Detox generally involves carefully reducing the user’s Ambien dose over time.

Eventually, Ambien users can stop taking the drug without uncomfortable or dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Detox is coupled with therapy and support groups to help treat the psychological aspect of the addiction. If you need help finding Ambien addiction treatment for a loved one, contact a dedicated treatment provider today.


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