Ambien Symptoms, Signs & Side Effects

Ambien, the brand name of zolpidem, is a medication given for sleep disorders. While many people who are seeking a good night’s rest take the drug with a prescription from their doctor and experience minimal issues, others take Ambien without a prescription for recreational purposes. Like with other medications, side effects are always possible. When someone abuses the drug, the risks of Ambien side effects increase.

Symptoms of Ambien Abuse

Ambien abuse symptoms can be difficult to observe because they’re often subtle. It’s clear that someone injecting heroin in a back alley is abusing a substance, but a person can abuse Ambien without any exhibiting any obvious signs.

To simplify the process of identifying Ambien abuse, the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens created a list of prescription drug abuse signs:

  • Using Ambien without a prescription
  • Using Ambien in ways other than prescribed
  • Taking Ambien more often or in higher doses than prescribed
  • Taking Ambien for longer than prescribed
  • Mixing Ambien with other substances

If you suspect someone in your life is abusing the drug, you may notice:

  • Changes in their behavior, appetite or sleep schedule
  • Shifting relationships with friends and family
  • Empty pill bottles
  • Missing pills from your prescription
  • Changes in mood or energy levels

People may think that Ambien is always safe because it is a prescription medication, but using the drug without a prescription can be dangerous. Ambien abuse is never advisable

Side Effects of Ambien Abuse

Nearly all medications carry a risk of side effects, and Ambien is no different. The sleep aid has an extensive list of side effects and concerns that may occur any time a person takes the medication.

Ambien side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Amnesia
  • Trouble balancing

More severe side effects of Ambien can include:

  • Next-day impairment. Because the effects of Ambien can be so strong, people may feel sedated for the entire day after using the drug. This tired feeling is dangerous because sleepiness, vision problems and slowed reaction time can make everyday behaviors like driving hazardous.
  • Increased depression. People with preexisting depression could see their symptoms worsen when using Ambien. If left unaddressed, the depression could lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.
  • Breathing problems. Ambien may negatively affect the breathing of people while sleeping, especially those with sleep apnea.
  • Abnormal thinking and bizarre behaviors. A person using Ambien, even as prescribed by their doctor, might engage in odd behaviors. It is possible for someone on Ambien to drive a car, have sex, prepare food and make phone calls while sleeping. They may also hallucinate and behave aggressively. When they wake, they often have no recollection of the events that took place while they were asleep.

Be sure to speak to your prescriber immediately if you or your loved ones experience any of these side effects.

Side Effects of Long-Term Ambien Use

Any of the above side effects may occur after the first use of Ambien. However, there is another group of effects that only come after long-term Ambien use. One side effect of long-term Ambien use is physical dependence. During physical dependence, the body and brain become accustomed to the presence of Ambien and shift their natural chemical production to accommodate to the medication. As the body adjusts to the Ambien, the original dose of Ambien can no longer produce the same effects, meaning the person must take more to achieve a similar high. The need for higher doses of Ambien is a sign that a person has established a tolerance to the drug.

Physical dependence and tolerance are problems because Ambien use must eventually end. Stopping use while physically dependent can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Shakiness
  • Rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Intense cravings for Ambien

In some cases, these withdrawal symptoms can begin a few hours after the last dose of Ambien. As with other sleeping and anxiety medications, never try to end use abruptly without first consulting your prescriber. Proper medical management is required to discontinue Ambien use safely.

Beyond the physical side effects of long-term Ambien use, a person’s psychological well-being is often also affected. Some people can become addicted to Ambien or develop a sedative use disorder that exhibits the following signs:

  • Thinking about Ambien constantly
  • Spending excessive amounts of time, effort and energy obtaining and using Ambien
  • Continuing to use Ambien despite mental and physical health risks
  • Losing relationships because of Ambien
  • Being unable to fulfill commitments at home, work or school because of Ambien use

Ambien addiction is always a risk, even if use begins as prescribed. Always take your medications as directed and speak with your prescriber if you believe your Ambien use is becoming a problem.

Signs of Ambien Overdose

Whether you have been using the medication for one night or 100 nights, Ambien overdose is a threat. Overdose can occur while talking only Ambien, but it is more common when Ambien is combined with other drugs that slow the body, like alcohol, opioids or benzodiazepines.

The most significant risk of Ambien overdose is respiratory depression, which means your breathing slows or stops altogether. Other effects of Ambien overdose include heart problems, extreme sedation and coma.

If you think you or someone you know has overdosed on Ambien, call 911 or travel to the nearest emergency room as quickly as possible. Medical treatment can help reverse the effects of an overdose.

Ambien is a helpful medication, but it carries many risks, even when used as directed. If you want more information on the benefits and drawbacks of Ambien, or if you know someone who needs professional treatment for Ambien addiction, dependence or withdrawal, contact the experts at The Recovery Village Ridgefield.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.