Ambien Abuse, and Addiction

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Could you become addicted to Ambien? Ambien is the brand name for the popular sleep aid zolpidem. Over 10 million Americans (1) are prescribed Ambien each year. Though it is considered safe when used as prescribed, many have developed a substance use disorder as a result of extended use of this highly addictive substance. Its mechanisms of action lead many to receive the sleep aid they require. These same mechanisms, however, are what lead many to develop a dependence on this powerful pill.

If you or someone you know has developed a substance use disorder related to Ambien, help is available. Here at Guardian Recovery, we understand how important substance use treatment can be. Thankfully, you do not have to fight this battle alone. Call Guardian Recovery today to speak with a treatment advisor. They will be able to review your treatment options and help you begin your journey to recovery.

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What Is Ambien?

Ambien is the brand name for the non-benzodiazepine sleep aid zolpidem. Ambien is prescribed for those struggling to fall asleep or having trouble staying asleep. Unlike benzodiazepines, Ambien binds to specific receptors in the brain. These receptors are responsible for sending signals related to sedation and drowsiness throughout the brain. Ambien is also responsible for causing feelings of euphoria for many who use it. Due to this, Ambien also has the potential for misuse and dependence.

How Can Prescription Ambien Cause Dependence?

As your brain and body are exposed to a substance repeatedly, they begin to adapt. They will become accustomed to its presence and will begin to depend on it to function. This is a phenomena known as dependency. When someone becomes dependent on Ambien (2), they will require it to maintain proper sleep patterns as well as normal levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Due to its high risk for dependency, Ambien is recommended as a short term solution for sleep related disorders.

What Are the Addiction Rates from Ambien Use?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), rates of dependency (3) on Ambien are similar to those for other benzodiazepines. Many report that though Ambien is not a benzodiazepine, it can have similar effects. It is for this reason that it is classified as a schedule IV controlled substance.

Causes & Risk Factors for Ambien Abuse & Addiction Development

As Ambien is ingested it quickly begins interacting with receptors in the brain. These are the receptors responsible for sending and receiving signals of sedation as well as feelings of euphoria. It is because of these pleasant sensations and mental reward patterns that Ambien dependence can develop.

The Effects of Ambien Use on Mental Health

Though it is not a benzodiazepine, Ambien carries many of the same warnings related to mental health. Ambien users are urged to explore alternatives if they are feeling symptoms of depression. Ambien has been shown to worsen these symptoms.

Along with its potential side effects, suddenly stopping Ambien may affect the user’s mental health as well. As the brain becomes dependent on Ambien for the stable release of important brain chemicals, the sudden removal of Ambien can have negative results. Many users report “emotional rollercoaster” symptoms as their brain goes through the process of learning to naturally regulate itself.

Demographics Most at Risk of Ambien Abuse?

Though a substance use disorder cannot be linked to one single cause, there are some determining factors (4) that can increase someone’s risk. These factors include:

  • Genetics — Studies have shown that genetics can affect how a person responds to a particular substance. When someone has an increased response to a substance, it increases the chances of developing a substance use disorder.
  • Environment — A person’s exposure to drug use or trauma early in life can increase the risk of substance use disorder development. This is especially true if they are only exposed to limited methods of coping with these life events.
  • Access — When a person has an illicit substance readily available, it will increase their risk of misuse.

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What Are Distinct Signs Someone May Be Addicted to Ambien?

Substance use disorders will usually remain hidden for an extended period of time before they are recognized by friends and family. Though they can be difficult to spot, there are some areas of life that an Ambien use disorder will begin to impact.

  • Social Relationships — One of the first symptoms that may arise pointing to a substance use disorder is the impact that it has on the user’s social relationships. Many who begin to experience a substance use disorder will become withdrawn from friends or family. This is especially noticeable when the person previously was very social or outgoing.
  • Psychological Differences — Changes in a person’s personality and cognitive ability may also be a sign that loved ones notice. As addiction progresses, it will begin to negatively impact the user’s mood and overall demeanor.
  • Biological Changes — The third, and possibly most notable, are the changes in your loved one’s physical appearance. Weight loss, bags under the eyes, and visible scabs or scars are all potential warning signs to a loved one that a substance use disorder is manifesting behind the scenes.

Common Symptoms & Side Effects of Ambien Dependence

Though Ambien will have a slightly different effect on each user, there may be similarities in the symptoms of overuse or dependence.


Physical symptoms related to Ambien use include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • ‘Drugged feeling’
  • Unsteady walking
  • Difficulty keeping balance
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea


Psychological symptoms of Ambien misuse include:

  • Depressive symptoms
  • “Emotional Rollercoaster”
  • Brain fog
  • Difficulty remembering

What Should You Do if Someone Overdoses or is Addicted to Ambien?

Though it is not an opiate, it is still possible to overdose on Ambien. Ambien overdose comes as a result of taking too much Ambien or mixing Ambien with other substances like alcohol. Immediately seeking medical attention should be the first step after noticing an Ambien overdose. There is no reversal agent for treating Ambien overdose, but medical professionals can take steps towards improving the survival rate.

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Treatment Options Available for Those Who Suffer From Ambien Addiction

If you or someone you know suffers from an Ambien use disorder, Guardian Recovery is here to help. We are a nationwide network of substance use treatment facilities committed to the recovery of every patient we treat. Contact us today to speak with a treatment advisor. They will be able to answer your questions and guide you along the first steps of your recovery journey. They are even able to conduct a free insurance check over the phone with no obligation to you. Your journey to a lifestyle of recovery can start today.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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