What Is Ambien?
Ambien is a brand-name prescription medicine that has been approved by the FDA for use as a short-term treatment of adults who have trouble falling asleep, also known as insomnia. There are currently two types of Ambien on the market in the United States: Ambien and Ambien CR, also known as extended-release Ambien.
The active ingredient in both forms of Ambien is zolpidem tartrate, a drug that increases the responsiveness of a naturally occurring chemical in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which in turn slows brain activity. This rapid reduction in brain activity triggers feelings of calm, drowsiness and extreme fatigue in most users.
Ambien is classified as a nonbarbiturate (nonnarcotic) hypnotic. Included in this drug class is Etomidate, a potent nonbarbiturate hypnotic that is marketed under the brand name Amidate. It is used as a short-acting IV anesthetic to sedate patients during procedures such as the relocation of dislocated joints and tracheal intubation.
Other prescription nonbarbiturate hypnotics that contain the same active ingredient found in Ambien, zolpidem tartrate, include Edluar and Intermezzo, which are available as dissolvable sublingual tablets. The FDA has also recently approved ZolpiMist, a fast-acting oral spray formulated with 5 mg of zolpidem tartrate per metered dose.
What Is Ambien Prescribed For?
Ambien is used to treat adults over the age of 18 who have difficulty falling asleep, are struggling to stay asleep or are experiencing a combination of the two issues. It is designed for short-term use lasting four or fewer weeks to reduce the risk of patients developing a dependency on the drug.
Physicians may prescribe Ambien to patients who are having difficulty with their sleeping patterns due to jet lag, stress, time change or other factors. Ambien is also used with geriatric patients who have sleep disruptions caused by their environment, such as the lights and loud noises in a long-term care facility.
The maximum daily dose of Ambien for adults is 10 mg, and the drug manufacturer recommends an initial dose of 5 mg for women and either 5 mg or 10 mg for men. Ambien is not for use in patients under the age of 18, and caution is needed with those who have a history of substance abuse, mental health issues and kidney, lung or liver disease.
Because Ambien is a fast-acting medication, patients are advised to take it immediately before going to bed and at least seven to eight hours before they plan to wake up.
What Are Potential Ambien Side Effects?
According to Sanofi, the company that manufactures and distributes Ambien, the “most common side effects of Ambien include drowsiness, dizziness, diarrhea, grogginess or feeling as if you have been drugged.”
Sanofi also states that both “Ambien and Ambien CR may cause serious side effects that you may not know are happening to you,” including “sleep-walking or doing other activities when you are asleep like eating, talking, having sex or driving a car.” Further potential side effects of extended-release Ambien CR are “sleepiness during the day, not thinking clearly, (and) acting strangely, confused or upset.”
The heavy sedative effects of Ambien has been linked to a number of documented cases of alleged rape, including the 2009 alleged sexual assault of a 35-year-old psychiatric ward patient who was taking Ambien. The defendant’s DNA was found on the victim’s underwear, and he admitted to engaging in intercourse with her. However, the judge dismissed the case on the basis that the victim couldn’t accurately say that she didn’t consent to sex due to the effects of Ambien.
It’s important to note that combining Ambien with other depressants like alcohol can dramatically increase the risk of oversedation, leading to issues like respiratory depression, urinary and fecal incontinence, and even overdose.
How Many People Abuse Ambien?
Because Ambien is widely considered to be a relatively “safe” drug, is nonnarcotic, and is exceptionally rarely involved in overdose deaths, government agencies do not currently track the number of Ambien abusers in the United States.
The Huffington Post reports that since being approved for sale in 1993, Ambien “has become one of the most popular sleeping aids; it’s a favorite of insomniacs, shift workers and business travelers.” It goes on to state that a reported 60 million prescriptions for sleeping pills were written in the United States in 2011, and it’s widely believed that the number of Ambien prescriptions made up the bulk of those prescription sleeping pill sales.
Rosanne Barr and Ambien
Ambien made the front pages in May, 2018 when comedian and actor Roseanne Barr blamed the drug for her widely distributed racist tweet that led to widespread consequences for the star of the since-cancelled hit TV show The Connors. According to Barr, she was taking the drug Ambien when she sent out a series of social media posts targeting former White House aide Valerie Jarrett — an act that drew criticism and denial from Sanofi.
Common Signs of Ambien Abuse
Although Ambien is widely considered to be a safe drug because it doesn’t contain narcotics, when it’s taken for an extended period of time, it can be habit-forming.
Some patients who have been prescribed Ambien have a difficult time getting to sleep without the drug once their prescription runs out. This can lead them to either seek multiple prescriptions for Ambien from different doctors or look for Ambien on the street, which can introduce patients to other street drugs.
Are You Ambien Dependent? We Can Help
If you’re hooked on Ambien, simply can’t sleep without it or take more Ambien than what’s prescribed for you, we’re here to help. Our team of compassionate addictions experts uses science-based treatment methods to help you address the root causes of your insomnia — without drugs like Ambien. Call us anytime — we’re available to talk 24/7.