Ambien (zolpidem) is a powerful hypnotic, sedative, depressant drug that acts swiftly on the central nervous system to induce sleep by way of its “knockout” effect that induces unconsciousness. Some of the side effects of the drug can result in sleep disturbances, physical discomforts, mental distress, and in some instances bizarre and unpredictable reactions.
According to regulatory body recommendations in the US and the UK, the drug should only be prescribed for a very limited time to prevent addiction or dependence. The “knockout” effect diminishes over time, which can result in a prolongation of sleep deprivation and other negative consequences.1
Ambien, and many other drugs, cross the placental barrier and should not be used by nursing mothers.5
When using Ambien, all other CNS depressants including alcohol should be avoided due to their additive psychomotor impairments.3
Coming off the drug without help or proper instruction can be especially difficult, as will be discussed further in the topics outlined below. Always thoroughly research a drug before starting or stopping a prescription.
What Is Ambien Used for?
Ambien is most frequently used in a therapeutic context for the short-term treatment of insomnia. Sleep deprivation can cause many health problems, including neurocognitive consequences.
Quite apart from the intended medical or therapeutic uses, Ambien has been used as a date-rape drug because of its fast onset and profound memory-obfuscating characteristics. Ambien is also hard to detect on a drug test and is colorless, odorless and tasteless, and easily dissolves in alcohol, making it easy to slip into another’s drink surreptitiously. The unsuspecting victim will not remember much, if any, of what has happened, making a court conviction against the rapist or other perpetrator much harder to obtain.
Ambien Alternative Names and Slang
Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, and Zolpimist are all trade names for the generic drug which is called zolpimed, also named zolpimed tartrate. Ambien CR and zolpimed ER are the time-release versions of this medication.
Ambien Side Effects
Ambien side effects can worsen over time so dramatically that physicians are strongly cautioned by the FDA in the US and by the counterpart of the FDA in the UK not to prescribe sleeping aids such as Ambien for more than a three- to four-week period at most. Recommended doses have also been lowered, due to new findings concerning the intense and sometimes bizarre side effects of Ambien, especially when taken at higher doses. Drugmakers have been directed to put additional black box warnings on the packaging, indicating the risks of certain side effects of Ambien.1
Some of Ambien’s side effects to be cautious of:
- Suicidal Ideation – note, the FDA recommends prescribing the least amount possible to avoid intentional suicide.
- Severe Anaphylactic and Anaphylactoid Reactions
- Abnormal Thinking and Behavioral Changes, i.e., hallucinations, sleep-driving, etc.
- Rebound Insomnia: Patients get prescribed Ambien most often as a fast-acting sleep aid. After a short time, however, there is a lessening of the “knockout” effect, where the patient may awaken after an hour or two and be unable to fall back asleep.
- Vertigo: Dizziness, as in a sensation where the room is spinning, a common side effect of Ambien, which can produce an uncomfortable transition to a sleep state. Vertigo can also induce a disturbing waking sensation, which can occur at random times, especially for the extended-release version, which may cause these effects during one’s next workday or while driving or operating machinery.
- Ataxia: A condition resembling drunkenness caused by a toxic reaction to medications like Ambien, presents as slurred speech, inability to control voluntary muscles, or an inability to walk without stumbling, difficulty holding or controlling objects in the hand, such as eating utensils, unable to control the body (see DATE RAPE information).
- Tachycardia: Racing heart even though at rest, also heart palpitations, or increased blood pressure.
- Urticaria: Hives, raised itchy welts, rashes, can impact the airway which can also present as breathing difficulty.
- Abdominal Disturbances: These are common on Ambien including loss of appetite, diarrhea, flatulence, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, hiccups, acid reflux, and heartburn.
- Urinary Tract Infections: And, dryness of the vaginal walls are common side effects for women taking Ambien.
- Flu-Like Symptoms: These can include sinusitis, throat infections, sore throat, chest pain, respiratory infection, fever, confusion, tinnitus, fatigue.
- Asthenia: A sudden loss of physical strength or sudden sensation of overall weakness.
- Amnesia: Chunks of time may be missing entirely, or memories may be scrambled and partially obscured for a period of time.
- Somnambulism: The phenomenon of combined wakefulness and sleep which presents as sleepwalking, sleep-driving, sleep-shopping, sleep-cooking, and so on, which the person will typically have no recollection of.
- Depression, Worsened Depression
- Mood Swings
- Body Aches: Especially of the neck, back, arthralgia (aching joints), myalgia (aching muscle or groups of muscles).
Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms
Ambien is a drug that may require inpatient care for proper recovery and safe tapering. Full monitoring of someone who is experiencing Ambien withdrawals is highly recommended, sometimes requiring 24/7 observation.
Ambien withdrawal symptoms include:
- Rebound Insomnia *
- Panic Attacks, anxiety, depression
- Crying Spells
- Heart Palpitations, tachycardia, high blood pressure
- Stomach Cramps
*According to sleepadvisor.org, rebound insomnia occurs when sleep problems worsen when coming off sleeping pills.
One should not continue taking Ambien for longer than is recommended in medical literature and the FDA label.1
Even after as little as a week or two, Ambien withdrawal symptoms can emerge and can be problematic. Always seek competent medical advice, guidance, and support for monitoring the process of tapering off Ambien safely.