7 Things You Should Know About Ambien Addiction

ambien addiction

Many may think of the drug Ambien as a benign answer for sleeplessness. For example, those with prescriptions sometimes share their dosages with family and friends.

Many self-reports show first time users get the drug from a friend. And, we may not think twice about doing so. After all, it’s not like the highly addictive Xanax, right?

In fact, drug makers brought Ambien to the market in 1992 as a less dangerous way to relax the brain and allow sleep. But, it is a sedative. It works like other benzodiazepines (benzos), though makers say it does not have the same addictive qualities.

Still, in the hands of those who tend toward addiction, increasing dosages occur. And, this can lead to uncertain behaviors.

The side effects are so various that the dosage recommended by the FDA in 2013 is lower. The pervasive use (ten million prescriptions in 2017) is somewhat understandable.

After all, everyone reports sleeplessness at some time in their life. Taking a sleep aid for a short period is still considered safe by physicians.

So, what about Ambien addiction? When do some people cross the line? Here are seven things you should know about Ambien addiction.

Tolerance and Sedatives

The grandmother of all sedatives were barbiturates. The most common were Valium and Seconal.

These drugs were acceptable in the U.S. for decades. Then, clinicians began facing widespread addiction among patients.

Users were taking higher dosages as their bodies needed more. And, the same characteristic is real today. For example, those who use Xanax experience the need for more of the drug very fast.

And, anxiety increases as the user continues to take medicine. It is an addiction cycle which is difficult at best to stop.

And Ambien, like it’s stronger counterpart, Xanax, has the same type of half-life. It lasts in the system a short time, so habitual users need more for the same results.

Like Xanax, those who take Ambien should only do so for weeks. Not months or years.

Use of Ambien for Anxiety

Because Ambien is a sedative and a hypnotic, it relaxes the central nervous system. For those who suffer anxiety, the relaxation is a relief. From something, they may endure daily.

As their tolerance grows, they find themselves taking more and more to stay calm. Without it, the anxiety worsens.

This common “self-medication” occurs with alcohol and other drugs as well. But, Ambien is a typical prescription.

It is easy to access for those who might otherwise manage their anxiety with other options.

Use of Ambien with Alcohol

It is standard that we should not consume alcohol when taking a sedative. Studies show that Ambien is less addictive than Benzos such as Xanax.

The use of alcohol with either can stop respiration and cause death. Clinicians go further to say that we should not have alcohol during the entire day leading to a dosage.

Those who want to increase the sedative effects of Ambien will have a drink or two for the “high”. And, this can start the cycle of needing more of both to sleep or feel relaxed.

Taking Ambien Without Going to Sleep

The drug maker insists we take Ambien only when ready to go to bed. For those who use the drug for something other than sleep, there is a myriad of side effects.

Because of its hypnotic nature, users report hallucinations. And, similar feelings to those who take benzos.

Some also report a reduction of inhibitions. There are reports of behavior a person would never exhibit otherwise.

And worse, the memory of the action is gone. The “blackout” feature of Ambien is also a more common side effect for those who take it as prescribed, too.

This side effect has led to the drug becoming a schedule IV in the U.S. and a controlled substance in the U.K.

Recreational Use of Ambien

With the wide variety of effects, it should not be surprising it is recreational for some. Those who sell or buy the pills on the streets refer to it as “Mexican Valium,” “R2,” or the “forget-me pill.”

The medicine is cheap at around $8, and many physicians will prescribe it with several refills. The low cost is a boon for resellers and an inexpensive high for addicts.

And, for those who try to quit, the withdrawals are very like those who stop stronger sedatives. So, buying them on the street is cheaper and more comfortable than stopping the use.

The Side Effects of Taking Ambien

The “Ambien Defense” is not anything new. The theory of untoward behavior while on the drug has been gracing stories for years.

Tiger Woods, a few modern Kennedy’s, and the recent Rosanne Barr story are a few. Both believable and well known is the fact many do not remember what they did a few hours before.

Short-term memory is gone. This, along with the sedative nature of the drug, can prove dangerous.

For those who are taking higher dosages, loss of speech and cognitive abilities can occur. The lack of thought process, while driving or another activity is risky.

Half the emergency room visitors due to taking Ambien were drinking alcohol, too. An overdose of both shuts down the nervous system.

When It’s Time for Help

Ambien addiction in some ways is no different than any other drug addiction. That is, the physical dependence takes over.

Sufferers tend to exhibit behaviors they wouldn’t work under normal circumstances. They may Doctor shop or get drugs from people they don’t know. Stealing from friends and family is common.

And, Ambien has the ability to erase the short-term memory. So, those who are dependent may not remember what they are doing to get more of the drug.

In the absence of what they need, some may substitute alcohol or Xanax, or a dangerous combination of the two.

There Are Answers for Ambien Addiction

Ambien addiction is very treatable. There are scores of programs offering support, physical assistance, and mind and body therapy. We are here to help you find the right place. You can contact us at (877) 322-2450.



Cline Ph. D., J. (n.d.). The Ambien Defense. Retrieved from

FDA. (2019, April 30). Sleep Disorder (Sedative-Hypnotic) Drug Information. Retrieved from

Mayo Clinic. (2018, May 17). Ambien: Is dependence a concern? Retrieved from

About the author

Dr. Michael Carlton, MD.

Leading addictionologist, Michael Carlton, M.D. has over 25 years of experience as a medical practitioner. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and returned for his MD from the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1990. He completed his dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and his Fellowship in Toxicology at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

He has published articles in the fields of toxicology and biomedicine, crafted articles for WebMD, and lectured to his peers on medication-assisted treatment. Dr. Carlton was a medical director of Community Bridges and medically supervised the medical detoxification of over 30,000 chemically dependent patients annually.

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