Cirque Lodge > Blog > Addiction > Ambien Addiction

For many people living with sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleeping pills can enable them to get a good night's sleep. Appropriate and supervised use of sleeping pills can greatly improve the quality of life for users, allowing them to rest and recuperate - crucial for physical and mental well-being. Some pills can help with the process of falling asleep, while others can increase your chances of staying asleep through the night.

Ambien, sold under the brand name zolpidem, is a sedative-hypnotic form of sleeping pill. If taken according to guidelines, for short periods of time, it is relatively safe. Ambien is not prescribed for long-term use given its high potential for misuse.

There are some serious health warnings associated with this sleep medication, most notably the high rates of dependency and addiction. Although people most susceptible to dependency are those who use sleeping pills for a prolonged period of time, even those who use them briefly run the chance of developing a problem.

What Are Sleeping Pills?

There are a number of different sleeping pills available, both over-the-counter (OTC) and by prescription only.

OTC medications typically contain antihistamines which can cause drowsiness in the user. This form of sleeping pill is generally considered safer as they are not thought to lead to physical addiction. Psychological addiction, on the other hand, is common.

Common OTC medications used to treat sleep disorders include:

  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • Unisom (doxylamine)

There are a number of prescription medication options to treat insomnia, bringing varying degrees of risk for the person. Unlike OTC, prescription sleep meds can quickly lead to tolerance and addiction.

The 'sleepy' feeling is produced by activating the GABA response, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows the central nervous system (CNS). In this process, some crucial brain and body functions are also slowed down, which can be life-threatening in some cases.

Additionally, antidepressants are sometimes employed in the treatment of sleep disorders for their sedating effect. However, although they are commonly used in the U.S for this purpose, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently approve them for insomnia.

Some anti-depressants used in the treatment of sleep disorders include:

  • Elavil (Amitriptyline)
  • Desyrel (Trazodone)
  • Remeron (Mirtazapine)

Benzodiazepines are another category of prescription drugs used to help with sleep problems. These include:

  • Klonopin
  • Xanax
  • Restoril (Temazepam)
  • Halcion (Triazolam)

Further to this, are a group of benzodiazepine-like pills known as 'Z drugs', which include the following:

  • Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist (Zolpidem)
  • Zimovane (Zopiclone)
  • Sonata (Zaleplon)

All of these latter benzo and benzo-like substances, including Ambien, are used to help people get to sleep as well as stay asleep throughout the night. These are commonly prescribed for people who experience issues throughout the night such as nightmares, night terrors, and sleepwalking.

Unfortunately, these substances incur the most severe risks for the user as they can lead to dependency or addiction. It's possible to experience intense and debilitating withdrawal when they attempt to stop using, often resulting in people resorting to the drug to curb withdrawal. In addition, these substances can be extremely dangerous if they are used with other substances such as alcohol or opioids.

What is Ambien?

What is Ambien?

Ambien is the generic brand name given to the drug Zolpidem. Ambien is typically taken orally and comes in a small tablet form, it can also be found as an extended-release tablet.

Ambien works by binding to the neuro-receptors of the brain, creating a sedating effect in the user. This results in slowed brain and bodily functions. As a Schedule IV controlled substance, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has categorized it as a substance that isn't likely to be used recreationally. Regardless of this scheduling, many people go down the path of Ambien abuse and build a tolerance to the substance. Furthermore, relatively easy access to the drug increases the chances of people developing a problem.

Originally marketed as a safer alternative to benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Ambien was approved by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in 1992. However, in 2013, the FDA mandated a change in dosage recommendations for the drug in female nighttime users, whereby an initial dose of no greater than 5 mg (immediate release) or 6.25 mg (controlled release) per night should be taken.

Although the drug took hold as a 'safer alternative', the substance still carries a risk of abuse and addiction.

Recognizing an Addiction to Ambien

Whether Ambien is being used on a legitimate prescription or illicitly, it's possible to develop a dependence within weeks of using it. Increased tolerance is an indicator of dependency when it comes to sleeping pills; this means that higher dosages are required to experience the same effect. If a person stops taking Ambien they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms.

A dependency can progress to an addiction if left untreated. Addiction, or a substance use disorder, shares some characteristics with a dependency, plus some increased symptoms and risks; being unable to control use, harm from abusing the substance and extreme cravings. Unfortunately, it can be hard to recognize a problem until it has developed into something serious, by which point it's more difficult to turn back. As time goes on, Ambien decreases in efficacy, some people find at this point their insomnia is actually worse than before they began using it, but they are now completely unable to sleep without it.

It's important to note that even people who are genuinely using the substance for an insomnia disorder and are prescribed by a doctor, can develop a severe Ambien dependency. It's crucial to be aware of the risks and remain under supervision from medical professionals throughout your use of the medication. Both psychological and physical dependencies can develop.

Symptoms of a Psychological Addiction:

  • Preoccupation with obtaining Ambien
  • Feeling as though you can not survive without it
  • Having strong cravings for the drug
  • Taking higher dosages than prescribed
  • Acquiring the drug from different doctors
  • Doing activities while under the influence of Ambien which could risk your or somebody else's life
  • Spending large amounts of money on the substance
  • Losing touch with friends and loved ones

Physical symptoms are likely to develop when the person stops taking the substance. If Ambien has been used for a prolonged period of time it's likely they will have built a tolerance to the drug which is an indicator of a physical dependence.

Symptoms of a Physical Addiction:

  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unregulated mood
  • Loss of coordination
  • Skin issues
  • Lightheadedness
  • Memory issues
  • Night terrors and nightmares
  • Hallucinations
  • Drowsiness

People with a sleeping pill addiction don't always use the medication for the purpose of sleeping. Rather, they may be searching for the calming properties of the substance instead. Running out of sleeping pills before you should is a sign of a problem.

Risks of Sleeping Pills

Risks of Sleeping Pills

If used correctly, sleep medications can support people in getting to sleep, and maintaining sleep throughout the night. However, they should be used with caution given the risks involved. Here we look at some of the most dangerous implications of the substance, combining Ambien with other drugs.

Combining Alcohol and Ambien

Drinking alcohol alone can result in drowsiness, sleeping pills such as Ambien have a similar effect. Combining these substances can increase the effects of both. Engaging in any kind of activity which requires your full attention such as driving, handling machinery, or being responsible for others can put you and others at risk.

Some people who have built a tolerance to Ambien may combine it with alcohol to increase the sedative effects of the drug. This is particularly dangerous because both drugs depress the CNS. In some situations, abusing Ambien and alcohol can result in depressed breathing and even death.

Combining Painkillers and Ambien

Some people living with an Ambien addiction may combine them with opioid painkillers. This may be related to the cause of sleeping problems - severe pain can result in insomnia - or poly-substance abuse disorders. Similar to alcohol, opioids can negatively affect cognition, awareness, and respiration. Combining them can cause breathing issues, respiratory failure, and overdose.

Combining Benzos and Ambien

Some people may combine Ambien with benzodiazepines such as Xanax. This is again very dangerous because both drugs have a similar effect, depressing the CNS. When combined, they lead to risks of organ damage including heart, brain, and lungs. Additionally, it could result in respiratory failure and fatal overdose.

Sleeping Pill Overdose

Sleeping Pill Overdose

Unfortunately, the risk of a sleeping pill overdose is high. The effects of sleep meds can take some time to take effect, so it's common for people to continue taking them until they feel something. This can lead to an accidental overdose.

Symptoms of an overdose are similar to an alcohol overdose, this is due to the fact they are both CNS depressants.

Common signs of an Ambien overdose include:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Appearing drunk or under the influence
  • Emotion dysregulation
  • Difficulty waking
  • Loss of concentration
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • A blue tinge to the lips, fingers, and skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Memory loss
  • Slowed breathing or respiratory depression
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shock
  • Coma
  • In some cases, death

If you think that you, or someone you know, could be at risk of experiencing a sleeping pill overdose it's vital you seek medical attention. An Ambien overdose could be life-threatening without immediate medical intervention.


Sleeping pill substance abuse can cause a person to experience parasomnias. This is when the misuse of sleeping pills leads to unconscious behaviors including; sleepwalking, sleep eating, sleep-driving, sleep sex, and other dangerous behaviors while not fully conscious.

Ambien Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

Ambien Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

People who have been engaging in Ambien abuse for any period of time are likely to need support during the withdrawal process. This is particularly true for those who are dependent on more than one substance, or who have any underlying mental disorders.

The withdrawal process for sedative hypnotics like Ambien can be challenging, and medical detox is necessary to rid your body of toxins before you embark on therapy for the psychological elements of addiction. Withdrawal symptoms are likely to include some of the following:

  • Exhaustion
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Low mood
  • Fever
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Seizures

If you have been abusing Ambien you are likely to need comprehensive addiction treatment, a detox alone will not tackle the deep-rooted issues behind addiction. Whether you choose inpatient or outpatient facilities, you’ll be able to spend time healing, understanding addiction, educating yourself on the issues, and learning skills you need to fully recover.

Ambien Addiction Treatment

Ambien Addiction Treatment

It's strongly advised that addiction treatment for Ambien is done under the guidance of a trusted doctor. Withdrawal symptoms can lead to some serious health complications and detoxing alone can increase your risks.


Usually, Ambien addiction treatment will begin with a medically assisted detox. During this process, your doctor will reduce your dose of the medication in order to decrease the chances of dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Eventually, after reducing your dose incrementally, you will get to a point where you are no longer taking Ambien at all. Some people will be prescribed other medication during this process to reduce any negative consequences.

Inpatient Treatment

Some people in substance abuse treatment may choose to recover in an inpatient center. This is where you receive therapy and counseling in a rehab facility, and you sleep there for the duration of your treatment. People in recovery from Ambien use will take part in education sessions and workshops on addiction, relapse prevention, mental well-being, and sleep management.

Outpatient Treatment

For others, outpatient will be more suited to their circumstances. This is where you attend a facility for an arranged number of sessions a week, but you return home to sleep at night. You will still take part in many of the same therapeutic work, sessions, and workshops, but you will have more independence and flexibility. Recovering in an outpatient facility is well suited for some people, but it's only advised if you have a very safe home environment and you have a very trusting relationship with your doctor.


Anybody who has been engaging in Ambien abuse will greatly benefit from going through a therapeutic treatment process after detox. Addiction is a complicated disease and there are usually many components that lead you to abuse Ambien. Getting to the root of this problem is important for your Ambien addiction recovery, and for you to maintain long-lasting sobriety.

For some people, traditional talk therapy is the most beneficial, while others may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). These therapies can help you to understand the stressors in your life which contributed to your substance use. Some people may find it beneficial to continue mental health counseling long after they have achieved sobriety. Keeping your mental well-being in check is the best way to ensure lifelong abstinence.

Drug Abuse Treatment at Cirque Lodge

Drug Abuse Treatment at Cirque Lodge

At Cirque Lodge, we know that living with substance abuse is a scary and isolating existence. We understand that there are often many complex reasons for your Ambien dependence, and we realize that reaching out for addiction treatment can be extremely difficult. The stigma associated with substance abuse makes it difficult to be honest with yourself and those around you. But, at Cirque Lodge we treat addiction as a disease, there is no shame or judgment in our treatment facility. We ensure that everyone who walks through our doors receives the most dignified and compassionate care possible.

Everybody's experience of drug abuse is different, and we believe that addiction treatment should reflect this. Recovery from Ambien abuse is not easy, but it shouldn't be uncomfortable. We offer exclusive, bespoke substance abuse treatment in a tranquil setting. You can expect some of the following treatment options at our center:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Experiential therapy
  • Equine therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Outdoor activities
  • 12-step recovery program
  • Family healing program

If you are ready to start your recovery journey, get in touch with us through our website or call us at (800) 582-0709. We are here to answer any questions about our admissions process, our addiction treatment services, or for you to talk with a compassionate staff member about our treatment process. Reach out to us today.

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