Ambien is the brand name of a generic drug called zolpidem, prescribed to treat sleep disorders where a patient has trouble falling or staying asleep. This insomnia treatment is classified as a sedative-hypnotic, and it’s available in general variations. It is also available as an extended-release drug. Ambien is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S., and it’s the leading prescription sleep aid.
Ambien works by binding to specific GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter, so, taking Ambien calms the neural activity in the brain, allowing the person to relax and fall asleep. It works similarly to benzodiazepines like Xanax, but it binds to only specific GABA receptors. Benzos, on the other hand, don’t discriminate when binding to the GABA receptors.
Ambien and Anxiety
Due to the mechanism of action, some people believe there are links between Ambien and anxiety. There is a significant link between sleep and mental health. The Harvard Medical Health Letter reports that anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of people with mental health issues also struggle with insomnia.People may rely on Ambien to treat their anxiety symptoms, especially as they fall asleep. With Ambien and anxiety, there may be temporary, short-term benefits to the drug’s use, but they’re not long-lasting. Using Ambien doesn’t get to the root of a person’s struggle with anxiety or insomnia, and instead masks the symptoms.
Something else to consider with Ambien, anxiety, and other mental health conditions is that the drug can actually cause these issues to arise. After taking Ambien, some people with no prior history of depression, anxiety or other mental health issues report these symptoms. Ambien has a variety of mood-related side effects. Those taking Ambien are advised to pay attention to their thoughts and actions while on the drug to ensure they aren’t experiencing these symptoms. One of the most frightening Ambien dangers reported is the risk of someone developing or having worsening suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
Despite the benefits for people who suffer from insomnia, Ambien dangers can be significant or even deadly. Quite often, there are situations dubbed “Ambien blackouts” that occur, and Ambien can cause a range of other adverse side effects. Ambien blackouts can be extremely scary, but they’re not entirely uncommon with the use of this drug. There are countless anecdotal reports of people doing everything from preparing meals to having sex while on Ambien, then having no memory of it the next day. Sleepwalking and sleep eating are also common when under the influence of Ambien. When a user combines Ambien with alcohol, these risks are even more significant.
The risk of a blackout becomes especially dangerous when people do things like driving while on Ambien. There have even been serious crimes committed during which people say they were using Ambien, and they claim to have no memory of what happened. The risk of an Ambien blackout is highest in people who take the drug and then don’t go straight to bed.
Another commonly reported danger of Ambien is temporary amnesia or memory loss. One of the listed side effects of Ambien is memory loss. This can refer to the Ambien blackout, but there are other ways this sleep aid can affect memory. There are theories that Ambien could affect long-term memory as well as short-term memory. There may also be links between the long-term use of Ambien and conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia, but a lot of research still needs to be done on the topic.
Ambien and Weight Loss
One of the many possible symptoms of Ambien is weight loss. While some may find this to be a desirable effect, if weight loss occurs it’s important to contact a doctor immediately. Someone who is losing weight from Ambien should more than likely stop taking the drug.
Other Ambien Dangers
The above Ambien dangers are just a few of the many potential side effects associated with this drug. Ambien can also cause milder side effects such as headaches, drowsiness, sluggishness, or a feeling of being hungover the day after taking it. It’s also potentially addictive and habit-forming. Ambien can cause feelings of euphoria, which is what makes it addictive. Physical dependence is also possible with Ambien.
If someone is physically dependent on Ambien and they try to suddenly stop taking it, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. Ambien withdrawal can be severe. Symptoms can include insomnia, agitation, irritability, nervousness or anxiety, delirium, cravings, and seizures. If you have been taking Ambien and would like to stop using it, it’s important to seek professional help or speak to a physician.
Ambien is helpful to some people, but as with so many prescription medicines, many side effects can occur. It’s important to fully discuss medical history with a physician before taking this drug, and to talk about past issues with depression or other mental health conditions that could be amplified by this drug. Ambien is intended as a short-term insomnia treatment and the longer a person uses it, the more likely they are to experience side effects including addiction or dependence.
Do you struggle with Ambien or substance use disorder? Do you have a loved one who’s grappling with addiction? Reach out to us at The Recovery Village and learn more about what’s available to help.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.