What Are the Side Effects of Ambien?

Ambien is a popular sedative with people who struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep. It treats insomnia effectively for a short period of time, but Ambien can also cause serious side effects. These include impairments that can cause accidents and injuries. They also include substance abuse and dependence. Ambien is not the most habit-forming sedative, but it can lead to misuse and a substance use disorder.

The sedative Ambien made the news when people using it suddenly became sleepwalkers, drivers, and even bakers. This can be a safe drug to use to manage insomnia, but it does come with some risks, including the possibility of being injured while still asleep.

While most common side effects of this drug are not that serious, Ambien does have a potential for abuse and may cause dependence in some people. It is important to take it only as recommended and to report any side effects to the prescribing doctor.

What Is Ambien?


Ambien is a brand name for the generic drug zolpidem. It is a sedative-hypnotic drug that is used to treat insomnia. Zolpidem works by slowing down activities in the brain, allowing a person to fall asleep. As a central nervous system depressant it slows heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. Misusing this drug, taking more than recommended or taking it for longer than prescribed can increase the risk of side effects and of becoming dependent on it.

The Most Common Ambien Side Effects


The more common adverse effects of using Ambien have been reported in more than 10 percent of users. These include dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches. Side effects that have been found in between two and 10 percent of users include:

  • Sinusitis
  • Muscle pains
  • Allergic reactions
  • Hallucinations
  • Memory difficulties
  • Lightheadedness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sore throat
  • Visual disturbances
  • Constipation
  • Skin rash
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness

Ambien Can Cause Impairment


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning that Ambien and other medications with zolpidem could cause impairment the morning after using it as a sleep aid. The problem is that some people still had significant levels of the drug in their systems the morning after, and this caused impairment in tasks that require alertness. Most notably, there is the risk of being impaired while driving in the morning.

Drowsiness is a common side effect of Ambien and that effect can persist into the morning, even after a good night’s sleep. Impairment is particularly an issue for anyone misusing Ambien. The larger the dose taken, the greater the drowsiness will be. Misuse can lead to significant impairment and the risk of accidents. The FDA issued a requirement that drug labeling be changed for zolpidem products. The recommended doses were lowered to reduce the risk of individuals waking up drowsy and unable to function.

An uncommon but very serious side effect of Ambien is engaging in activities while asleep. Someone on Ambien may operate a vehicle, leave the house, or even cook in the kitchen while still sleeping. This can be very dangerous and can lead to accidents, injuries, and even deaths. Those who sleep-act do not remember what they did once awake.

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The Risk of Dependence


There is some potential for abuse with Ambien, although most people who use it as directed will not develop an addiction. The warnings for use of Ambien address this potential for abuse. Physicians are warned to use caution when prescribing zolpidem for patients with a history of substance abuse or substance use disorders. The labeling also comes with the warning that rapidly ceasing use of the drug can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has listed Ambien and zolpidem as schedule IV controlled substances for the low potential for abuse. While there is some risk of developing an addiction, zolpidem is less habit-forming than other sedatives or depressants used to reduce anxiety and treat insomnia.

Mixing Ambien with other Drugs


Not only is misusing Ambien risky because of the potential for dependence and increased side effects, it is also dangerous because mixing it with other drugs or substances can be harmful or even fatal. As a sedative, Ambien depresses the central nervous system, decreasing heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. Mixing it with other depressants, like alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opioids, adds to these effects and can lead to a fatal overdose.

If you have been prescribed Ambien, know what the risks are. Be aware of the issue of impairment and be sure that your doctor has prescribed an appropriate dose. Never misuse Ambien or take more than recommended. Doing so, you run the risk of injury, more severe side effects, and even a substance use disorder.