Ambien is a prescription drug categorized as a sedative and as a hypnotic. It is the brand name of a medication known as zolpidem, but is also known as Ambien CR, Edluar, Intermezzo, and Zolpimist. Ambien is primarily used to treat chronic insomnia and is designed as an immediate-release medication to essentially cause a person to fall asleep immediately after taking it. There is an extended-release version of this medication (Ambien CR), and it is designed to help you both fall and stay asleep.

The fact that Ambien is a sedative indicates that the drug has a calming and relaxing effect on the body and nervous system. It slows the heart rate and breathing and induces drowsiness and helps a person to sleep. While it treats chronic insomnia, this insomnia may be attributable to other conditions such as depression, chronic anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, or panic disorders.

Ambien first came available on the market in the early 1990s and was touted as the cure to insomnia. Until 2007, this drug was only available in name brand form. However, in 2007, the generic zolpidem came available allowing this sleep aid to be more widely used and distributed.


Ambien is such a powerful and fast-acting sleep medication that it is often prescribed in very small doses. For women the initial dosage recommended by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is a mere 5 mg. And for men, it falls within the range of 5m to 10mg. This dosage of 5mg may be increased depending on how the patient reacts to the medication or their weight. It is not recommended that a person take more than 10mg dosages of this medication. A person should also not take thus medication if they do not have a full 7 to 8 hours to sleep after taking the medication. It is also important not to mix Ambien use with other sedatives, with alcohol, or to use with other medications. Informing the prescribing physician of any and all medications will help to prevent problematic drug combinations.

Common Side Effects

Just like any other medication, Ambien can have possibly negative side effects. The more common of these possible side effects include:

  • Runny, stuffy nose
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation, nausea, diarrhea, or general upset stomach
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Headaches and muscle aches

Less Common Side Effects

While not as frequent, there are many other side effects to Ambien use that can and do occur. These symptoms include:

  • Memory loss or issues
  • Changes in appetite
  • Chills
  • Hearing loss of disturbances
  • Cloudy or bloody urine
  • Vision disturbances including double vision and blurred vision
  • Nightmares or strange dreams
  • Hives, welts, or other skin rashes
  • Sneezing
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Balance issues
  • Sore and/or red throat
  • Discouragement
  • Increased heart rate
  • Depression
  • Wheezing
  • Heartburn
  • Bladder discomfort
  • Frequent urge to urinate

Severity of Side Effects

Many of the side effects of Ambien use do not require medical attention. However, issues such as wheezing, chest discomfort, and some of the other less common side effects of use should be reported to your prescribing physician as soon as possible. These side effects may fade away with time. However, your doctor will best be able to determine whether or not the side effects you experience are dangerous or will go away with time.

Additionally, Ambien is a medication that should not be taken during pregnancy or while nursing a baby. It can be passed into the nursing mother’s breast milk and cause negative side effects and harm to the baby. Also, the elderly are more susceptible to the sedative and sleep-inducing effects of Ambien than younger adults. Special care must be taken to ensure that elderly persons do not take too high a dose of this medication or do not accidentally overdose.

Abuse and Addiction

Ambien is designed primarily to be a short-term solution to difficulty sleeping and insomnia. If used as directed by the prescribing physician for only a short period of time, Ambien is rarely habit forming. Abuse and addiction begin to occur when the patient does not use the medication as directed, uses it for recreation, or uses Ambien for an extended period of time, thus forming an addiction or habit.

Ambien abuse can include behaviors such as taking Ambien during the day, using higher than recommended doses, using Ambien recreationally in above-average doses (achieving an effect similar to drunkenness), and an inability or unwillingness to quit using the medication. If you are addicted to or abusing Ambien, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop using the drug or run out. These symptoms can include vomiting and nausea, stomach cramps, nervousness and panic, anxiety, and of course, insomnia or an inability to fall asleep. Seizures, though rare, may also occur when experiencing Ambien withdrawals.

Because withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and potentially frightening, you should talk to your doctor or a drug addiction treatment center to assist you through the withdrawal and detoxification process. They may opt to taper your dose to ease the discomfort or provide prescription medications to help treat the withdrawal symptoms as they occur.