Ambien is a medication designed to treat insomnia.
An overdose on Ambien can lead to death.
The active ingredient in Ambien is zolpidem, a drug that works similarly to the benzodiazepines, but is not classified in the benzodiazepine category.
Like the benzodiazepines, Ambien increases the availability of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
When GABA is activated, it results in a decrease in the activity of neurons in the central nervous system, resulting in feelings of relaxation.
Thus, the drug is often referred to as a sedative.
Abuse of Ambien
Like benzodiazepines, drugs that contain zolpidem also produce mild feelings of well-being and even euphoria. This increases their probability of abuse.
The latest data provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that:
Ambien Abuse Statistics
- In 2016, 11.5 million individuals reported using a product that contained zolpidem. Roughly one million of those individuals admitted to at least one misuse of the drug within the year prior to the survey.
- In 2017, 9.5 million individuals reported using a product that contained zolpidem, and 901,000 of those individuals reported misusing the product at least once in the previous year.
Because of ongoing limitations on prescription medications like Ambien, fewer individuals have now been prescribed these drugs. Those who are prescribed the drug need a valid reason to obtain a prescription.
Ambien is a drug that is often abused in conjunction with other medications or substances of abuse, including alcohol, other central nervous system depressants like benzodiazepines or opioids, cannabis products, and stimulants.
Medicinal Use of Ambien
Ambien is listed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule IV controlled substance.
This classification indicates that Ambien does have useful medical benefits, can be legally obtained and used only with a prescription from a physician, and does have a moderate potential for abuse and the development of physical dependence.
The suggested dose is different for women and men. It is recommended that women take 5 mg and men take 10 mg at bedtime.
Zolpidem is known to have a fast onset of action, which means the drug quickly works once it is taken. It also has a short half-life, meaning it is eliminated from the body very quickly.
The recommended dose for women is lower because they metabolize the drug at a slower rate than men.
Taking more than 10 mg is not recommended for anyone because this can result in grogginess and lethargy even after eight hours of sleep. People should not take Ambien and use machinery the following morning due to the potential for lingering effects.
Risk of Overdose
Taking too much Ambien can lead to an overdose.
Because the drug produces lethargy and drowsiness and slows down the functioning of the central nervous system, large amounts of the drug can lead to significant issues, including:
- A reduction in breathing rate, which can lead to fatality.
- Decreased heart rate, lower blood pressure, and slowing of other vital functions.
- A significantly reduced ability to respond to stimulation markedly slowed thought processes and problems with emotional control.
- Impaired motor coordination.
- Slurred speech or mutism.
- Lethargy, unconsciousness, and even a comatose state.
Fatalities Associated with Ambien Overdose
Research studies have documented numerous cases of Ambien overdoses.
In the 1900s, the Journal of Analytic Toxicology documented two cases of fatal zolpidem overdoses.
“Research has long documented that the common effects of zolpidem overdose include respiratory failure and coma. ”
A loss of brainstem reflexes can occur with an overdose of zolpidem, highlighting its effectiveness in suppressing central nervous system functioning.
Recent reviews of prescriptions for sleep-inducing medication like Ambien suggest that these drugs should not be prescribed so freely due to their potential for overdoses and fatalities. Instead, cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that teach sleep hygiene are suggested.
Treatment for Ambien Overdose
People who overdose on Ambien will appear lethargic and confused. They may also slur their words.
Individuals will often have very poor motor coordination if they are still conscious.
Because of the tendency for individuals who misuse zolpidem to do so while using other drugs of abuse like alcohol, the likelihood of an overdose is increased because these drugs enhance the effects of one another.
If someone is suspected of overdosing on Ambien, you should:
- Immediately call 911.
- Place the individual on their side if they are unconscious. This way, if they vomit, they will not choke.
- Remain calm. Reduce stimulation from the environment. Talk quietly and lower the lights.
- Do not administer any liquids, food, or medications unless you are trained to do so.
- Try to get information about the person, such as what drug they took, how much they took, when they last took it, any other substances they took, their age, and their weight.
- Follow instructions from the emergency dispatcher. They may instruct you to perform CPR or just breathing assistance in some instances.
Medical Treatment for Overdose
Formal treatment of an Ambien overdose will include medical and behavioral interventions, such as:
- IV fluids and activated charcoal.
- The medication Romazicon (flumazenil), a GABA receptor antagonist used to reverse the effects of the overdose.
- Isolating the person and reducing environmental stimulation.
- Assistance with breathing.
If the person is deemed to be suicidal, they will be referred to further psychological treatment.
If the overdose resulted from substance abuse, which is likely, comprehensive addiction treatment is recommended.