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Ambien (Zolpidem): Uses, Side Effects, and Treatment

Clinically Reviewed by: Charee Marquez, LMFT

If you or someone you know is grappling with Ambien use and the related challenges, know that you are not alone. At California Prime Recovery, we comprehend the intricate facets of Ambien, from its therapeutic intentions to the potential pitfalls of misuse. In this comprehensive guide, we aim to provide you with an extensive understanding of Ambien, encompassing its applications, potential side effects, addiction risks, and the array of treatment options available at our Drug and Alcohol Rehab + Mental Health Treatment Center in Fountain Valley, CA.

What is Ambien?

Ambien, known by its generic name Zolpidem, stands as a prominent prescription medication designed to tackle the challenges of insomnia. As a sedative-hypnotic, Ambien operates by interacting with specific neurotransmitters in the brain, aiming to restore a harmonious balance for individuals grappling with various sleep disturbances.

Ambien Types and Dosages

Ambien (zolpidem) is available in different formulations and dosages. The specific type and dosage prescribed can depend on factors such as the individual’s age, medical condition, and response to the medication. Here are common types and dosages of Ambien:

  1. Immediate-Release Tablets:

    • Ambien (zolpidem tartrate) 5 mg: This is a lower dose often prescribed for individuals who may be more sensitive to the effects of the medication or for elderly patients.
    • Ambien (zolpidem tartrate) 10 mg: This is a standard dose for many adults and is often the initial dose prescribed.
  2. Extended-Release Tablets (Ambien CR):

    • Ambien CR (zolpidem tartrate extended-release) 6.25 mg or 12.5 mg: The extended-release form is designed to help individuals both fall asleep and stay asleep. The lower dose may be recommended initially, and the higher dose may be considered based on individual response.

Ambien Imprints:

Ambien (zolpidem) tablets can have various imprints, and the specific markings depend on factors such as the dosage and formulation. Here are some examples of imprints commonly found on Ambien tablets:

  1. Ambien Immediate-Release Tablets:

    • 5mg: Ambien 5
    • 10mg: Ambien 10
  2. Ambien Extended-Release Tablets (Ambien CR):

    • 6.25mg: AMB 6.25
    • 12.5mg: AMB 12.5
  3. Generic Zolpidem Immediate-Release Tablets:

    • 5mg: Z 5
    • 10mg: Z 10
  4. Generic Zolpidem Extended-Release Tablets:

    • 6.25mg: Z 6.25
    • 12.5mg: Z 12.5

These imprints are usually found on one side of the tablet, and the other side may be plain or have a score line to facilitate splitting if needed.

Ambien Uses

Ambien (zolpidem) is a medication primarily used for the short-term treatment of insomnia. It belongs to a class of drugs known as sedative-hypnotics and works by affecting certain neurotransmitters in the brain to help induce sleep. Here are the main uses of Ambien:

  1. Insomnia Treatment: Ambien is prescribed to individuals who have difficulty falling asleep. It is particularly useful for those who experience difficulty initiating sleep or maintaining sleep throughout the night.

  2. Improving Sleep Onset: Ambien is known for its relatively quick onset of action, making it effective in helping individuals fall asleep more quickly after taking the medication.

  3. Extended-Release for Sleep Maintenance: The extended-release formulation of Ambien, known as Ambien CR (controlled release), is designed to help individuals not only fall asleep but also stay asleep throughout the night.

It’s important to note that Ambien is generally recommended for short-term use, typically for a few weeks.

Ambien Efficacy

Ambien (zolpidem) is generally considered effective in helping individuals with insomnia initiate and maintain sleep. Its efficacy is mainly attributed to its ability to modulate the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that has inhibitory effects in the brain. By enhancing the activity of GABA, Ambien induces a calming effect on the central nervous system, promoting sleep.

Key points regarding the efficacy of Ambien include:

  1. Sleep Onset: Ambien is known for its relatively rapid onset of action, typically within 15 to 30 minutes after ingestion. This makes it effective in helping individuals with difficulty falling asleep initiate sleep more quickly.

  2. Short-Term Use: Ambien is generally prescribed for short-term use, typically a few weeks, to address acute insomnia. Short-term use helps minimize the risk of dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms.

  3. Sleep Maintenance: The extended-release formulation of Ambien, Ambien CR, is designed to help individuals not only fall asleep but also stay asleep throughout the night. This can be particularly beneficial for those experiencing difficulties maintaining sleep.

  4. Improving Sleep Quality: Ambien has been shown to improve subjective measures of sleep quality, such as reducing the time it takes to fall asleep and increasing total sleep time.

How Long Does Ambien Stay in Your System?

The half-life of Ambien (zolpidem) can vary depending on factors such as age, health, and whether the immediate-release or extended-release formulation is used. In general:

  1. Immediate-Release Ambien:

    • The half-life of immediate-release Ambien is approximately 2 to 3 hours in healthy adults. This means that it takes about 2 to 3 hours for half of the drug to be eliminated from the body.
  2. Extended-Release Ambien CR:

    • The half-life of extended-release Ambien CR is longer, typically ranging from 2.5 to 3.5 hours. The extended-release formulation is designed to provide a slower release of the medication over time.

It’s important to note that the half-life is just one factor in determining how long the effects of the drug may be felt. The onset of action (time it takes to start working) and the duration of action (how long the effects last) can also be influenced by factors such as individual response, dosage, and the presence of other medications.

Since the effects of Ambien may persist after the drug is eliminated from the body, individuals are advised to ensure they have enough time for a full night’s sleep (7-8 hours) before taking the medication. This helps minimize the risk of impaired alertness or coordination upon waking.

Ambien Onset and Duration

The onset and duration of action of Ambien (zolpidem) can vary depending on factors such as the specific formulation (immediate-release or extended-release), individual response, and whether the medication is taken with or without food. Here are general guidelines:

  1. Immediate-Release Ambien:

    • Onset of Action: The onset of action for immediate-release Ambien is relatively rapid, typically within 15 to 30 minutes after ingestion. This makes it effective in helping individuals with difficulty falling asleep initiate sleep more quickly.
    • Duration of Action: The effects of immediate-release Ambien typically last for about 6 to 8 hours. Individuals are advised to ensure they have enough time for a full night’s sleep (7-8 hours) before taking the medication to minimize the risk of impaired alertness upon waking.
  2. Extended-Release Ambien CR:

    • Onset of Action: The onset of action for extended-release Ambien CR is also relatively rapid, but it is designed to provide a slower release of the medication over time. This helps individuals not only fall asleep but also stay asleep throughout the night.
    • Duration of Action: The extended-release formulation is intended to provide a longer duration of action. The effects may last for about 7 to 8 hours, allowing for sleep maintenance.

How Does Ambien Work on the Brain and Body?

Ambien (zolpidem) works by affecting the central nervous system, specifically targeting the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating neuronal activity in the brain. Ambien’s mechanism of action is to enhance the effects of GABA, resulting in a calming and sedative effect on the brain and body.

Here’s a breakdown of how Ambien works:

  1. GABA Receptor Modulation: Ambien primarily acts on a subtype of the GABA-A receptor, known as the alpha-1 subunit. GABA-A receptors are ion channels that allow chloride ions to flow into neurons, leading to hyperpolarization and inhibition of neuronal activity. When Ambien binds to the alpha-1 subunit, it enhances the effect of GABA at these receptors.

  2. Enhanced GABAergic Activity: By binding to GABA-A receptors, Ambien amplifies the inhibitory actions of GABA in the brain. This leads to an increase in the opening frequency of the chloride ion channel, resulting in more significant inhibitory effects.

  3. Sedative and Hypnotic Effects: The enhanced GABAergic activity in the brain produces a sedative and hypnotic effect, promoting the onset and maintenance of sleep. The calming effect helps individuals with insomnia initiate and sustain sleep.

  4. Rapid Onset of Action: Ambien is known for its relatively rapid onset of action, making it effective in helping individuals fall asleep quickly after taking the medication.

Controlled Substance Classification

Ambien (zolpidem) is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance in the United States. Controlled substances are categorized based on their potential for abuse, their accepted medical uses, and the likelihood of dependence or addiction.

Storage and Disposal

Storage of Ambien (Zolpidem):

  • Store Ambien at room temperature, away from moisture and heat.
  • Keep the medication in its original packaging and away from light.
  • Do not store Ambien in the bathroom.

Disposal of Medication:

  • Do not keep expired or unused medications. Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations regarding the duration of use.
  • If your healthcare provider advises discontinuation or if the medication is expired, check with local guidelines on proper disposal.
  • Many communities have medication take-back programs or events for safe disposal. Check with local pharmacies or law enforcement agencies for information.
  • If no take-back options are available, follow specific FDA guidelines for home disposal. This may include mixing the medication with an undesirable substance (like cat litter) in a sealed bag and placing it in the trash.

Ambien Side Effects and Risks

Short-Term Side Effects of Ambien:

  1. Drowsiness: Ambien can cause drowsiness, especially shortly after taking the medication. This drowsiness may persist into the following day.
  2. Dizziness: Individuals may experience dizziness, lightheadedness, or coordination issues, particularly when getting up from a lying or sitting position.
  3. Nausea: Some people may experience nausea or an upset stomach as a short-term side effect of Ambien.
  4. Headache: Headaches are a reported side effect, but they are generally mild and temporary.
  5. Daytime Fatigue: Using Ambien may lead to daytime fatigue, affecting alertness and performance.

Long-Term Side Effects of Ambien:

  1. Tolerance: Prolonged use of Ambien may lead to the development of tolerance, where higher doses are needed to achieve the same sleep-inducing effects.
  2. Dependence: Long-term use may result in physical and psychological dependence on Ambien, leading to withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation.
  3. Withdrawal Symptoms: Abruptly stopping Ambien after extended use may cause withdrawal symptoms, including rebound insomnia, anxiety, and irritability.
  4. Cognitive Impairment: Some individuals may experience cognitive impairment, memory issues, or confusion with long-term use of Ambien.
  5. Complex Sleep Behaviors: Rarely, complex sleep behaviors such as sleepwalking, sleep-eating, or driving while not fully awake have been reported with the use of Ambien.

It’s important to note that the decision to use Ambien and the duration of treatment should be determined by a healthcare professional based on an individual’s specific circumstances. Long-term use is generally not recommended unless carefully monitored, and alternatives for addressing sleep issues may be explored. Any concerns about side effects or changes in health should be promptly discussed with a healthcare provider.

Alcohol Use and Ambien

Combining alcohol with Ambien (zolpidem) is generally not recommended. Both substances act as central nervous system depressants, and their combined use can increase the risk of severe side effects and impairment. Here are some reasons why alcohol and Ambien should not be used together:

  1. Enhanced Sedation: Both alcohol and Ambien have sedative effects on the central nervous system. Combining them can lead to an additive effect, increasing sedation and drowsiness. This can result in profound impairment of cognitive and motor functions.

  2. Increased Risk of Unconsciousness: The combination of alcohol and Ambien may increase the risk of loss of consciousness or blackout. This poses a danger, especially if the individual engages in activities that require alertness and coordination, such as driving.

  3. Respiratory Depression: Central nervous system depressants can suppress respiratory function. Combining alcohol with Ambien may exacerbate respiratory depression, leading to difficulty breathing, particularly in individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions.

  4. Memory Impairment: Both substances can cause memory impairment, and combining them may lead to significant gaps in memory (anterograde amnesia). Individuals may engage in activities and have no recollection of them.

  5. Increased Risk of Falls and Injuries: The combined sedative effects can impair balance and coordination, increasing the risk of falls and injuries.

  6. Delayed Reaction Time: Alcohol and Ambien can individually impair reaction time. Combining them may result in significantly delayed reaction times, making it unsafe to perform tasks that require quick reflexes.

  7. Intensified Side Effects: Combining alcohol with Ambien can intensify common side effects of both substances, such as dizziness, drowsiness, and lightheadedness.

It is crucial to follow healthcare providers’ instructions and warnings regarding the simultaneous use of alcohol and Ambien. If someone is prescribed Ambien, they should avoid alcohol during the treatment period. It’s essential to discuss any alcohol consumption with a healthcare professional to ensure safe and effective use of medications.

What are the Risks of Ambien Use?

While Ambien (zolpidem) can be an effective medication for treating insomnia when used as prescribed, it is important to be aware of potential risks and side effects associated with its use. Some of the risks and considerations include:

  1. Central Nervous System Depression: Ambien is a central nervous system depressant, and its use can lead to drowsiness, dizziness, and impaired coordination. Combining it with other substances that depress the central nervous system, such as alcohol or certain medications, can intensify these effects.

  2. Complex Sleep-Related Behaviors: Some individuals may engage in activities such as driving, eating, or walking while partially asleep and not fully aware of their actions. These complex sleep-related behaviors may occur with Ambien use, particularly if the medication is not taken as directed or if the individual does not get a full night’s sleep.

  3. Memory Impairment: Ambien use, especially at higher doses, has been associated with anterograde amnesia, where individuals may have difficulty forming new memories during the period when the drug is active.

  4. Dependency and Withdrawal: Prolonged or inappropriate use of Ambien can lead to the development of dependence. Abrupt discontinuation of the medication may result in withdrawal symptoms such as rebound insomnia, anxiety, and irritability.

  5. Tolerance: With long-term use, some individuals may develop tolerance to the sedative effects of Ambien, requiring higher doses to achieve the same sleep-inducing effects.

  6. Sleep-Related Breathing Issues: Ambien may exacerbate sleep-related breathing issues, particularly in individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as sleep apnea.

  7. Allergic Reactions: While rare, allergic reactions to zolpidem, the active ingredient in Ambien, can occur. Seek medical attention if you experience signs of an allergic reaction, such as rash, itching, swelling, severe dizziness, or difficulty breathing.

  8. Drug Interactions: Ambien can interact with other medications, potentially affecting their efficacy or leading to increased side effects. It’s important to inform healthcare providers about all medications and supplements being taken.

Can Ambien Be Abused?

es, Ambien (zolpidem) has the potential for abuse, especially when it is not used as prescribed or in higher doses than recommended. Ambien is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance in the United States, indicating that while it has accepted medical uses, it also carries a risk of abuse and dependence.

Factors contributing to the potential for abuse include:

  1. Euphoric Effects: In some individuals, taking higher doses of Ambien may produce a feeling of euphoria or relaxation, leading to misuse.

  2. Tolerance: With continued use, some individuals may develop tolerance to the sedative effects of Ambien, requiring higher doses to achieve the same sleep-inducing effects. This can increase the risk of misuse.

  3. Combining with Other Substances: Combining Ambien with other substances, such as alcohol or other central nervous system depressants, can intensify its effects and increase the risk of abuse.

  4. Recreational Use: Some individuals may misuse Ambien for recreational purposes, seeking the drug’s sedative or hallucinogenic effects.

  5. Improper Use: Taking Ambien in a manner inconsistent with prescribed guidelines, such as taking it during waking hours or not allowing enough time for a full night’s sleep, can increase the risk of misuse.


Is Ambien Addictive?

Abuse of Ambien may involve taking higher doses, using it more frequently than prescribed, or employing methods to enhance its effects. Here are common ways in which Ambien can be abused:

  1. Taking Higher Doses:

    • Some individuals may take higher doses of Ambien than prescribed to intensify its sedative effects. This can increase the risk of adverse effects and overdose.
  2. Continued Use Beyond Prescribed Duration:

    • Abusing Ambien may involve using the medication for an extended period beyond the prescribed duration. Prolonged use can lead to tolerance, dependence, and other complications.
  3. Combining with Other Substances:

    • Combining Ambien with other substances, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, or other central nervous system depressants, can enhance sedation. However, it also significantly increases the risk of respiratory depression and overdose.
  4. Crushing and Snorting:

    • Some individuals may crush Ambien tablets into a powder and snort the powder. Snorting zolpidem can lead to a rapid onset of effects but poses serious health risks.
  5. Injection:

    • In rare cases, individuals may dissolve crushed Ambien tablets in water and inject the solution intravenously. This method is highly dangerous and can lead to severe health complications.
  6. Chasing the “High”:

    • Some individuals may misuse Ambien to experience a euphoric or “high” feeling. This is not a medically approved use and poses significant risks.

Abusing Ambien can have serious consequences, including addiction, respiratory depression, overdose, and other adverse effects.

How do you Know if someone is abusing Ambien?

Detecting whether someone is abusing Ambien (zolpidem) may involve observing changes in behavior, physical symptoms, and potential signs of misuse.

Here are some indicators that someone may be abusing Ambien:

  1. Changes in Sleep Patterns:

    • Unusual sleep patterns, such as excessive drowsiness during waking hours or difficulty staying awake, may be indicative of Ambien abuse.
  2. Increased Tolerance:

    • The development of tolerance, where higher doses are needed to achieve the same sleep-inducing effects, may suggest misuse.
  3. Using Ambien Without a Prescription:

    • If someone is obtaining and using Ambien without a valid prescription or from unauthorized sources, it raises concerns about potential misuse.
  4. Combining with Other Substances:

    • Using Ambien in combination with other substances, particularly alcohol or other central nervous system depressants, can be a sign of substance abuse.
  5. Crushing or Altering Tablets:

    • Discovering crushed or altered Ambien tablets, especially if they are found in a form meant for snorting or injecting, is a clear indication of misuse.
  6. Continued Use Despite Negative Consequences:

    • Someone who continues to use Ambien despite experiencing negative consequences, such as health issues or impairment of daily functioning, may be abusing the medication.
  7. Changes in Behavior and Personality:

    • Noticeable changes in behavior, mood swings, irritability, or alterations in personality may be linked to Ambien abuse.
  8. Memory Loss or Cognitive Impairment:

    • Experiencing memory loss, confusion, or cognitive impairment beyond the expected side effects of Ambien may signal misuse.
  9. Engaging in Risky Behaviors During Sleep:

    • Reports of engaging in complex behaviors during sleep, such as sleepwalking, sleep-eating, or sleep-driving, may suggest Ambien abuse.
  10. Withdrawal Symptoms:

    • If someone exhibits withdrawal symptoms when not taking Ambien, such as anxiety, restlessness, or insomnia, it may indicate dependence and potential abuse.

It’s important to approach any suspicions of Ambien abuse with care and sensitivity. If you have concerns about someone’s use of Ambien, encourage open communication and express your concerns

Seeking Treatment? We Can Help!

Types of Treatment Available (Most Covered by Insurance):

  1. Inpatient Rehabilitation:

    • Inpatient rehabilitation, also known as residential treatment, involves individuals residing within a treatment facility for a specified duration. This structured environment provides intensive care and support.
  2. Outpatient Programs:

    • Outpatient programs offer flexibility, allowing individuals to receive treatment while continuing their daily lives. They attend therapy sessions, counseling, and other interventions on a scheduled basis.
  3. Detoxification (Detox):

    • Detox is the initial phase of treatment, focusing on safely and systematically removing substances from the body. It is often conducted under medical supervision to manage withdrawal symptoms.
  4. Therapy and Counseling:

    • Various therapeutic modalities, including individual counseling, group therapy, and family therapy, are crucial components of addiction and mental health treatment. These sessions help individuals explore and address underlying issues.
  5. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT):

    • MAT involves the use of medications, in conjunction with counseling and behavioral therapies, to address substance use disorders. It is particularly effective for opioid and alcohol addictions.
  6. Dual Diagnosis Treatment:

    • Dual Diagnosis Treatment addresses co-occurring mental health disorders alongside substance use disorders. It involves integrated interventions to holistically address both aspects of an individual’s well-being.
  7. Holistic Therapies:

    • Holistic approaches incorporate alternative therapies such as yoga, meditation, art therapy, and mindfulness. These practices aim to promote overall well-being and support recovery.
  8. Support Groups:

    • Support groups, like those following the 12-step model (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous), provide a community for individuals to share experiences, seek guidance, and foster mutual support.
  9. Sober Living Homes:

    • Sober living homes offer a transitional and supportive environment for individuals in recovery. They provide a structured living arrangement to reinforce sobriety.
  10. Mental Health Treatment:

    • Mental health treatment specifically addresses psychiatric conditions. It may involve therapy, medication management, and other interventions to enhance emotional well-being.
  11. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

    • CBT is a goal-oriented therapeutic approach that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It is effective for both addiction and mental health concerns.
  12. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT):

    • DBT combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with concepts of acceptance and mindfulness. It is particularly beneficial for individuals with emotional dysregulation.
  13. Motivational Interviewing (MI):

    • MI is a client-centered counseling style aimed at eliciting behavior change by helping individuals explore and resolve ambivalence. It is effective in the early stages of recovery.
  14. Residential Treatment Centers:

    • Residential facilities provide immersive and structured treatment experiences for individuals requiring a more extended and intensive intervention.
  15. Community-Based Programs:

    • Programs within the community offer accessible and community-centered support for individuals with mental health concerns.
  16. Inpatient Mental Health Treatment:

    • Inpatient mental health treatment involves individuals residing within a treatment facility designed to provide a controlled and supportive environment for managing mental health conditions.

Understanding the diverse range of treatment options allows individuals to access the most suitable and effective interventions tailored to their unique needs. Seeking professional guidance is crucial to developing a personalized treatment plan.

Call California Prime Recovery Today!

At California Prime Recovery, as an in-network provider we work with most insurance plans, such as:

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health challenges or substance abuse, reach out to California Prime Recovery today. Our team of compassionate professionals is here to support your journey towards lasting well-being. Give us a call at 866-208-2390

Also, check out our blogs posted weekly on Medium.


No, Ambien is intended for short-term use only, usually lasting one to two weeks. Long-term use can lead to dependence and addiction.

Signs of Ambien addiction include cravings for the drug, tolerance, the inability to sleep without it, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit.

It is crucial to consult your healthcare provider before combining Ambien with other medications, as drug interactions can occur and lead to adverse effects.

The duration of recovery varies from person to person and depends on factors such as the severity of addiction and individual progress. It is a process that requires commitment and ongoing support.

Yes, we work with various insurance providers to make our comprehensive treatment programs accessible to those in need. We understand the importance of affordable and accessible healthcare for recovery.

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