Zolpidem is an FDA-approved medication used for the short-term treatment of insomnia. It is the active ingredient in drugs such as Ambien.
Ambien has been used safely and efficiently by millions of Americans. However, in January 2013 the FDA responded to increasing numbers of reports of adverse reactions by requiring manufacturers of drugs containing Zolpidem to reduce their recommended dosage.
Zolpidem has slight muscle relaxant and anticonvulsant properties but has not been approved for use in muscle relaxation or seizure prevention. Therefore, it is prescribed only as a medication for sleep. It works quickly, usually within 15 minutes, and has a short half-life of two to three hours.
When abused, Ambien tablets are taken orally, crushed and then snorted or dissolved in water and “cooked” for intravenous injection. Unfortunately, Zolpidem has become a leading date rape drug. It dissolves readily in liquids such as wine and can typically be detected in bodily fluids for only 36 hours.
Ambien may cause amnesia. When this occurs, a person may not remember what has happened for several hours after taking medicine. Also, addiction, or dependence, can be caused by Ambien, primarily when regularly used for longer than a few weeks or at high doses. People who have been dependent on alcohol or other drugs in the past may have a higher chance of becoming addicted to Ambien. Some people using Ambien have experienced unusual changes in their thinking and behavior.
Some users have reported unexplained sleepwalking while taking Zolpidem, as well as sleep driving, binge eating while asleep and performing other daily tasks while sleeping. Sleepwalkers can sometimes perform these functions as they might if they were awake. Research has found these events occur mostly after the first dose is taken or within a few days of starting therapy.
Rare reports of sexual parasomnia episodes related to Zolpidem intake have also been reported. Residual 'hangover' effects, such as sleepiness and impaired psychomotor and cognitive function, may persist into the day following nighttime administration. Such effects may reduce the ability of users to drive safely and increase risks of falls and hip fractures.
When Zolpidem is combined with other substances, the sedative effects of the drug can be dangerously enhanced. This is especially true when Zolpidem is combined with certain anti-anxiety medications and narcotic pain relievers which depress the central nervous system. Ambien may increase the effects of other drugs that cause drowsiness, including antidepressants, alcohol, antihistamines, other sedatives used to treat insomnia, pain relievers, anxiety medicines and muscle relaxants. Some cases of multiple overdoses have been fatal.
Alcohol has an additive effect with Ambien, and the two should not be combined. Ambien should be used cautiously in patients with respiratory diseases because of its depressing effect on breathing. Ambien used at higher dosages can cause withdrawal symptoms (muscle cramps, sweats, shaking and seizures) when the drug is abruptly discontinued. Ambien can cause abnormal behavior with confusion and paradoxical insomnia and should be stopped if these symptoms appear.
An overdose of Zolpidem may cause excessive sedation, pinpoint pupils, or depressed respiratory function, which may progress to coma and possibly, death. Combined with alcohol, opiates, or other central nervous system depressants, it may be even more likely to lead to fatal overdoses.
The transition from medical use of Zolpidem to high-dose addiction or drug dependence can occur when used without a doctor's recommendation to continue using it, when physiological drug tolerance leads to higher doses than the usual 5mg or 10mg, when consumed through inhalation or injection or when taken for purposes other than as a sleep aid.
Misuse is more prevalent in those having been dependent on other drugs in the past, but tolerance and drug dependence can still sometimes occur in those without a history of drug dependence. Chronic users of high doses are more likely to develop a physical dependence on the drug, which may cause severe withdrawal symptoms, including seizures if abrupt withdrawal from Zolpidem occurs.