Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Is Ambien Bad For You?

Also Known As: Zolpidem



Short answer

Ambien is bad for you, mainly because of the dangerous behaviors that many people engage in after taking the medication, which are unintentionally embarrassing, dangerous, or even fatal and leave no memory of the activity. It is also addictive, placing users at risk for drug addiction.



Long answer

Ambien is a mild hypnotic drug obtained only through a doctor’s prescription, mainly for treating insomnia. Its drowsy effect kicks in within approximately 20 minutes and lasts for two to three hours, making it useful for helping users fall asleep, but not necessarily stay asleep. There is a slow-release version called Ambien CR, which both knocks you out and keeps you that way until morning—or longer than desired, for some people. Ambien CR has a lower initial release, so it can be less effective for those who have more difficulty falling asleep. Ambien is the brand name for the drug zolpidem, a combination sedative and hypnotic.

Ambien activates GABA, a brain neurotransmitter, and binds GABA to its receptors in the brain. This activity with GABA triggers the neuron action understood to be the origin of insomnia—which basically means that Ambien makes your brain work more slowly. Ambien metabolizes in the liver. Women have fewer liver enzymes than men, which is why their drowsy levels do not even out as quickly as men’s do. The maximum dosage per pill available is 10 mg, and even though women are required to be prescribed the half dose of 5 mg, men are strongly encouraged to only take half as well.

The trouble with Ambien is not due to ineffectiveness. In fact, it works so well that many users, mainly women, have woken up still drowsy from its effects and then headed to work in an altered state. This has caused traffic problems, prompting the FDA to half the dosage from 10 mg tablets to 5 mg tablets for women.

The problem with Ambien is that it has the side effect of putting users in danger. Ambien takers have reported performing bizarre activities after taking the pill, including driving, eating, walking, cooking, cleaning the house, making online purchases, talking on the phone, and having sex. Users have no memory of performing these actions. There are even documented cases of Ambien-impaired drivers hitting and killing people. There is now what is considered an “Ambien defense” if you have killed someone with your car but have no memory of it because you took an Ambien.  These embarrassing activities or sometimes tragic acts are often caused unintentionally. The user rises from a sleeping state and starts the behavior. Some users take the medicine and purposely stay up to enjoy a euphoric feeling. However, this same euphoria causes them to do things that they would not do otherwise, as their inhibitions are lowered.

Another danger of Ambien is that it is highly addictive. In some individuals, after taking Ambien for just 30 days, they develop a tolerance to it, meaning it takes more pills (or a supplemental medication/herb) to give the same effects as the first time. Other individuals may take it for years before developing a tolerance, but they still develop the addiction quickly. Your bodies tolerance level varies, as everyone responds differently to medicines. As this tolerance rises, you may be tempted to raise your dosage without telling your doctor, putting you at risk for overdose. While you are developing a tolerance for Ambien, you are reverting back to the insomnia that got you on the pill in the first place, called rebound insomnia.

Ambien has quickly become one of the most-prescribed sleeping pills in the United States in spite of the dangers it poses to takers. However, you are not just looking at a pill made of pure zolpidem—each pill contains a host of chemicals to make it look the way it does, including lactose, which has an allergic reaction or sensitivity in at least 11% of the population. The typical allergic response is digestive distress. Additionally, many pharmaceutical manufacturers add varied artificial colors to the drug, which is associated with numerous side effects including, alterations in behavior, allergic reactions, and is a proven carcinogen.

Additionally, it is imperative not to mix this medication with alcohol, recreational drugs, or other central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Check with your doctor to ensure that it is not contraindicated with any other prescription or over-the-counter medications that you use. There are many safer alternatives to remedy insomnia, such as using white noise/fans, herbal supplements, or drinking a cup of warm water or herbal tea prior to lying down to rest. Many experts suggest that an asset to overcoming insomnia is avoiding stimulating activities, working, and using electronic devices in bed. They suggest that people reserve their time in the bed for only sleeping or sexual activity, in order to train the body. However, many people find reading a leisure book to be a very relaxing activity. Another essential consideration in avoiding insomnia is to be cognizant of eating too close to bedtime, exercising, and consuming caffeine, sugar or known stimulants that will excite the CNS. These activities can make it difficult to wind down. A steady evening routine can be a great asset in improving sleep.


Possible short-term side effects

  • headaches
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • bizarre dreams
  • hallucination
  • depression
  • skin allergic reaction
  • lactose allergen (diarrhea, flatulence, and other stomach irritations)
  • sleep activity (walking, driving, cooking, embarrassing inappropriate behavior, bathing, eating, etc.)
  • lowered inhibition

Possible long-term side effects

  • drug dependence
  • tolerance leading to possible overdose
  • rebound insomnia
  • fatalities through car accidents, cooking risks (fire), or drowning while bathing

Possible withdrawal symptoms

  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • worse insomnia than before taking ambien
  • stomach cramps
  • shakiness
  • confusion

Ingredients to be aware of


  • alleviates insomnia

Healthier alternatives

  • herbal alternatives (supplements or teas)
  • developing a regular night time routine limit the bed to only sleeping and sex
  • white noise/fans
  • avoid napping or sleeping too late
  • avoiding caffeine, sugar, eating, or exercising in the evening
  • consider other medications with fewer risks

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by DeeAnne Oldham
Published on: 04-21-2016
Last updated: 12-10-2016

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by DeeAnne Oldham
Published on: 04-21-2016
Last updated: 12-10-2016

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