Josh Chandler | December 1, 2023

The Dangers and Signs of Ambien Overdose

Ambien’s Prevalence as a Common Sleeping Pill

Ambien’s prevalence as a common sleeping pill illustrates the extent of Americans’ sleep challenges. Around 8.5% of Americans report using a sleep medication to aid their sleep most nights or every night, and almost 1% of our adult population is prescribed Ambien or Zolpidem. Ambien is in a class of medications called CNS (central nervous system) depressants that slow down your nervous system to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. While sedative-hypnotic sleep medications like Ambien aren’t meant to be used for longer than one to two weeks, many people take Ambien for much longer. If you take Ambien, it’s important to be aware of potential drug interactions and read all of the recommendations for use so that you do so as safely as possible.


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The Potent Combination: Ambien and Alcohol

The potent combination of Ambien and alcohol can be dangerous because Ambien and alcohol both depress your central nervous system. Using them simultaneously can slow your heart rate and respiratory system enough to cause symptoms including:

  • Poor judgment
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Lack of focus
  • Sleepwalking
  • Sleep apnea

Ambien and alcohol interact in ways that sometimes cause even more serious damage. Combining these substances increases your risk of physical effects including liver, heart, and lung damage. It can also induce a coma or cause death.

The cognitive impacts can be just as severe. You may notice that your thinking becomes irregular your behavior changes, or you have hallucinations. If you have a Depressive Disorder, taking sedatives in combination can worsen depression and suicidal ideation. With extended use, it’s possible to increase your tolerance to Ambien to the point of dependency. When Ambien becomes less effective, you may need to take increasingly more to fall asleep. This puts you at higher risk of developing Substance Use Disorder, and of having more severe withdrawal symptoms if you are dependent on alcohol and stop drinking. 

signs of ambien overdose


Recognizing Overdose Symptoms: Early Detection is Key

Recognizing overdose symptoms saves lives, and early detection is key. The typical side effects of Ambien when taken as prescribed can be powerful in themselves, and taking a higher dose or a dose in combination with another drug compounds these effects. Those at increased risk of Ambien overdose include older people, females, on medications contraindicated with Ambien, and those who drink alcohol or use other substances. If you or someone you love has one or more of the following symptoms of overdose, it’s crucial to call 911 and locate medical help immediately:

  • Abnormal breathing
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Bluish skin
  • Confusion or irrational thoughts
  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Inability to awaken
  • Coma

If someone overdoses on Ambien in combination with alcohol, they may have smaller pupils than usual in addition to the above symptoms. Their condition may decline more quickly, so it’s even more vital to find emergency treatment.


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The Allure and Risk of Sleeping Pills in Modern Society

The allure and risk of sleeping pills in modern society go hand in hand. In a culture that often praises a level of achievement that requires overwork, it’s challenging for many to create a life with a healthy balance of work, social time, family time, recreation, and self-care including sleep. With the advent of screens that fit in our beds, such as smartphones and tablets, many never turn off the stimulation of constantly available news, entertainment, and communication with others. This can make it difficult to build habits that are known to aid sleep. It can feel easier to take a pill guaranteed to induce sleep than it is to insist to one’s friends, family members, or boss that your sleep is a priority and that you need time before sleep to wind down your body and mind.

The risk of relying on medication rather than healthy sleep habits is that no medication is safe for constant use, and it’s possible to become dependent on Ambien. You are also unlikely to sleep as deeply or for as long, wake as rest, or feel as clear-minded through the day after taking Ambien as you are after sleeping and waking naturally. Experiment with sleep hygiene practices to find which ones help you relax effectively enough to fall asleep at the ideal time for the amount of sleep required for you to feel rested. 

Treatment Options for Ambien Overdose

Treatment options for Ambien overdose aim to prevent respiratory failure and brain damage. It’s vital to take quick action to increase the likelihood of full recovery. Medical professionals may treat an Ambien overdose with one or more of the following treatment methods:

  • CPR to reverse respiratory failure
  • Flumazenil to prevent Ambien from binding to receptors
  • Activated charcoal absorbs and neutralizes substances in your GI system
  • Medication to prevent nausea and other withdrawal symptoms
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids for hydration, electrolytes, and medication
  • Intubation if breathing is compromised
  • Ventilator treatment if breathing isn’t restored

Safe Medication Use: Best Practices and Tips

Safe medication use is most likely to be achieved by following best practices and tips from a medical professional. If you have severe sleep problems, you may ask your doctor to refer you to a sleep specialist to assess if there are physical issues such as sleep apnea preventing you from falling asleep or sleeping deeply. The most effective way to use Ambien without building tolerance and dependence is to do so in conjunction with a therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), in which a counselor can help you build new thinking patterns and behaviors around sleep. They will help you use Ambien only briefly to reset your sleep pattern by implementing evidence-based sleep hygiene practices such as:

  • Consistent sleep and wake times
  • A cool room
  • A dark room
  • A room without screens including your phone, tablet, or TV
  • A room dedicated to sleep and not other activities such as work
  • At least two hours before bed without exercise or blue light
  • Several hours before bed without drinking caffeine (or drinking none)

It’s also important to check with your doctor and pharmacist about negative interactions with other medications you take. Ambien is a powerful sedative and is dangerous in combination with alcohol, or with other substances that have sedative effects or slow your breathing. Drugs to avoid include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medication
  • Seizure medication
  • Pain medication
  • Cold medicine
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Itraconazole
  • Ketoconazole
  • Rifampin
  • Chlorpromazine

The Importance of Awareness and Education on Ambien Use

The importance of awareness and education on Ambien use is high because it’s a powerful drug that is commonly misused. Many people who take Ambien aren’t informed about the ideal duration for use, the risks of use, and other sleep techniques to try as they prepare to stop use. It’s important to understand that using Ambien with other substances or taking a higher dose than prescribed can cause physical and cognitive effects that are dangerous and possibly life-threatening and that using it for longer than recommended may create dependence. The more you learn about Ambien use, the more effectively you can avoid the risks of misuse and benefit from it in the way it was intended. If you’ve overdosed on Ambien or are worried that you’re dependent on it, talk to a professional at Muse Treatment today at (800) 426-1818 to explore treatment options for your recovery.

Ambien Addiction,Ambien Rehab,Drug Detox,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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