Many people assume sleeping pills like Ambien are safe when prescribed by their physician. While they can be safe when taken in appropriate doses and for a short duration, there are potential side effects. If you suffer from a chronic sleep disorder like 40 million other people in the U.S., the following Ambien facts will help you determine if this drug is the best option to treat your insomnia.
Is Ambien More Dangerous for Older Adults?
Elderly or debilitated individuals may be especially sensitive to the effects of zolpidem. A study evaluating the five-year driving records of 2,000 Alabama residents ages 70 and older found that women who used Ambien had a 61% higher probability of an accident over five years compared to nonusers. The risk of an accident more than doubled for both men and women ages 80 and older.1 Elderly people already have a much greater risk of falls. Zolpidem can cause drowsiness and a decreased level of consciousness, which may lead to falls and associated severe injuries such as hip fractures and traumatic brain injury.2
What Are the Dangers of Taking Ambien With Other Drugs?
More than two-thirds of zolpidem-related emergency room visits resulting in hospital admission or transfer involved other medications, most often other central nervous system (CNS) depressants. CNS depression is the result of decreased brain activity, which may be caused by taking one or several CNS depressant medications and/or alcohol together. This can result in cumulative depressive effects on the brain such as decreased breathing and heart rate, as well as loss of consciousness, potentially leading to coma or death.3
What Happens When Ambien and Alcohol Are Taken Together?
Taken together, alcohol and Ambien drastically suppress CNS function, and can severely impact the function of several major organs including the liver, kidneys, brain, heart and pancreas.4 Use of both Ambien and alcohol is associated with increased rates of intensive care unit admissions in people visiting emergency rooms.3 Signs of co-occurring alcohol and Ambien abuse include:
- Severe drowsiness
- Slowed respiratory rate
- Impaired motor skills
- Slurred speech
- Unsteady gait
- Memory or attention impairment
- Coma or stupor4
Is It Safe for People With Depression to Take Ambien?
In depressed people treated with sedative-hypnotics, worsening of depression and suicidal thoughts and actions (including completed suicides) have been reported. Protective measures should be taken because suicidal tendencies and intentional overdose are more common in people with depression. The lowest number of tablets feasible should be prescribed at any one time.2 Limited studies have shown zolpidem has abuse potential with a high risk of dependency and withdrawal especially among elderly patients with comorbid anxiety/depressive symptoms and disorders.5
- Sleeping Pills May Spell Trouble for Older Drivers. HealthDay website. https://consumer.healthday.com/sleep-disorder-information-33/ambien-news-21/sleeping-pills-may-spell-trouble-for-older-drivers-708346.html Published February 25, 2017. Accessed January 10, 2017.
- Ambien. Drugs website. https://www.drugs.com/pro/ambien.html Updated August 2016. Accessed January 10, 2017.
- Bush DM. Emergency Department Visits Attributed to Overmedication That Involved the Insomnia Medication Zolpidem. The CBHSQ Report. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2013-2014 Aug 07.
- Concurrent Alcohol and Ambien Abuse. Drug Abuse website. http://drugabuse.com/library/concurrent-alcohol-and-ambien-abuse/ Accessed January 10, 2017.
- Pourshams M, Malakouti SK. Zolpidem abuse and dependency in an elderly patient with major depressive disorder: a case report. Daru. 2014;22(1):54. doi:10.1186/2008-2231-22-54.