What is Ambien? Zolpidem Tartrate Abuse and its Treatment

Last Updated: February 1, 2021

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Reviewed by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Ambien is a drug that belongs to a class known as Z drugs. These drugs achieve a similar effect as benzodiazepines, but they possess a different structure. Ambien generic name is zolpidem. It is also known as zolpidem tartrate. 

This drug is used primarily for the treatment of insomnia due to its sedative nature. However, individuals who use it in the long term can develop a dependence on the drug. Some individuals abuse it recreationally as it produces euphoria and other desired effects for them.

As a legitimate medication that has found itself the subject of abuse, Ambien addiction can be difficult to stop. Like every illegal drug, its addiction can have significant consequences in the user’s life and poses dangers in the lives of others. What is Ambien, and what are the dangers of its abuse? This article will provide information on Ambien, its addiction and abuse, and how to leave the habit behind.

What is Ambien?

Ambien is a sedative drug that finds massive use in the medical treatment of sleeping disorders. Though it is used primarily in treating insomnia, it can also be used for individuals who have difficulties in attaining quality sleep, frequently in people with short sleep durations.

Zolpidem tartrate works similar to benzodiazepines. It activates the receptor for GABA, a neurotransmitter that works in the central nervous system and slows down its activity. This is how it produces its sedation.

Woman with a glass of water in her hand takes an Ambien pill.

The drug comes in various forms for administration, such as a spray or a tablet. The tablet can be used as a suppository as well, and there is an extended-release variant known as Ambien CR.

As a sleeping pill, there are many dangers associated with its use, and its abuse is rather frequent. A study found that 4% of adults in the US had used a prescription sleeping medication in the previous month. Abuse of these drugs can pose a risk to the user and those around them if care is not taken.

These dangers of abuse include the following:

  • Daytime sleepiness. This can present many dangers if the user operates heavy machinery or driving a regular vehicle.
  • Dependence
  • Impaired coordination causes an increased risk of falls and fractures
  • Depression
  • Sleepwalking, which can go as far as users driving while asleep. This demonstrates the major danger this drug can cause. However, this is rare

Other adverse effects of this drug can be disconcerting to the individual. This can include lapses in memory, loss of hair, reduced libido, weight gain, and more.

Insomnia is the most common reason why individuals use Ambien. It is a clinical syndrome that can be diagnosed by the presence of certain criteria, including the following three:

  • There is no other sleep disorder present
  • There are ample opportunity and time for the person to sleep
  • This lack of sleep results in impairment of daytime functioning

In 2016, it was found that 33% of Americans who were sampled in a study had chronic insomnia. This is insomnia that lasts for over 3 months. Regarding acute insomnia which is poor sleep lasting for less than 3 months, 27% of respondents were found to have acute insomnia at some point over 1 year.

This high prevalence results in an increasing number of prescriptions, which increases the likelihood of abuse and dependence.

Ambien Names

Zolpidem (Ambien generic version) is a medication for treating insomnia.

There are several zolpidem brand names of different formulations: 

  • Ambien
  • Ambien CR
  • Intermezzo
  • Edluar
  • Zolpimist

13 zolpidem manufacturers have received FDA approval for production tablets: 

  • Mylan Pharmaceuticals
  • TEVA Pharmaceuticals USA
  • Roxane Laboratories
  • Watson Laboratories
  • Ranbaxy Laboratories
  • Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories
  • Apotex
  • Synthon Pharmaceuticals
  • Genpharm
  • Mutual Pharmaceutical Company
  • Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories
  • Carlsbad Technology
  • Lek Pharmaceuticals

Ambien Drug Class

The zolpidem drug class is a sedative-hypnotic<. It provides calming effects, sedates the central nervous system, and evokes unconsciousness.

Is Ambien A Controlled Substance?

Yes, zolpidem tartrate is a federally controlled substance. Ambien is a Schedule IV drug classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Such Zolpidem classification means that it has a potential for abuse and physical dependence while still possessing medical benefits.

Is Ambien A Narcotic?

No, it is not a narcotic. The drug affects the brain’s chemicals providing the sedative effect and helping to relax and fall asleep. However, it is recommended only for short-term use because it may cause dependence and inability to stop the usage in a longer period.

Is Ambien A Benzo?

No, because it refers to a different class of medicines, nonbenzodiazepines, also known as Z-drugs, and much less likely to be habit-forming. Even though Z-drugs have different chemical compositions from benzodiazepines, they provide similar effects by influencing GABA receptors’ levels to calm activity in the brain. Also, the drug acts as a muscle relaxant with anti-seizure effects and provides a sedative effect, so primarily physicians prescribe Ambien for sleep, insomnia, and depression, as well as prescribed benzodiazepines.

Is Ambien A Barbiturate?

No, barbiturates are another drug class that treats insomnia and anxiety. Also, being the central nervous system depressants, they are considered to be more addictive than zolpidem drug class. That is why doctors try not to prescribe barbiturates for treating sleeping disorders and giving preference to nonbenzodiazepines and benzodiazepines.

Zolpidem Addictive Potential

The potential for abuse is one reason why Z drugs are prescribed over benzodiazepines in many cases.

The falling asleep guy stands near the window.

There is addictive potential with Z drugs, but it is much lower. However, it is still a possibility, and this is most commonly seen in people with a history of drug dependence or abuse.

Zolpidem Addiction Signs

An individual who has developed a dependence on Zolpidem may show some changes in behavior and health. These can be as a result of the abuse of the drug, as well as to sustain its misuse. 

These include:

  • increased anxiety
  • consumption of higher dosages than prescribed
  • manipulative behavior to get an extra supply of pills, such as switching doctors
  • purchasing the drug illegally
  • experience of Ambien withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop or unable to cease the usage
  • strong cravings

How Long Does Ambien Stay In One’s System?

Within minutes of taking zolpidem, users start to experience the effects of Ambien. These effects remain in place for many hours, allowing the medication to help users sleep. Despite how long the effects last, the Ambien half-life is relatively short, at just 2.5 hours on average for the instant release formula. For the extended-release version, that only increases to 2.8 hours

However, just because the half-life of Ambien is typically under three hours does not mean that full clearance occurs in roughly six. For most individuals, getting Ambien completely out of the system takes around 14 hours.

Users should keep in mind that clearance takes longer for women than it does for men, putting women at greater risk of complications from the medication. Other factors can slow down clearance as well, including:

  • the overall health of the individual
  • the individual’s metabolism
  • any problems with the organs, especially the liver
  • whether or not the medication is taken with food
  • hydration of the patient
  • the body fat percentage
  • how old the individual is

It is important that users understand when half and full clearance take place. This helps them avoid things like overlapping medications that could trigger zolpidem adverse effects. For those who like to imbibe, being aware of zolpidem half-life can also ensure they never end up with Ambien mixed with alcohol, which can cause severe health complications.

Ambien Drug Test

Ambien drug tests are not standard, nor are they very common. Because Ambien use is FDA approved and it is not a top medication of abuse, most people testing for drug use won’t even think to look for it. The exception is when abuse is suspected. In this case, a zolpidem drug test looking for the presence of the substance in the body may be requested.

Of these, the most accurate over the long-term is hair, as it holds evidence of use the longest. However, urine tests are by far the most convenient for testers and offer a better testing window than blood or saliva.

How Long Does Ambien Stay In Urine?

Because zolpidem metabolism is rapid, it does not remain detectable in the urine for long. At the regular zolpidem dosage, it can become undetectable in as little as 24 hours. If the user is taking high doses of Ambien, it could remain detectable in the urine for 72 hours.

How Long Does Ambien Stay In Blood?

While most would assume a blood test offers a better testing window than urine, with zolpidem, this is actually quite short. Zolpidem can become undetectable in the blood in as little as 6 hours. When taken at a high dose, Ambien shows up on a drug screening for as long as 48 hours in some patients.

How Long Does Ambien Stay In Saliva?

Saliva tests for zolpidem are very uncommon. However, they can be useful in some settings. These tests can reveal the presence of the drug within 15 minutes of taking it; though, after 8 hours, they are typically unable to pick up traces anymore.

How Long Does Ambien Stay In Hair?

Hair follicle testing offers the largest window of detection. With this type of test, technicians can pick up traces of the drug to five weeks after use. However, these are quite rare and may require extra effort to get.

Does Ambien Show Up On A 12 Panel Drug Test?

Anyone who gets tested for their job, custody agreements, parole, and more worries about what shows up on a standard 12-panel drug test. While these tests can pick up a wide variety of abuse substances, zolpidem is not one of them. 

This does not mean someone abusing the drug is in the clear. If the authority ordering drug the test suspects abuse, they could order a more comprehensive examination. If they are zero in on zolpidem use specifically, they could seek a targeted test. Should the user have a prescription and use it correctly, this should not be an issue. However, if abuse or misuse is taking place, the user should anticipate legal consequences.

Ambien Drug Test: False Positives

Because Ambien acts similarly to barbiturates, users may worry that it could result in a false positive on a zolpidem drug screening. While their effects have their similarities, these are two very different types of substances, and zolpidem will not cause a false positive for barbiturates.

However, there is a possibility that Ambien interactions with other medications concomitantly taken can cause unpredictable reactions and results in drug screening.

Zolpidem Abuse Statistics

The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health gathered information and observed zolpidem abuse among different demographics. It was found that drug abuse is most commonly seen in those over the age of 35, between the ages of 50 and 64, to be exact. Nearly two-fifths of the respondents who had abused zolpidem tartrate in the past year were in this age group.

Zolpidem abuse was more prevalent in females. Over half of those who had abused Ambien in the past year were women, exactly 53.74%.

2.3% of those who had abused the drug in the past year also had at least one visit to the emergency room relating to the use of illicit drugs within that same year. There is a higher risk of abuse when Ambien is taken with alcohol, and there can be serious drug interactions when mixed with other medications.

Zolpidem Addiction Treatment

Zolpidem tartrate addiction tends to develop in those who do not follow the instructions for the use of the drug or extend the duration of use beyond what was declared by their doctor. The side effects of Ambien that can occur make it integral to stop the habit as soon as possible.

The support group supports the guy.

Before any of these adverse reactions occur, it is best to find the proper treatment for the addiction.

Addiction Treatment Options

There are numerous choices a zolpidem tartrate addict can make in seeking treatment. It is possible to quit without outside assistance, but the withdrawal symptoms can make this uncomfortable and even dangerous. Treatment centers provide numerous options for treatment.

These include:

  • A professional center: This will allow the best treatment of the dependence. The best of these will include detoxification, psychotherapy, and rehab afterward. These centers use medical expertise to ensure that the patient’s health is foremost during treatment. These tend to involve the person being admitted as an inpatient for some time.
  • Outpatient treatment makes provisions for patients who cannot take time off to reside in the treatment center. These people will come from home for their treatment during the day, though the continued exposure to the outside world makes treatment a bit more difficult.
  • Sober living programs provide a means of having supportive individuals going through similar struggles. These are regular individuals who have gone through their own battles with addiction. This can be an effective transitional step for those who have just detoxed.

Despite its benefits in the treatment of insomnia, especially when compared to benzodiazepines, zolpidem tartrate can be very dangerous when used against prescription information. It is important to be aware that its misuse can result in severe side effects that can harm the user and others.

For anyone struggling with Ambien addiction, it is important to get treatment as soon as possible. This is the best step towards achieving a normal life and good health again.


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Published on: October 2nd, 2015

Updated on: February 1st, 2021

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed is a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He is graduated from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and health care articles and focuses on providing engaging and trustworthy information to readers.