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Getting High on Ambien: Side Effects and Dangers

getting high on ambien

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Table of Contents

Ambien highs can include euphoric feelings, vivid hallucinations, psychedelic trips, and anxiety-free sensations.
Although some people use Ambien to get high, the drug is highly addictive and can induce delusions, risk-taking behavior, and amnesia. Ambien can not only cause unpleasant effects such as vomiting and dizziness but can be fatal in worst-case scenarios.

Side Effects of Ambien

Ambien is a powerful sedative typically used as a sleep aid. In addition to its sleep-inducing effect and high-like psychedelic properties Ambien use can also result in adverse effects such as:

  • Hallucinations
  • Nightmares
  • Delusions
  • Unsteady walking
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Pain
  • Impaired judgment
  • Blackouts

Ambien Recreational Use

Any recreational use of the drug is considered abuse. It is not recommended to take any prescription medications without a doctor’s prescription.

Ambien (Zolpidem) is a very popular sleep aid used for short-term treatment of insomnia. Although it has different side effects and can lead to dependency, many people abuse the drug hoping to achieve an Ambien high. Some users experience pleasurable effects, reporting a subtle feeling that can be described as anxiety-free and relaxed.
In some cases, users might experience a real buzz and sense of euphoria, especially when the drug is taken on an empty stomach or in high doses. Usually, people describe the effects of Ambien use as similar to those of a Benzodiazepine (“benzo”) high or alcohol intoxication. Many users report experiencing a hangover sensation.
Other people attribute some psychedelic effects to Ambien, such as:

  • Light feeling
  • Pounding sensations
  • Vivid movements in the peripheral vision
  • Disturbances in sound perception
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden affection

If a user doesn’t go to sleep immediately after ingesting Ambien, they may experience strange or unique hallucinations, which may be frightening or lead to risky behavior. Users also claim that Ambien has therapeutic effects on them, as they leave their typical state of mind and indulge in the effects that the drug has on them.

The Dark Side of Ambien

Maybe one of the most dangerous effects of Ambien, when the drug is abused, is the fact that it can lead to sleepwalking and memory loss.
Many users report engaging in risk-taking behavior, such as sleep-driving, having sexual intercourse with a stranger, or consuming too much food (sleep binge eating) without any memory of the events. Sleep-driving as a result of Ambien use has particularly been reported as a major problem, research shows.
Many people who abuse Ambien for recreational purposes also snort the drug, which can be very painful and can damage their nasal cavity. Both snorting and injecting Ambien can lead to dangerous infections.

Ambien High Potential Dangers

Ambien, known on the streets as “ambo” or “zombies,” is very popular as a recreational drug. Unfortunately, the recreational abuse of the drug has lead to an increased percentage of emergency room visits. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that the number of urgent cases keeps rising.
The drug can be very addictive and can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, it is recommended not to stop Ambien abruptly and to always contact a health professional for the right dosage, course of treatment, and adequate methods for weaning off the drug.

Many people who develop high a tolerance to Ambien may be likely to increase their intake, which can be lethal. Likewise, mixing Ambien with alcohol or other drugs can be fatal.

Comorbid disorders may also occur while on Ambien and should be properly treated. Two studies have shown that people with mental illnesses abuse Ambien more than other individuals. Suicide following the ingestion of Ambien with other drugs has also been reported. Always contact a doctor if you notice changes in your behavior while using Ambien.

Who Abuses Ambien?

The majority of users who take Ambien are women. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, in 2008, there were over 28,000 emergency room visits, related to the side effects of taking Ambien. Of those visits, 66% were women and 33% were over 65 years of age. However, the majority of effects on women over 65 were due to changes in metabolism rather than abuse. Furthermore, 5% of women in the US have prescriptions for Ambien whereas only 3% of men do, which highlights the clear disparity in the abuse of the drug between the two genders.
Over half the visits to the emergency room were by individuals abusing Ambien, generally using it alongside opioids or other drugs which were exacerbating its side effects. This could be due to miscommunication between patient and doctor or a user’s deliberately trying to induce a high.
Ambien addiction is much more common in teenagers and elderly adults; therefore the drug is no longer sold to anyone under the age of 18. It is believed that taking Ambien at a young age increases a user’s chances of developing an addiction.

Why Do Some People Abuse Ambien?

Ambien is a drug that reduces social inhibitions, and like alcohol, gives users a temporary escape from reality. This seems to be the main factor that attracts users to the drug initially, before becoming addicted and reliant upon it.
What causes people to use Ambien recreationally?

Chasing a High & Peer Pressure

Like many instances of drug abuse, an individual may be pressured into using Ambien recreationally. When someone is exposed to a drug, they may be pressured into taking it, possibly by friends. When a drug is consumed regularly within a social group, it can be difficult to stop using it due to pressure from peers. Furthermore, because the Ambien high only takes 15-30 minutes to achieve, it is often used as a replacement for alcohol during social events, owing to its hallucinogenic qualities and ability to give the user a similar sensation to that of being drunk.

Self-Treating Mental Health Issues

Another reason some users may abuse Ambien is to self-treat mental health issues. As a hallucinogenic drug, an Ambien high may distort reality, providing a feeling of mental escape or relief. However, using Ambien as an escape from issues such as depression or anxiety could have the opposite effect once withdrawal symptoms kick in. A user may continue to take the drug to avoid withdrawal and sliding back into the mental health issues that he or she was initially trying to avoid.

Physical Dependence

A physical addiction can also develop with Ambien use. The more a user takes, the more the body adjusts and becomes accustomed to it. This can then lead to users taking larger and larger doses to fall asleep, possibly leading to them abuse the drug. These users are not always seeking a high and may indeed be caught off guard by its other side effects. This may lead them to take even more to combat these effects in order to get the sleep they were seeking.
Some people unintentionally abuse Ambien. It is possible for the drug to be taken in the prescribed dose and still cause side effects. However, this is more often due to the body of the user changing; for example, their metabolism changing with age or their BMI affecting the maximum dosage their body can handle. This can also potentially lead to an accidental overdose.

Withdrawal Effects and the Dangers

Withdrawal from any drug at the time of detox is difficult. As with any drug, Ambien withdrawal has many side effects that can be dangerous if not managed correctly.
Withdrawal symptoms usually begin at the latest 48 hours after an Ambien high. The symptoms usually lessen and disappear within two weeks. However frequent abusers, those who took larger doses, or those who mixed Ambien with other drugs, may suffer side effects for longer periods.
The most dangerous effects of withdrawal from Ambien are:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Delirium
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing (which can lead to heart problems)

Other side effects include:

  • Uncontrollable hysteria
  • Mood swings
  • Cravings
  • Sickness
  • Rebound Insomnia
  • Panic attacks

These withdrawal symptoms illustrate the importance of seeking medical help when going through withdrawal, as Ambien is just as dangerous when one starts to detox as it is when one is taking the drug. A doctor will advise on how to deal with withdrawal and may recommend a mental health professional, treatment center, support group, or a combination of these things.
Remember that although Ambien has some recreational value, abusing it carries serious health risks and can  even prove fatal.

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View Sources
  1. Licata S. C., Mashhoon Y., Maclean R. R., Lukas S. E. Modest abuse-related subjective effects of zolpidem in drug-naive volunteers. Behavioural Pharmacology. 2011; 22(2): 160–166. doi:10.1097/FBP.0b013e328343d78a.
  2. Eslami-Shahrbabaki M., Barfeh B., Nasirian M. Persistent psychosis after abuse of high dose of zolpidem. Addiction and Health. 2014; 6(3-4): 159–162.
Sharon Levy

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.


Leave a comment

  • Dage Martinez
    I have been taking Ambien for about ten years. It is a miracle drug for me. I can adjust my sleep with my work schedule. I have had bad side effects also. I drove on Ambien, I’ve ate almost every night, I have forgotten some things I was told, but all those happened when I used the medication to get high. If it’s used right it works perfectly with very little side effects. I do take it with subixone.
  • Chad Kimsey
    This is true with 99% of ALL drug compounds, “good and bad”, abuse is a decision made by the person not a fault of the compound. Unless a rare occasion of exploration, abuse usually results from deeper problems or suffering of an individual; the chosen substance is usually irrelevant to the more serious problem existing in their lives, which should be addressed rather than further scolding them for their “problem”…which forces social isolation only further increasing the desire to escape and depression. America SERIOUSLY needs to wake up on abuse, they go about it ALL wrong by punishing and isolating the addicts and even the one-time people. Drug charge? Great, you can never get a job again…hows that to boost ones’ spirit and encourage recovery being forced home with no liscense or job?Also, it sickens me how so many people, especially elderly etc, are treated as cattle at the dr now. Dr’s falsely and illegally dropping patients from their meds b/c an incorrectly performed urine drug screen shows an errored result. They straight lie to ppl as if theyre full-proof…they are not. In fact, they alone will not hold as evidence in court, yet patients are told otherwise. Also mam made polymers added to many pain meds now to reduce absorption and companies selling 10mg pills with only 8.4mg actual medication present thanks to new law making generics allowed 20% error margin (2015 bill, Norco hydrocodone 10/325 tested for quality with 300 samples averaged 1.6mg short of target). If thats not enuf, they scam patients saying “you’re just developing a tolerance” “see this is why you need to stop ur meds b4 u get seriously addicted as youre already showing signs of tolerance” and the “opiate epidemic” is total made up BS! Watch the crooks people or you’ll b next.BTW im not just a rambling fool, ive worked in this field a long time. MS chemical engineer w a biochemistry minor and polymer science concentration, ive worked high level govt. R&D etc…Ive seen these things first hand. Ive a link of official report describing the opiate epidemic as a “whoops” by the FDA and govt when ultrim was first released as a safe, synthetic replacement “miracle of science” capable of same effects as oxy, morphine, etc, but had zero dependence risk, no opiate side effects, AND it was safe to take as overdose was extremely unlikely. So, it was marketed OTC, people bought this ‘safe’ opiate and ate as m&m’s cuz safe right? Until it wasnt and thousands started dying from acute OD….it was quickly removed from shelf, made controlled substance, and labeled “the opiate epidemic” as it killed many people. It literally says that, specifically about a man made substitute, not the naturally occuring opiates which are quite harmless taken properly, but yet that title is now slapped on the propaganda train to ban all painkillers, evil opiates…When it actually never had anything to do with opiates thats been SAFELY used for THOUSANDS of years.
  • Pegstags
    Wow I didn’t realize that people used this as a street drug. Very interesting articles to read.