Ambien Overdose – The Signs, Symptoms, And Treatment Options

overdose on ambien

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Ambien overdose may occur if a user takes a large amount within a short period of time. When an individual takes a normal dose, the body can handle its effects, both beneficial and undesirable. However, too much of the drug may cause a wide range of adverse effects, some of which can be potentially fatal. Altogether, they are part the signs and symptoms of an Ambien overdose.

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Table of Contents

A Quick Overview Of Ambien

Zolpidem, sold under the brand name Ambien, is a sleep-inducing medication used to treat insomnia and other chronic sleeping disorders. For this reason, it is recognized as a hypnotic. Doctors typically do not prescribe it for periods longer than a month and do not recommend it for patients below 18 years of age.
Ambien works by increasing the production of a brain chemical called Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). As a result, a user’s stress level goes down, their muscles relax, and they fall asleep.

Ambien Overdose Signs and Symptoms

The signs of overdose may be more obvious and severe when the drug is injected.
The following signs and symptoms are indicative of an Ambien overdose:

  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Mental confusion
  • Severely depressed breathing
  • Severe dizziness that may lead to falling
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Memory problems
  • Impaired thinking

These symptoms may worsen if alcohol or other drugs are taken alongside Ambien.
One of the more common side effects of Ambien is somnambulism, or sleepwalking. In this case, the user has no recollection of entire conversations, eating, or sexual encounters. Some patients have even reported driving in their sleep.

Ambien Overdose Amount

Everything You Should Know About the Symptoms of Ambien OverdoseThe usual dose of Ambien is 5-10 mg once every evening just before sleeping. Because of the powerful nature of the drug patients may consider anything more as an overdose although a fatal dose may be much higher. Nevertheless, the dose which may be fatal for one person may not be the same for another. Doctors say a dose of 400 mg is enough to produce some toxic effects. However, it may not be fatal if emergency treatment is provided in time.

Various factors play a role in determining the fatal dose. This may include individual body characteristics, the ability to digest the drug, and genetics. In addition, the risk of fatal outcomes may increase proportionally if a patient takes it with other medication, illicit drugs or alcohol.

Notably, if a user has a history of abusing Ambien, they may develop a higher tolerance for the drug, avoiding the symptoms and side effects associated with abuse and overdose.

Ambien Overdose Risk Groups

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Ambien and Other Drugs

Those who have a history of substance abuse are at a higher risk for Ambien overdose. This is due to Ambien’s addictive effects being more likely to influence someone who is already predisposed to the effects of drugs. Ambien’s hypnotic qualities may, initially, simply be used to increase the effects of another drug. However, over time, Ambien may become just as addictive itself.  Around 50% of Ambien-related hospital visits in 2010 involved patients mixing Ambien with other drugs.
It isn’t unusual for users to also enjoy Ambien’s sedative effects. These effects can lead those who were simply taking it to treat a sleep disorder into full blown addiction. Those aged over 65 are particularly at risk for this due to their metabolism slowing and therefore needing less Ambien to achieve sedation.

Ambien and Alcohol

Recent research has shown that Ambien abuse is on the rise in both the United States and Europe, especially among those who have a history of alcohol abuse. These users often become reliant upon the drug, having to take stronger and stronger doses to get the same high.
Even those who realize their problem with Ambien abuse may have difficulty quitting due to anxiety or addiction to its effects.
Furthermore, women are far more likely to abuse Ambien than men. In 2010, women accounted for up to 68% of hospital visits related to Ambien abuse, with the majority of those women being over the age of 45.

Preventing Ambien Overdose

The best way to deal with an Ambien overdose is to prevent it before it occurs. The most effective way to do this is to monitor your dosage. A doctor will determine an appropriate dosage based on their assessment of your health and sleep disorder. That dosage should not be altered without the professional recommendation of a doctor.
It is also important to know the side effects of Ambien, as well as what can and cannot be mixed with the drug, such as alcohol.
Due to the Ambien’s addictive qualities, not using the drug, or using it only within its prescribed limits, is the best way to avoid any possible overdose. The odds of overdosing on Ambien increase as one builds a tolerance and becomes addicted. Any user who notices an addiction developing should seek help from a medical professional who can help you access addiction treatment and mental health services.

Emergency Treatments For Ambien Overdose

Flumazenil is used to treat emergency Ambien overdoses. It works against the sedative effects of Ambien and may also reverse some of its other toxic effects.
Additional supportive treatments may include:

  • Oxygen to support natural breathing and mitigate the effects of depressed respiration due to an overdose.
  • Gastric irrigation (stomach pumping) to remove remaining traces of the drug from the stomach. However this treatment is not recommended if the patient reaches the hospital more than an hour after overdosing on Ambien.
  • Activated charcoal – if the patient is conscious and able to take it orally. Like gastric irrigation, this treatment is more effective if no more than a few hours have passed since the overdose. This may help to reduce the drug’s absorption inside the digestive tract.

Ambien Overdose Effects On Body and Brain

The effects of Ambien occur due to its activity in certain areas of the brain. Specifically, it enhances the brain’s production of GABA. As a result, a user may develop excessive sleepiness and a dangerous drop in their respiration and/or heart rate.
If the user does not get treatment at this point, slipping into a coma or even death are possible outcomes.

Ambien Overdose Death

Death due to Ambien overdose is rare. Nevertheless, the risk does exist. There have been reports of deaths in users who overdosed intentionally.
Additionally, the risk of death may also depend on other factors such as the combination with other drugs, the time taken to reach the emergency room, and unique health and/or physical conditions.
In some cases, death may occur due to falls or accidents that occur under the effects of the drug. Injecting Ambien may also raise the risk of death by a large margin.

Helping Someone With An Ambien Addiction

There are a range of treatments for Ambien addiction. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular method. CBT helps patients to better understand their addiction and to choose healthier options for coping with their addiction. In addition to helping with addiction, CBT may help patients understand the causes of their insomnia and treat them in a healthy way. This kind of therapy is available in both inpatient and outpatient treatment centers, allowing all kinds of patients to find the best environment for treatment.
Inpatient centers offer the advantage of constant supervision. This often means there is a smaller risk of relapse with medical advice always at hand.
Outpatient centers allow patients to continue their day to day life without breaking routine. They can still seek medical and mental health support when needed but have more freedom in their daily lives. Patients may also be periodically visited to check on their progress.

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View Sources
  1. Gock S. B. et al. Acute zolpidem overdose–report of two cases. Journal of Analytical Toxicology. 1999; 23(6):559-62.
  2. Medline Plus. Zolpidem. 2019.
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.


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