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Ambien Abuse in Teens

Many sleep-deprived people rely on the prescription sleep aid Ambien. This medicine promotes extreme relaxation, and thousands of American teens abuse it each day for the chemical high it provides. If your child is among them, it is important that you explore treatment options.


6 min read

What Is Ambien?

Ambien is the brand name for zolpidem, a potent sleep medication popular in the United States and several other countries. In 2011, 39 million zolpidem prescriptions were filled in the U.S. alone. While these prescription sleeping pills can help people get to bed, they’re highly potent medications and their tranquilizing qualities can be dangerous — even fatal.

Between 2005 and 2010, the number of ER visits related to zolpidem increased by 220%. These hospital visits involve people of all ages — and involve people with a prescription and those who abuse the drug for its relaxing effects.

The number of people younger than 20 using or abusing sleeping pills increased by 85% in the early 2000s. Many teens will even crush up and snort the pill to increase the “high” from the drug.

“The only thing I still had longing for was the Ambien. It’s hard to believe, even for me, that after doing coke and ecstasy and all these hard drugs that the one that would still pique my interest would be a sleeping pill.”

EvanTeen who was prescribed Ambien and became addicted

Street Names

You may notice your teenager using other terms to talk about Ambien with friends.

Familiarize yourself with street names for Ambien, including the following:

    • A-minus
    • Zombie pills
    • No-go pills
    • Sleepeasy
    • Tic-tacs

Ambien’s effects are similar to the effects of Rohypnol, making it one of the more common date rape drugs. Unsuspecting teens may have an Ambien slipped in their drink, leaving them “knocked out” a few minutes after drinking it.

What Is Ambien Used For?

teen with sleeping pill in hand

Zolpidem is prescribed for patients who have trouble falling asleep. Insomnia can be related to a number of things, including anxiety disorders in teens or actual sleep disorders that impede one’s ability to rest. Zolpidem usually kicks in after only 15 minutes, and its effects last for 2–3 hours.

While Ambien’s hypnotic effects are similar to what you would expect from Valium pills or a Xanax high, the drug’s standalone properties make it more effective in initiating sleep. In addition to sleep disorders, it’s also prescribed for some patients with mental disorders and survivors of strokes.

Signs of Ambien Abuse

Teens who abuse Ambien report feeling “goofy” and “apathetic.” According to Evan, a recovered Ambien addict, snorting the pill made him feel “like nothing in the world really mattered.” Your teen may score Ambien pills from a drug dealer or even from a friend who has a prescription of their own. The lines are blurry in the medical community regarding when it’s appropriate to write sleeping pill prescriptions for children.

However your teen gets it, it’s crucial to notice a potential problem in the early stages. The longer a teen uses the drug, the more at risk they are for serious side effects — and one heavy night of abusing Ambien can send them into a coma or worse.

Familiarize yourself with signs of Ambien, including the following:

    • Constant lethargy
    • Strange sleeping patterns
    • Apathy towards friends, family or obligations
    • Becoming confrontational or increasingly secretive
    • Missing repeated days of school
    • Declining grades in school
    • Forgetfulness
    • Confusion or lack of coordination
    • Irritability and mood swings
    • Weight loss
    • Depression
    • Anxiety

Dangers of Ambien Abuse

teen looking at ambien pills

Even with a prescription, zolpidem can be highly addictive and potentially fatal. Used improperly, Ambien leaves teens vulnerable to a myriad of dangers. Many teens will resort to experimenting with Ambien as a form of self-medicating for mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorder or ADHD. More than half of teens who develop substance use disorders or addictions have a co-occurring mental disorder. If a teenager has simultaneous disorders, it’s referred to as a dual diagnosis.

If untreated, each individual disorder can worsen each other exponentially. As a parent, it’s vital to catch signs of any health problem as soon as you can, to get treatment underway and prevent your teen from self-medicating with drugs or developing additional mental health problems.

Effects on the Brain

Zolpidem has very strong hypnotic properties, and it works quickly in tranquilizing the brain into a heavy sedation. Users can feel woozy and “wobbly” within minutes of taking a pill — for teens who take excessive amounts, this effect can be dangerously amplified.

Many users report sleepwalking or even engaging in other activities that they don’t remember the next morning, such as eating food or making phone calls. Driving a car is especially common, not to mention dangerous — a number of serious car crashes each year involve drivers under the influence of Ambien.

Other side effects in the brain can include the following:

    • Drowsiness and tiredness
    • Hallucinations
    • “Drugged” feelings
    • Memory loss or impairment
    • Abnormal thoughts
    • Confusion
    • Agitation
    • Decreased inhibition
    • Worsening of depression
    • Loss of personal identity
    • Thoughts of self-injury or suicide

Effects on the Body

Ambien can elevate blood pressure, which can impair alertness and motor function — seriously endangering a user attempting to drive or perform other intense tasks.

In 2013, the FDA responded by lowering the recommended bedtime dose of the drug. But for teens abusing the drug, this warning is likely to be ignored. Teens who take Ambien at any point, night or day, are at risk for high-risk behavior. Females are particularly at risk, as their bodies generally eliminate the drug at a slower rate than males.

Other physical side effects of Ambien can include the following:

    • Nausea
    • Diarrhea
    • Headaches
    • Fatigue

Teens who use Ambien regularly are 50% more likely to develop serious heart problems or later suffer a heart attack than their peers. They’re also 35% more likely to develop cancer later in life.

Ambien Withdrawal

If your teen takes Ambien regularly, they can experience drug withdrawal symptoms once they stop taking it. This is a form of physical addiction — many users will continue the medication just to avoid the painful withdrawal symptoms.

Signs of Ambien withdrawal can include the following:

    • Delirium
    • Insomnia
    • Irritability or agitation
    • Nervousness
    • Cravings
    • Seizures

If your child is suffering from withdrawal, they may be afraid or unwilling to admit their drug problem to you. Parents will often need to observe the warning signs themselves, and then take matters into their own hands. In the event you identify any indication of a problem, you need to talk with your teen and discuss ways to address the situation, including possible treatment options.

Can You Overdose on Ambien?

teen pill overdose

Ambien overdose is not uncommon. Large amounts of the drug can weaken the heart and breathing function in a user, leading to coma or even death. This may be more common in users who weigh less or have smaller bodies, and even “normal” amounts of the drug can be too much in these cases.

Zolpidem is especially dangerous when combined with alcohol and other sedating substances. Alcohol or other drugs are involved in more than half of the ER visits related to Ambien. In 2010, approximately 500,000 “excess deaths” involved sleeping pills such as Ambien. People who take prescription sleeping pills like Ambien are nearly 5 times more likely to die over a 2.5-year period as those don’t.

Does Your Child Need Addiction Treatment?

If your teenager is hooked on any substance — including Ambien — reach out to your family doctor or your child’s school guidance counselor for insight. If you feel certain that your teen is showing signs of substance addiction, you may wish to go straight to a drug rehab counselor to discuss a plan for recovery. If they determine that addiction is present in your child, then some form of rehab will likely be needed.

Our addiction specialists at offer free, confidential assistance to parents whose children are struggling with substance abuse problems. Whether you’d like to see our network of vetted treatment centers or just want to talk, we’re here for you. Your child’s future is in your hands. Make sure they get the help they need. Just call us at, and we can get started on the road to recovery.


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