Ambien is the brand name for the prescription sleep medication, zolpidem, which is used for the short-term treatment of insomnia. Ambien is a non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic drug and central nervous system (CNS) depressant, which means it slows down brain activity.1
It is possible to overdose on Ambien, especially if you misuse it or mix it with other CNS depressants like alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of an Ambien overdose so you can seek emergency help for yourself or someone else—otherwise, the overdose could have fatal results.
Ambien Overdose Risk
The risk of experiencing an Ambien overdose is rather low if you are taking your medication exactly as prescribed and only for a short period of time (between 7 and 10 days).2 However, if you misuse Ambien, you increase the likelihood of experiencing severe adverse effects, including Ambien overdose.
Examples of Ambien misuse include:
- Taking higher or more frequent doses than prescribed
- Mixing Ambien with other substances of abuse
- Taking Ambien without a prescription
- Using Ambien in a way other than prescribed, such as crushing the pill and snorting the powder
All of these drug-using behaviors increase your risk of experiencing an overdose on Ambien. And the risk rises significantly if you use Ambien concurrently with other CNS depressants, such as:
- Prescription opioids, like Vicodin, fentanyl, or OxyContin
- Illicit opioids, such as heroin or street fentanyl
- Barbiturates, such as phenobarbital
- Benzodiazepines, like Xanax, Ativan, or Klonopin
Signs and Symptoms of an Ambien Overdose
An Ambien overdose occurs when you or someone else has taken a toxic amount of Ambien that overwhelms the body and causes life-threatening effects. Signs and symptoms of an Ambien overdose may include:1,2
- Severe drowsiness
- Slowed heartbeat or breathing
In the event of an Ambien overdose, call 911 right away and stay with the person until first responders arrive. Make sure to provide them with any relevant information you may know, such as:
- How much Ambien they took
- When they last took it
- Whether they mixed it with any other substances
How Much Ambien Can Cause an Overdose?
The recommended Ambien dose for adults is 10 mg, once per day, right before bed. And the total Ambien dose shouldn’t exceed 10 mg daily.2
If you take more than 10 mg of Ambien in a day, especially in a short period of time, you may experience dangerous side effects, including slowed or stopped breathing indicative of an Ambien overdose. The more you take, the more profound your respiratory depression may be. If your breathing stops, this reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, a condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia can cause numerous harmful effects, such as permanent brain damage.3
How to Treat an Ambien Overdose
For the Bystander
Call 911 if you suspect that someone has overdosed on Ambien or any other drug. Provide them with a clear address and description of your location. If the person is breathing, roll them into the recovery position on their side.4
In the event that someone has stopped breathing, you can perform rescue breathing by doing the following:4
- Make sure the person’s airway is clear by checking their mouth and throat.
- Place one hand on their chin, tilt their head back, and pinch their nose closed.
- Put your mouth over their mouth to create a seal and give two slow breaths.
- If you are doing it right, their chest should rise (but not their stomach).
- Follow up with one rescue breath every 5 seconds.
Here is a list of things you should not do when trying to support someone who has overdosed on Ambien:4
- Don’t try to make them vomit up Ambien; this can lead to choking or inhaling vomit into the lungs.
- Don’t slap them or try to forcefully waken them; this could result in injury.
- Don’t put the person into a cold shower or bath; this could cause shock or lead to drowning.
Emergency Medical Treatment
Medical personnel may administer a drug called flumazenil, which has shown to be effective in reversing some of the life-threatening effects of an Ambien overdose. However, flumazenil can cause convulsions or seizures in people who are taking certain antidepressant medications, so it’s important to convey this information to medical personnel if you know someone is on antidepressants.2,3
Flumazenil may not entirely reverse respiratory depression, but it is often better than not using any pharmacologic intervention. It is a short-acting medication, and first responders may need to administer it every 20 minutes or so until the person recovers.3
The emergency medical personnel will monitor the person who overdosed for body temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and breathing continually. General supportive measures will be used, such as intravenous fluids. If necessary, the team may administer small amounts of liquid through a tube to remove the Ambien from the stomach.2
Entering a Rehab Program for Ambien Addiction
Overdosing on Ambien may be an indication that you or someone you know is struggling with an Ambien addiction. An Ambien addiction occurs when your use is uncontrollable and compulsive, regardless of how it negatively affects your life. Because of this problematic pattern of Ambien use, it can be difficult to quit on your own. Fortunately, treatment is available to help you overcome your Ambien addiction and start you on the path to recovery.
The two main treatment settings include inpatient rehab and outpatient addiction treatment. At an inpatient Ambien rehab, you will live at the facility for the duration of treatment.
The benefits of going to inpatient treatment include:
- You receive treatment in a highly-structured environment.
- You are separated by drug-using triggers and can focus on your recovery.
- You receive 24/7 support and treatment.
- Often, medical detox is available to keep you safe.
- A myriad of treatment modalities are available, such as psychotherapy, behavioral therapies, and family counseling.
- Extra support for dual diagnoses or co-occurring medical conditions
Meanwhile, outpatient treatment is much more flexible and allows you to continue working, attending school, or fulfilling obligations at home while you recover from Ambien abuse. Outpatient rehab is also the more affordable option if you are on a budget or don’t have insurance.
Find the Right Program for You
Searching for an addiction treatment program shouldn’t be complicated or difficult. We are here to simplify the process and help you find the rehab that meets all of your needs, preferences, and priorities. Call our confidential helpline at 1-800-429-7690 and speak to a kind and supportive rehab advisor about your options.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019). Zolpidem.
- Food and Drug Administration. (2008). Ambien (zolpidem tartrate) tablets.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Prescription CNS Depressants DrugFacts.
- Town of Action Massachusetts. (n.d.). How to Respond to an Overdose.
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