Can You Become Addicted to Ambien?

Ambien is infamous for causing people to sleepwalk, raid their refrigerators, or even go for a drive—without remembering any of it the following morning.

But can this sleeping pill be addictive? Experts say no—not if it's used as directed. However, people who take Ambien at higher-than-recommended doses or for long periods of time may be unaware that they are boosting its addictive potential.

Ambien is far less likely than some other prescription medications to provoke misuse and dependence, but it's not entirely benign, either. "We're now seeing more and more case reports—many case reports—of people becoming genuinely addicted," says Stephen Ross, MD, an addiction expert at the New York University School of Medicine.

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What typically happens in these cases, Dr. Ross explains, is that a person starts taking higher doses of the drug to get the same sleep-inducing benefit. (He has treated people who have become so tolerant to the drug that they pop up to 10 or 20 pills—instead of the recommended one pill—per day.) In the process of treating their insomnia, some people realize they like the "high" or the anxiety-easing effects that Ambien gives them, Dr. Ross adds.

The medication can become habit-forming if taken too often—a possibility that is more likely in those who have a family history of addiction or are currently addicted to other drugs, Dr. Ross says. Ambien can also be dangerous when taken recreationally, especially if mixed with alcohol or other drugs.

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Lead writer: Anne Harding
Last Updated: December 15, 2010

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