What is Ambien?
Ambien is a prescription sleeping aid medication which contains zolpidem, a non-benzodiazepine sedative. It is a controlled substance which is intended to be used for short-term insomnia but may result in a number of side effects including memory loss, sleep-walking, dependence and withdrawal.
The onset of action of sleepiness after taking Ambien is rapid and has required the manufacturer to emphasize that the medication should be taken directly before going to bed. Patients have also reported that the medication does not wear off in time, resulting in daytime grogginess, but the most troublesome effects of Ambien appear to be in unexpected behaviors that may occur and associate memory loss.
Ambien users may appear to wake up and perform activities such as driving, eating or other behaviors that they fail to remember in the morning. This has resulted in a number of notable “celebrity” events including car accidents and social media discussions which have caused injury or embarrassment.
Ambien is manufactured by French pharmaceutical company, Sanofi-Aventis and has been among the most prescribed sleeping pills in the U.S. since it became available in 1992. A number of individuals who took Ambien and experienced severe and unexpected side effects filed lawsuits against Sanofi-Aventis citing occurrences of irregular behavior, drug addiction and withdrawal and other injuries which were caused by the medication.
Ambien Side Effects
Ambien side effects can range from mild to severe. Some of the side effects associated with this drug are made worse by consumption of alcohol or mixing sleep medications. It is highly recommended that individuals abstain from alcohol and the use of other sleep aids while taking Ambien.
Common side effects of Ambien include:
- Dry mouth
Though drowsiness and dizziness are expected effects of using Ambien, they may persist after the medication is expected to have worn off. In most cases, common side effects are mild and will go away with time, but care should be taken until the user becomes accustomed to the medication.
More severe or serious side effects of Ambien may include:
- CNS depression such as next-day impairment
- Abnormal thoughts and behavior
- Memory loss
- Dependence and withdrawal
Ambien has been linked to a type of memory loss known as anterograde amnesia. Anterograde amnesia prevents the brain from successfully logging events as they happen and leads to the experience of “memory loss”.
The exact reasons for memory loss are not known but is likely connected to its effect on the GABA receptors in the area of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory retention. Inhibition at the GABA sites on the hippocampus may prevent events from being recorded.
Memory loss associated with Ambien has often been found most likely to occur in the hours directly following Ambien consumption.
Somnambulism is the term used to describe sleepwalking. Somnambulists, or sleepwalkers, engage in sometimes complex physical tasks while remaining in a sleeping state. Ambien side effects like sleep walking can potentially be extremely dangerous, both to the sleepwalker and others.
Ambien seems to sometimes cause a state of partial arousal. In a state of partial arousal, those who take Ambien may be partially awakened by outside stimulus but are unable to fully awaken due to the drug’s sedative effects. As a result, sleepwalking may occur.
Somnambulism occurrences on Ambien have included:
- Sleep walking
- Sleep driving
- Sleep eating
- Irrational speech
- Social media use
- Other activities
There are reported cases of people cooking meals, wrecking cars, and even committing thefts following consumption of Ambien.
Several notable celebrities have become embroiled in controversies which were later blamed on Ambien use. According to a 2006 estimate, there were more claims of sleepwalking associated with Ambien than with all other sleeping aids combined. Although the scientific explanations connecting Ambien and sleepwalking are not set in stone, many people who sleepwalk while taking Ambien find that the sleepwalking goes away once they discontinue usage.
Increased Risk of Cancer or Death
According to a scientific study released in 2012, taking Ambien may be linked with an increased risk of death. Additionally, Ambien side effects may include a higher likelihood of developing cancer. This study looked at 10,529 individuals who were taking sleeping pills. Many of these people were taking Ambien. The study compared the mortality rate of these sleeping pill consumers to a control group of 23,676 people who were not taking any sleeping pills.
The study found that those who consumed as little as 18 sleeping pills a year were 3.6 times more likely to suffer death. Additionally, the group of people who consumed the largest amount of sleeping pills was 35 percent more likely to develop cancer over the course of the study. This research, as well as other sometimes severe Ambien side effects, has led to a number of personal injury lawsuits.
FDA Warnings and Labeling Changes
When Ambien was first approved, the approved dosage for all adults was 10mg per night with an option to repeat the dosage for a total of 20mg but in 2012, after numerous reports of somnambulance, memory loss and dependence, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required changes to labeling and dosage instruction.
Dosages were reduced to include instructions for men and women and warnings about potential behaviors and drug dependence.
Recommended dosage instructions now include:
- 5mg for women, 5 or 10mg for men taken only once per night immediately before bed and only when at least 7 to 8 hours are available for sleep.
- If 5mg is not effective, nighttime dosage may be increased to 10mg but should not be repeated and should be limited to 10mg once daily.
Ambien Lawsuit Information
Though Sanofi-Aventis has faced a number of lawsuits filed by users of Ambien who reported that the drug was responsible for side effects, these cases were resolved through “stipulated dismissal” with undisclosed terms.
A number of well-known celebrities and other people may have become embroiled in controversies surrounding memory loss and sleepwalking activities. In some cases, these events have led to car accidents, personal injury, property destruction and job loss however no drug injury Ambien lawsuits have been successful against Sanofi-Aventis.
Notwithstanding claims relating to this product, the drug/medical device remains approved by the U.S. FDA.