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Is Ambien a narcotic?


ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Yes and no. Under the general definition of “narcotic”, Ambien could be considered an illicit drug when used outside of prescription guidelines. However, Ambien is not classified as a medical narcotic in the U.S. More on the distinctions here.


TABLE OF CONTENTS


Definitions

The terms “opiate”, “opioid”, “illicit”, and “narcotic” are often used to mean the same thing. However, these terms are distinctly separate and should not be used in the same way. Most people do not even know the difference between opiate and opioid. They use the term opioid for both natural or synthetic (or semi-synthetic) substances that act at one of the three main opioid receptor systems (mu, kappa, delta).

The term “narcotic” comes from the Greek word for “stupor”, and originally referred to a variety of substances that dulled the senses and relieved pain. Medically speaking, a narcotic falls into the class of drugs that offer pain relief: opiates and opioids. However, due to the negative association the term narcotic has with illegal drugs, it has fallen out of use in medical settings.

Because these kinds of “narcotic drugs” have the potential for abuse and addiction, prescription painkiller use is regulated by the Controlled Substances Act in the United States. Likewise, because Ambien is considered addictive, it is also technically a “narcotic” drug…mainly when it is taken in ways OTHER THAN PRESCRIBED.
Ambien can be a narcotic when:

  • You crush, snort, or inject Ambien.
  • You sell Ambien to friends, family, or acquaintances.
  • You take more Ambien than prescribed.
  • You use it and do not have a prescription for it.

What Is Ambien?

Ambien is the brand name for zolpidem, a non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic, and central nervous system depressant, that is mainly prescribed as a sleep aid. Ambien is usually prescribed for short-term treatment of insomnia and can be taken for up to 4 weeks to treat sleep problems. After drug use, therapeutic effect occurs within 30-60 minutes, and therefore it is highly recommended that patients only take the drug directly before sleep.

Classification

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) drug classification that is regulated under the Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), Ambien is a Class IV substance on par with other prescription medicines with a known medical use. Drugs in Schedule IV have low potential for abuse, limited physical, and limited psychological dependence relative to the drugs or other substances in Schedules I, II, or III. The drugs in Schedule IV also have current medical use.

Side Effects

Following a prescription dosage regimen, the intensity of Ambien side effects is fairly low. Note here that Ambien is rarely supposed to be prescribed for more than 2 weeks at a time. As per the FDA-approved Ambien label, prescriptions should be followed up by an appointment at 30-days in order to evaluate the medicine’s effectiveness.

Still, the most common side effects for Ambien are sluggishness, fast fatigability, dizziness, disorder of equilibrium, muscle weakness, and daily sleepiness. These side effects tend pass with the end of the drug use and the medical intervention is not necessary during their appearance.

Is Ambien Addictive?

Yes, Ambien can be addictive.

The American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-V identifies some of the symptoms of a sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder as:

  • Abandonment of once-enjoyed activities in favor of obtaining and using the substance.
  • Compulsive desire to obtain the substance.
  • Continued use despite negative social, interpersonal, legal, or financial consequences caused by Ambien use.
  • Taking the drug for longer than intended.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or cease use.

However, addiction should not be confused with dependence or tolerance. After the daily administration of Ambien for a couple of weeks or more, the central nervous system adapts to the presence of Ambien. This is a process called “dependence”, and is characterized by withdrawal symptoms upon lowering doses or quitting Ambien.
Furthermore, people who take Ambien for more than a few weeks at a time can develop “tolerance”, defined as the need to increase the dose to achieve the same initial therapeutic effect. Although research has shown that tolerance and dependence do not usually occur after just a few weeks of therapeutic use, these conditions do make quitting more difficult and can add to diagnostic criteria for a substance addiction.

Risks

According to FDA-approved Ambien prescription information, long-term use of Ambien presents higher risks and more danger. This is why Ambien should only be taken immediately prior to going to bed and for a period of time less than 14 days. Plus, the FDA outlines risks of taking sleeping pills and has put out a recommended lowered dose for zolpidem in early 2018. Even more, Ambien shows additive effects when combined with alcohol and the central nervous system depressant drugs. You should never mix Ambien with other drugs or drink when using it.

Furthermore, age is important. Ambien should not be prescribed to children 14 years old, or younger. In fact, the safety and effectiveness of zolpidem have not been established in pediatric patients. As with other sedative/hypnotic drugs, Ambien should be administered with caution to persons exhibiting signs or symptoms of depression. Suicidal tendencies may be present in such people and protective measures may be required.

Some of the most worrying side effects of Ambien use include decreased inhibition such as aggressiveness and extroversion that seem out of character. These symptoms may be similar to effects produced by alcohol and other central nervous system depressants. Additionally, people can forget things they have done while under the influence of the drug; sleep walking, conversations, and even driving while on Ambien have been reported. Further, visual and auditory hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist) have also been reported as well as behavioral changes such as bizarre behavior, agitation and depersonalization.
Everyone who takes Ambien should be cautioned against engaging in hazardous occupations requiring complete mental alertness or motor coordination such as operating machinery or driving a motor vehicle after ingesting the drug. Due to the rapid onset of action, Ambien can leave you operative but unconscious. To reduce the risk of harm, only take Ambien as prescribed and before you plan to sleep.

Signs of a Drug Problem

Can you not get to sleep without Ambien?
Do you use Ambien to calm down?

Have you used Ambien without a doctor’s prescription?
If you afraid that you might be addicted to Ambien, honesty is required. In order for addiction to occur, you must experience at least one of the four characteristics of addiction:

  • You begin to crave Ambien.
  • You cannot stop taking Ambien.
  • You continue to take Ambien despite negative consequences.
  • You take Ambien for non-medical or recreational purposes.

Abusing Ambien recreationally or in doses/ways other than prescribed can lead to dependence and addiction.

How to Get Help?

Always seek medical supervision when you want to come off Ambien.

First, you should talk to your prescribing doctor about concerns you have about Ambien. S/He can help you identify alternative ways to treat insomnia while you start withdrawing from Ambien. Ambien withdrawal is most successful when you follow a tapering protocol as you stop taking sleeping pills. Slowly lowering doses over time can help reduce the intensity of symptoms like rebound insomnia, anxiety, and paranoia that can occur. So, ask your doctor to set up an individual tapering schedule for you.

You can also ask for help from any one of these medical or behavioral healthcare professionals:

  • A drug addiction specialist M.D.
  • Detox clinics.
  • Licensed clinical social workers.
  • Psychiatrists.
  • Psychologists.

If you need help, know this: Both physical or psychological dependence on Ambien are treated as medical conditions. There is no need to feel ashamed. Simply start looking for referrals and get the help you need.

Final Thoughts

Q: So, is Ambien a narcotic?
A: Yes, officially it is a narcotic.

Ambien is legally classified as a narcotic and a Schedule IV substance in the Controlled Substances Act. While most schedule IV drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence…Ambien becomes a narcotic when it is used outside of prescription guidelines.

Your Questions

Did we answer most of your questions about Ambien? We hope so. If you have additional concerns about this topic, please share them in the comments section below. We will do our best to respond to you as soon as possible.

Moreover, if we do not know the answer to your question, we will refer you to someone who can help you. Do not hesitate to write us, we are here to help. And we love to hear from our readers!

Reference Sources: DEA: Drug schedules
FDA: Ambien label
NCBI: Zolpidem intoxication mimicking narcotic overdose: response to flumazenil.
NCBI: Zolpidem (by mouth)
NCBI: Polydrug abuse: A review of opioid and benzodiazepine combination use

Leave a Reply

35 Responses to “Is Ambien a narcotic?
Leoma
6:54 am April 25th, 2011

Hi, thanks for the info. I used Ambien myself to help me sleep, and it works great, so far this is the best sleeping medication I’ve ever used, just make sure you don’t take alcohol while using this!! because if you mix alcohol and ambien together it will act like a date rape drug! and you won’t remember what happened.

Ed Childers
1:46 pm June 23rd, 2011

Is ambien really a narcotic

Narcotic Not
3:08 pm September 27th, 2011

It seems more than clear that Ambien it NOT physically addictive if taken for more than 4 weeks or for that matter any length of time and the article concludes it should not be rescheduled as narcotic as it simply is not narcotic nor addictive.

mj
1:02 am December 15th, 2011

Should this med be under lock and key with all other lock down meds?

10:26 am December 15th, 2011

Hi mj.

Thanks for your question.

Ambien is stored at controlled room temperature 20°–25°C (68°–77°F). Yes, you can keep Ambien under lock and key, especially if you have children in the house or are around those who may misuse it. Ambien does have side effects, and is listed on this FDA medication guides page:

http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm085729.htm

Does this help?

Esther Everett
9:30 pm January 15th, 2012

I want to know what the long-term effects of taking Ambiem every night for five years or longer.

12:56 pm January 16th, 2012

Hi Esther.

Using hypnotics such as Ambien for more than 4 weeks can lead to damaged sleep staging or insomnia. Additionally, Ambien acts on the central nervous system and slows the brain’s activity. That’s how it works. So if you want to stop taking Ambien, you must seek medical help. Activity in the brain can rebound and race out of control to the point that seizures can occur.

Do you want to get off Ambien for good?

Anne
7:30 pm August 24th, 2012

My spouse has taken Ambien for 4 years and I truly believe he is ADDICTED. He has even managed to get two scripts from two different Doctors because he had reached his max dose. He orders hundreds of dollars worth of STUFF on line in the middle of the night and does not always remember ordering it or how it was paid for. His Dr. is aware of this, but he does have joint pain. He also takes this while driving and with pain meds. I do not know where to turn, but this addiction has ruined my marriage.

4:36 pm September 5th, 2012

Hi Anne. Yes, drug addiction can lead to major disruptions in intimacy between couples. You may feel like your husband simply hasn’t “shown up” for the past few years. So…where to get help?

1. A family addiction treatment professional. Schedule a consultation with a psychologist with experience working with couples or families. Go in with a goal: identify the next steps in your relationship, try to work things out, set limits. Whatever it is…talk with someone who has experience and they can help guide you through.

2. Al-Anon. It’s not just for families of alcoholics. Here, you can learn how to find happiness for yourself, whether you stay in the relationship or not. You learn how to stop enabling addictive behaviors and start to stand up for yourself. Plus, you get support from a group of peers.

3. A physician. Consult with your family doctor about what’s going on and seek a medical opinion or referral to other solutions. The more open you are about what’s going on, the more doors will open to you!

Does this help?

stejac
2:27 pm April 20th, 2013

This site has been very informative. I have been on ambien for slightly over 2 years now. I have had episodes were I might want to try and get high from the drug from time to time. Whenever I do this activity, I wind up regretting it. Every time I have taken the drug in order to get “HIGH” I never know what has happened until I wake up and I am told a unbelievable story of all kinds if real stupid things I do after I took the dose. I have absolutely no memory of any of the events that happened while I was on the drug. When I finely come to my right mind, I am there to face the consequences of what I did while I was under the drugs effects. Needless to say it is NEVER good. I have done some crazy stuff while under the effects of this drug. Things that I would have NEVER have done if I was in my right mind. Beware.

akear
4:46 pm May 4th, 2013

I had to go a week in detox to get off ambien. I am now a outpatient. They do urines screens. A delayed order of ambien came in the mail several days ago and I took 10 in two days. My screen is 48 hours away will it show up on the screen. I hear it leaves the body fast.

Annie Jordan
8:02 pm May 22nd, 2013

After taking 20mg of Ambien for sleep for years, I was told I would no longer have it. It was time to lower the dose and eventually stop using it altogether.

It is a drug that should be classified in the most dangeroous category. I have ha a multitude of psychological problems which are associated with withdrawal. I have not felt well, I have been very angry, and felt very lost. And of course…have not been sleeping.

Those of you who are going to be withdrawing from Ambien,,,beware, I do not think physicians understand the gravity of the withdrwal effects. All of a sudden we can no longer use it for sleep, beecause the FDA has decided it does not clear fast enough from the body. I am angry that I have been ill for two weeks…unable to work. Beware…

akear
4:46 pm May 28th, 2013

Ambien is extremely addictive.

GinaP
6:05 pm June 23rd, 2013

I have been on Ambien for insomnia for roughly 3 years….it had just become a part of my routine…10mg….but I would break it in half and try to take the smallest amount to get me to sleep….I ran out before it came in the mail a few days ago…..I decided to just go off cold turkey….I didn’t like having to rely on something and take control of my life….I have been off for 4 nights….and have been ill ever since….shaking, vomiting, stomach aches, headaches, fogginess, terrible dreams….just trying to get through the withdrawal…..I wish I had never started taking it….you either have to stay on it forever or never take it….I knew about the side effects, i.e. getting up and doing strange things before I started them, but that never happened to me while taking it, but never knew just how it affects the brain and how terrible the withdrawal symptoms would be…..I just want to get through this and be well….hope this helps some people here….

Sharon
3:58 pm January 16th, 2014

I have been on ambien for about 5 years, on and off. I have slowly weaned myself off. Have not slept for 3 nights. Doctor has no answer. really starting to effect me. I don’t know what to do.

Lisa
9:13 am March 15th, 2014

I have been taking ambien for a little over 7yrs. It controls my life. I take more than I am supposed to because the 1st one isn’t enough anymore. I have done some crazy things and not remembered the next day. My family fears for me. I just want sleep. I sometimes go for days without sleep. I have 2 prescriptions a month one of them mine and the other belongs to someone else. This is 60 pills and I still run out and have a couple of days that I have to do without. Those are the worst days. I get sick and very irritable.I never would have believed that I would become addicted to a drug. I hate the feeling. I have cried many tears over Ambien. My best friend & worst nightmare. It is a crazy thing and I wish I would have never started taking them. So if you have never taken and you are just thinking about it………RUN in the other direction!!!!!!

mike
12:11 pm June 9th, 2014

I went 3 days without any ambien i was taking about 50ms then ran out i became tearfull aggitated hot dizzy it wss terrible i have some now but will lower my doeses will that help

beverly paredez
2:37 am September 5th, 2014

I use ambien to sleep at night and sometimes I use it to calm down

Dan
12:33 am November 16th, 2014

Is it illegal to have 2 prescription of this drug with 2 different Insurence I don’t know how to put a stop to this do I contact her doctor or medical Insurence

Alan
2:01 am January 25th, 2015

Ambien may currently be classified as non-narcotic Sch IV, but that is only because there isn’t enough known about zolpidem and other “Z” drugs (e.g. Lunesta). New studies have shown that these drugs affect GABA receptors in a similar way as benzodiazepines (xanax, klonopin, valium, etc). The Z drug binds to the GABA receptors that are associated with sleep. Now, research has shown that Z drugs such as Ambien actually do bind to all the same GABA receptors as benzos. Therefore, the FDA has been urged by the DEA to reclassify these drugs as Sch III Narcotics. If taken for an extended period, and abruptly stopped, you WILL experience benzodiazepine withdrawal effects… Which is a very serious problem. Unlike Opiate withdrawal, benzo withdrawal can induce seizurez snd cause irreparable brain damage. Physicians know less about the drug. It should be administered and taken in the same respect as benzodiazepines. Physicians and Psychiatrists should be versed on how to safely taper patients who have had long term exposure, especially once tolerance levels have risen. A prolonged taper schedule similar to benzodiazepine tapering should be employed, and because of the dosages available, titration is going to be needed toward the end of the taper. My message is BE CAREFUL!

Lois Russell
3:14 pm March 21st, 2015

I have been taking 30-40mg. of this in a twenty-four-hour period. I first started taking 1-1.5mg. a day three or four years ago, but after a very stressful total knee replacement a year and a half ago, together with necessary extraction of all my lower teeth while I was still in intensive care, I felt some post-trauma. In about three months I began to notice depression in myself and very frequently had anxiety attacks – fear that someone in a crowd of commuters would knock me down (which has happened). Because of my lack of teeth, my choices in food were (and still are) limited. I completely lost my appetite for food and began to vomit after at least every other meal. About two months ago I started to take 5mg. for anxiety attacks, and it worked. Since that time my depression has gotten worse, I feel mentally fuzzy and stay in bed most days.
I want to quit, and I need to go it alone, without the support of family or friends, who have no understanding of this problem.
About how much should I decrease the daily dose, and how fast should I do it?

Thanks.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I usually drink two or three beers at the same time that I take the Ambien. Not good, is it?

Stephanie
10:56 pm April 8th, 2015

Ambien is highly addictive. I originally got a prescription to combat stress related sleep issues after losing my dad. This turned in to a total addiction and in the end I was ordering the pills online and taking more than 30 per day. I ended up in treatment for 32 days, 12 of those were withdrawing from the Ambien. I am now 9 months sober and attending 12 step meetings daily to kick this addiction. It is powerful stuff!

Addiction
1:53 pm May 30th, 2015

It is always very powerful in the psychological aspect, and it only makes it difficult trying to get family and/ or friends to understand what it’s like. Although, the best thing to do is to live one day at a time, and make a change for the better every day. I have been a recovering addict for multiple years now and having gone through everything I did I can truly say that regardless of anyone’s opinion, only yours matters. Always trust that inner voice, the voice of reason. Allow the burden of addiction to be lifted off of your shoulders more and more every day sober. Good luck and God bless everyone in their times of trouble and hardship.

Tina
12:57 am November 3rd, 2015

Well I have been band from one pharmacy because I have been getting my Ambien from 2 other places, at the time we were going out of town and country because of deaths in the family. This started late last year and continued into this year. I have always had trouble with sleep and I am PTSD with Manic Depression, wont go into all of that. I only take the Ambien at night in bed when I am ready to go to sleep. I don’t see any other reason to take it. Due to the stress and sadness of all that is going on I have increased to 1 1/2 sometimes 2, but things are may change as I hope we do not have to travel out of the country anymore. The Pharmacist that band me was very nasty about it and did not tell me why she way snooping on me, or why it was a big deal about me have them from two other places, just that I could not come there anymore. I still have five orders there along with my other meds. Mind you I don’t take anything else, I don;t drink or smoke or anything, just trying to get some sleep, can I report this or what do I do, just let it go. How can they just get in your business and tell you what you can and can not do. Why didn’t she just tell me I could not get the Ambien at the other places and explain to me why, by the way I still don’t know why. Any real answers as to why a pharmacist can police your med intake that your doctors perscribe.

8:56 pm November 11th, 2015

Hello Tina. If you are not satisfied with your pharmacist’s service, you could file a complaint. I came across this government site that might be helpful to you. http://www.pharmacy.ca.gov/consumers/complaint_info.shtml

Wendy
1:22 pm August 5th, 2016

Ive been in stilnox in Australia since about 2000. Then after 2 kids i started taking 2 every night. Someimes even when i have a nana nap in the arvo. 2 more

Chad
12:44 am November 18th, 2016

Having been on ambien for 5 years and having had friends and family on ambien for long periods of time I can say..
1. Ambien is absolutely addictive and it’s the only drug besides opiates that I have seen many responsible people look to find ways to get more than recommended.
2. Taking more than 10 mg will cause even the most experienced ambien user to have black outs where they don’t remember their own actions. Ambien black outs aren’t just “things were a little bit foggy”, they are full on.. the lights are on but nobody is home. My girlfriend says the scariest thing about an ambien black out is the fact that I can hold a normal conversation and seem okay but will have no idea what I was talking about the next day (that’s after years of learning to act normal on it).
3. Rehab centers are overwhelmed with the amount of people checking in to detox off the drug. Anyone who says they took ambien for years and just quit cold turkey with no problems is a rare case and very much the exception.

That said.. insomnia is horrible. After two days of 2-3 hours sleep I start to become dim witted and struggle with work issues that shouldn’t be that hard. That’s the problem I guess, even with all these terrible side effects of ambien I came to the conclusion that insomnia is still worse for my health.

Carol
11:20 am February 5th, 2017

I am Ambien tolerant i guess, because i cannot get to sleep without using it. I’ve needed Ambien for sleep for 10 years. Tried 6 months without it and never once got to sleep before dawn. However, i take the same 10mg dose i always have; 10 mg is just as effective now as it was 10 years ago.

Richard
10:11 pm June 3rd, 2017

I have had blackouts while taking Ambien. My worst experience was sleep driving. I pulled over to the side of the road at 2:00 AM in the morning wondering where I was. I had the clothes on that i was wearing when I went to bed, boxer shorts, nothing else. I had driven thru several traffic signals and obeyed them all. A cop pulled over to check on my situation. The first thing I did was ask him where i was. He checked my papers and left. Very lucky for me. I had driven 20 miles to nowhere.

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
12:53 pm June 6th, 2017

Hi Richard. That’s a very awful experience. Have you talked with your doctor about this? You may need to stop using Ambien at all.

MM
9:35 pm June 14th, 2017

My primary care doctor prescribed ambien for me to help me sleep. My pain doctor knows this and has known it for the 2 years that I’ve been seeing him, however, today, he said that I must stop taking ambien because it could cause me respiratory problems while taking my pain medication.
He wants me to use over the counter sleep aids if I have trouble sleeping. The problem is, if over the counter stuff worked, my primary care doctor wouldn’t have given me a prescription for ambien. Me and my primary care doctor have already covered all of this….now I don’t know what to do….

Denise
6:50 am January 28th, 2018

Whether or not..the government.classifies different drugs “such as ambien” we need always be cautious and aware of how they could affect me. Just because it’s not classified as a dangerous drug…does not mean it’s safe to take. I am a person who does not sleep well…but am also a recovering drug addict. The challenge is now…i want sleep but don’t want to take things that could be potentially dangerous. Another issue is I get very weak when I am exhausted and that can be dangerous as well. Any thoughts…maybs something u have personally experienced. Not just mere opinions. Thx

Cindy
9:08 pm April 16th, 2018

I have been taking generic ambien CR 12.5 for about 8 years now. I have never abused it and even cut them in half if it’s later than normal getting in bed, and have had no problems. Occasionally there are nights when I don’t take them on the weekend and I may get two hours sleep on and off without them. Any drug can be abused, I can’t believe someone would have 2 scripts for them from different doctors. I think I could wean myself off of them if needed, but I wouldn’t get any sleep and don’t know if I would be able to function at work.

Angel
3:25 am September 9th, 2018

I’ve been using ambien to help me sleep for quite sometime prescribed by my doctor of course but I noticed that it takes longer for me to fall asleep than usual is it because I need a higher dosage or is it because simple the drug is not working for me anymore please respond need to know assap.

3:43 pm September 10th, 2018

Hi Angel. Ambien is intended for short-term use, and this may be one of the first symptoms of dependence. I suggest you consult with your doctor about your concern.

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