Ambien: Does This Popular Sleep Medication Turn People into Zombies?

The FDA warns that several considerations must be taken into account before using the popular insomnia medication.

When pharmaceutical manufacturer Sanofi developed Ambien (zolpidem), the goal was to come up with a drug to treat insomnia, a prevalent sleep disorder in the United States other parts of the world. While it was proven to be effective, its side effects should not be taken lightly, since people who use it can become "Ambien zombies." This was a term coined by Susan Chana Lask, the attorney who represented Ambien users for a class action suit against the drug manufacturer.

According to the CDC, there are between 50 and 70 million American adults who suffer from wakefulness disorders. That said, it is not surprising that quite a number of people take sleeping aid medications to tackle their sleep disorders. But despite its efficacy, this hypnotic drug is also considered potentially dangerous, not only for its addicting properties, but more importantly, for causing bizarre behaviors and turning people into Ambien zombies.

Ambien Overview

Categorized as a Schedule IV drug, Ambien is easily accessible since it can be prescribed and refilled without restriction. Approved in 1992 by the FDA, this medication instantly became one of the most popular options to fight insomnia. When it was introduced, it competed against Halcion, another sleep aid that was banned in some countries because of its adverse effects, including suicidal tendencies and addiction.

Ambien activates and binds the GABA neurotransmitter with receptors. As a result, it takes away the neuron activity that triggers insomnia. Consequently, the brain slows down and sleep immediately follows.

It became an instant hit among consumers, with Sanofi reaching sales up to $2 billion. When cheaper, generic zolpidem was introduced in 2007, it was also widely accepted as one of the most popular prescription drugs in the country.

Ambien Zombie Stories

As more people took Ambien to combat insomnia, numerous tragic events associated with this drug also grew in number. There have been unfortunate incidents reported and lawsuits filed as a result of the side effects from this sleep medication.

In 2009, a man who was said to have taken Ambien killed 8 people and was given 142 to 179 year prison sentence. There was also the case of,

Lindsey Schweigert, whose car collided with another vehicle after she was prescribed the sleeping aid. It was reported that Schweigert was not aware that the accident took place.

Rapper Eminem claimed that 5 years of his life was erased from his memory because of Ambien. Actor John Stamos also became dependent on the drug.

There was also a woman who ran over people in her car when she was supposed to be sleeping soundly after using the medication.

But perhaps, it was in 2006, when Patrick Kennedy was involved in a car accident related to his intake of Ambien, when the bizarre side-effects of the sleep-inducing drug caught the attention of the media and the nation. This subsequently resulted to a class action lawsuit against the drug for allegedly transforming users into Ambien zombies.

This resulted in the FDA ordering pharmaceutical companies that manufacture hypnotics to heighten the awareness of consumers about the effects of the drug in their warning labels. Also, in May 2016, the agency issued another order to lower the recommended dosage and for consumers not to drive or engage in other activities that will require them to stay awake a day after taking Zolpidem.

Joshua Pirestani is the president and founder of the

American Pharmacy Purchasing Alliance