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A Walking Nightmare
Photo: Nathan Sudds
Ambien—a sleeping pill—is the latest fad drug for American high school and college students. At nightclubs for young twenty-somethings, dance halls for teens or at house parties near a college campus or where high school kids hang you can see kids popping Ambien. Those abusing it call the tablets A-minus, tic-tacs, or zombie pills.

Ambien is a trade name for the generic drug Zolpidem. Its abuse is part of a growing trend among teens: using prescription drugs for recreational purposes—to get high, or hallucinate—rather than using the medicine as painkillers, sleep aids, or other medical needs.

Ambien is a hypnotic. Hypnotics depress the central nervous system. They make your brain run slower. At low doses, they have a quieting effect. That is why they are used to treat tension or hyperactivity. At low doses you chill. Higher doses make you drowsy—which is why Ambien is used to treat sleeping problems.

Teens using Ambien take it for the buzz. They use many times the prescription dose to see things or feel elated. To give it extra kick, they wash down Ambien with alcohol, or take it with other hypnotics.

Taking Ambien alone probably will not kill you. Mixing it with other depressants, or alcohol might. At very high doses, hypnotics cause deep unconsciousness—or even make you forget to breathe.

Besides the buzz, using Ambien can make you dizzy and lightheaded. Abusers also find themselves having mood swings, or behaving in ways they would consider strange, before they began using Ambien.

Become Forgetful

One of Ambien's more interesting side effects occurs even when people use it as directed. You forget things—literally. You may not remember what you did for several hours after taking Ambien.

Things can get stranger. Ambien abuse might make you fat. Ambien makes you eat—and forget that you have eaten.

Kimberly related this story. One night after taking Ambien, she got out of bed, and cooked up a midnight snack. Normally a good cook, she burned the meal preparing it. She ate it anyway. The next morning she had no memory of her midnight munchies. She was clued by crumbs in her bed—and a mess in her kitchen.

Sleep-eaters seem drawn to high-calorie snacking. You don’t eat the celery. You grab ice cream, cookies, lunchmeat and mayo. Studies show that sleep eaters often mix foods in weird combinations.

Ambien abuse may also trigger sleep driving. Take Ambien before getting behind the wheel of a car, and you may end up on autopilot before reaching home. Drivers on Ambien have driven the wrong way down busy freeways, weaved into oncoming lanes of traffic, and rammed parked cars. In some states, 10% of the people stopped for impaired driving had Ambien in their blood when tested.

It is tempting to think that getting high with prescription drugs is somehow safer than getting high on street drugs. They are not. Drugs are made prescription-only for a reason. The best highs are the ones you get naturally, doing something you enjoy.

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By Mark N. Lardas, copyright 2007, Mark N. Lardas, all rights reserved. Appeared originally in Listen, March 2006. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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