My doctor prescribed Ambien, and it's worked great for me. But I'm afraid I might become dependent on it. Is that likely?
Answer From Eric J. Olson, M.D.
It's unlikely you'll become dependent on zolpidem (Ambien). Ambien and similar sleep medications can be effective, and they're much less likely to be habit-forming than some other drugs sometimes prescribed for sleep problems — for example, benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan) or temazepam (Restoril).
But there can be concerning side effects. For example, some people who take zolpidem or similar medications, such as eszopiclone (Lunesta), do things while asleep that they don't remember — such as driving, or preparing and eating food. Because you're not awake, these are dangerous behaviors.
Also, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that you avoid driving or doing activities that require full mental alertness the next day, as you may still have some impairment from the sleep medication, especially if you take extended-release drugs. In rare cases, these sleep medications may trigger a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
Sleep medications can be useful in the short term, but relying on them usually isn't the best long-term solution for insomnia. For example, medications can mask an underlying problem that needs treatment.
The best approach is to address whatever is causing your sleep problems in the first place. Other therapies include learning new sleep habits (such as keeping your bedtime and wake time consistent from day to day), getting counseling for anxiety or other psychological concerns, and using stress-reduction techniques.