My doctor prescribed Ambien, and it's worked great for me. But I'm afraid I might become dependent on it. Is that likely?

Answers from Eric J. Olson, M.D.

It's unlikely you'll become dependent on zolpidem (Ambien). Ambien and similar sleep medications are effective and 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).

However, relying on a sleep medication generally isn't the best long-term solution for insomnia. Medications can mask an underlying problem that needs treatment. They can also cause 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 the best approach is to address whatever's 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.


Eric J. Olson, M.D.

July 01, 2015