I have used Ambien twice in my life: Some 15 years ago, I took it one night after a protracted bout of insomnia, and my daughter found me sitting on the floor in the living room clacking away on my computer. Apparently, I got up to do this after going to bed, and I had no memory of it the next day. About eight years ago I tried taking the drug one more time, and I have a vague memory of sitting in the dark and carrying on a conversation with an inanimate object.
I was very frightened by the hallucination, and I vowed I would never take Ambien again. Some years later, it became public knowledge that getting out of bed when not fully awake and doing an activity without remembering it is a not uncommon side effect of the drug. Hallucinating, it seems, is another.
Feeling agitated, aggressive, or suicidal are also potential side effects of taking zolpidem, the active ingredient in Ambien, and in recent years a good deal has been written about the link between the drug and some of its more frightening side effects, which include delusions and violent behavior; yet, it is the most popular sleep medication prescribed today, and its use has increased 220 percent over the past five years.
In the hours after last week’s tragic shooting at Fort Hood, the media stories included mention of the fact that Ivan Lopez, who killed three soldiers and wounded sixteen other people before taking his own life, had been prescribed Ambien, among other drugs. It appears he was suffering from a sleep disorder as well as from anxiety and depression, though there is no obvious connection between these disorders and his military experiences since he had not been exposed to direct combat during his four-month tour in Iraq.
Although I am not saying that Ambien made Lopez do what he did, I am saying that it cannot be discounted as a factor that might have contributed to his descent into madness.