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Ambien and DUI

Sufferers of insomnia, desperate for a good night’s sleep, are often given a prescription for Ambien. Ambien offers relief from insomnia but also manifests strange side effects in patients referred to as parasomnias.

Parasomnias are undesirable motor or verbal events that occur during sleep. Sleep walking in an example of a parasomnia. Driving under the influence (DUI) enters the picture with Ambien due to a parasomnia unique to it: sleep driving. 

The statistics are sparse on this occurrence, but the incidents of Ambien-DUI started to emerge in 2005 and are becoming more known. Defenses focus on the involuntary nature of driving unaware but Arizona takes a hard line against even involuntary acts of intoxication. This will review the Ambien-DUI trend and its treatment by Arizona law. 


It is estimated that 39 million people rely on the sleep prescription Ambien. While available in the U.S. since 1993, reports of parasomnias began to surface in 2005. In March 2007, the reports were pervasive enough that the FDA demanded that the makers of sedative-hypnotic drugs such as Ambien include warnings about the parasomnias (including sleep driving) and recommended the drug manufacturers perform further studies. The warnings were widely published but no further research followed.

There are also no national or state statistics on Ambien-DUI arrests except for Ambien being one of the top ten drugs to show up in post-arrest drug screens. 

Officers describe defendants as disoriented, speaking in slurred speech, and uncoordinated. Defendants black out and are often found slumped behind the wheel of the car if there is a crash. Once arrested, defendants wake up in a jail cell with no memory of their offense. 


While some states recognize Ambien-DUI as an involuntary act, Arizona does not appear to share that perspective. According to the Arizona DUI law, defendants commit the crime of driving under the influence if they are intoxicated by “any drug” while in control of a vehicle. (See A.R.S. § 28-1381.) Even if taking the drug is authorized by a legal prescription from a doctor, it does not deter conviction if the defendant shows any sign of intoxication. 

Punishment for DUI for Ambien is the same as with any alcohol or voluntary intoxication conviction. Defendants face jail time, $2,000.00 in fines at a minimum, a revoked driver’s license, required drug treatment and installation of an ignition lock on the vehicle. In cases involving prescription drugs, the Motor Vehicle Department suspends a license for a year as opposed to the usual 90-days.

Regardless of the state in which you live, if you have been suspected of a DUI and were under the influence of Ambien then you need to consult a DUI defense lawyer. Because of the nature of the offense and if you have a prescription for Ambien then you will have a case for a defense lawyer. In addition, when you interview defense lawyers, make sure you ask about recent case results that are similar to your situation.

David Michael Cantor is a DUI Defense Attorney and Managing Partner of the Law Offices of David Michael Cantor. The Law Offices of David Michael Cantor is an AV rated law firm in Phoenix, AZ.

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