Ambien, also known by its generic name, Zolpidem, acts as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. When you take Ambien, your brain activity slows down, allowing insomnia sufferers to get some much needed sleep. However, drugs that act as CNS depressants can have some serious side effects in regard to your memory and motor function. When brain activity is slowed down due to a CNS depressant, the parts of your brain responsible for memory, motor skills, and decision-making are slowed down too.
Combined with the changes in your brain during sleep — or worse, when taken with another depressant, like alcohol — this drug can lead you to engage in dangerous behavior that you may not even be aware of and will likely not remember in the morning.
Sleep walking, sleep eating, and even sleep sex are not uncommon side effects of Ambien, but unfortunately, these sleep behaviors don’t end there. Some insomnia sufferers taking Ambien wake up behind the wheel of a car with police lights flashing in the rearview mirror. “Sleep drivers” perform the complex task of driving while in a half-conscious state between sleeping and waking. Motor function impairment makes sleep driving incredibly dangerous. Sleep drivers are often discovered running into parked cars or driving the wrong way on one-way roads and freeways. Some sleep drivers are even completely unconscious when this behavior occurs.
Sleep drivers charged with driving under the influence often ask, “How can I be held responsible for a DUI when I didn’t even know what I was doing?” That’s a complex question with answers that vary depending on the exact details of your case. In Arizona, voluntarily taking a substance that impairs your ability to drive — even if you didn’t intend to get behind the wheel — makes you accountable for a DUI, despite being unable to remember it later.
The second question sleep drivers ask is, “How can I get in trouble for taking a medication prescribed by my doctor?” While other states limit DUI charges to illicit substances and alcohol, Arizona does not make such a distinction. In fact, Zolpidem is specifically listed as a “dangerous drug” by statute 13-3401. Any amount of Zolpidem in your system puts you legally under the influence of a dangerous substance. This law makes it difficult to defend yourself against DUI charges without legal counsel, even when you’re simply following your doctor’s orders.
That being said, you can still fight Ambien DUI charges — and win your case. A defense attorney with experience trying Ambien DUI cases can help you develop a case that may limit the consequences of this type of charge. The fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently recommended lowering doses is also an asset to defendants, as judges increasingly become aware of the involuntary risks of this drug. Courts are also increasingly marking the distinction between amnesia and unconsciousness while driving under the influence. Amnesia implies that the driver was aware of his or her actions and later forgot, while unconscious drivers took the wheel without any awareness or control of his or her behavior and therefore can’t be held entirely responsible.
Other Ambien DUI cases arise when law enforcement officers order a urine or blood test to establish whether or not a driver was under the influence. If this test reveals any amount of Ambien, you may still receive a DUI, even if you’re not impaired. However, legal precedent has recently tipped in favor of the driver in these situations. In a recent Arizona case, a medical expert informed the court that although the DUI defendant had an involuntary eye-jerk reaction during a sobriety test, Ambien could cause this eye dysfunction without causing any driving impairment.
Each Flagstaff DUI attorney at the Law Offices of Gonzales & Poirier has a high-level understanding of the unique issues associated with Ambien DUI cases. If you’ve been charged with an Ambien-related DUI that you may not even remember, contact our office to find out how we can help you achieve the most beneficial outcome for your case.