The Zombie Defense

The “Ambien Defense” has been getting a lot of press in 2014.  Sometimes called the “Zombie Defense,” it’s the argument that someone charged with a crime—and the crimes have ranged from DWI to child sexual abuse to murder— took Ambien (or generic zolpidem) beforehand and had no memory of the crime.

  • August 19:  A Montana man was sentenced to 100 years for murdering two sisters in their early 20s.  He stabbed one victim over 130 times, including 34 times in the face, and beat, gagged, strangled, and stabbed the other.  A judge called the killings “ritualistic” and “systematic.”  The man said he took Ambien before the killings and had no memory of them, but pleaded no contest to avoid a trial.
  • August 6:  A former federal prosecutor in Louisiana claimed not to remember posting anonymous comments about pending federal cases online because he was under the influence of Ambien.
  • July 29:  A New York State man charged with second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend claimed he didn’t remember killing her and blamed Ambien.  The prosecutor countered that the girlfriend was kicking him out, the man was upset about it, and he intentionally killed her, strangling her multiple times.
  • June 19:  A Wyoming court upheld a plea deal and sentenced a man to 5 years probation for sexually abusing a young girl.  The man said he had no memory of the event after taking Xanax and Ambien.  Four doctors agreed the medications could have clouded his memory.  One doctor noted the man’s poor boundaries with his victim.
  • In February, Kerry Kennedy, daughter of RFK, was acquitted of a DWI charge following a morning rush hour accident.  She said she mistakenly took her nighttime sleeping aid, zolpidem, and had no memory of the incident.

Rapper Eminem has been public about his experience with Ambien, calling it a “memory-eraser” and blaming it for memory loss over a period of 5 years, including memories of public performances.  Tiger Woods was forever linked to Ambien when one of his mistresses told the press that she and Woods had “crazy Ambien sex.”

In recent years, Ambien/zolpidem has emerged as something of a party drug.  One rehab explains that people take zolpidem “recreationally for its sedative, psychoactive qualities” and that some people experience “euphoria, hallucinations and an increased sex drive when they take Ambien at clubs or parties.”  On August 11, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued a press release announcing that emergency room visits involving zolpidem overmedication nearly doubled in 5 years (2005 to 2010) to 42,274.

Ambien’s FDA-approved Medication Guide includes a warning that “[a]fter taking AMBIEN, you may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing.  The next morning, you may not remember that you did anything during the night.”  Specific activities mentioned include driving a car and having sex.

One 30-something Brooklyn woman has mixed feelings about Ambien’s reputation as a sex enhancer.  As she explained it to the Daily Beast, “I’m now curious if I had the best sexual experience of my life and don’t even remember it.”

As with the effects of alcohol and other sedative-hypnotic drugs, the effects of Ambien on mental state at the time of an act must be carefully distinguished from the effects of Ambien on memory for the act.


  1. Gregg, E., “Denning gets 100 years in prison for 2012 slayings of 2 sisters,” Billings Gazette, 19 Aug. 2014.
  2. Lieberman, S. “Man accused of strangling girlfriend blames Ambien,” The Journal News, 30 Jul. 2014.
  3. Cassidy, M., “Alleged Casper molester uses ‘Ambien defense,’” Missoulian, 15 Oct. 2013.
  4. Schrock, L., “Man’s ‘Ambien defense’ leads to probation deal for molesting girl,” Casper Star Tribune, 19 Jun, 2014.
  5. Jakkobsson, L., “Kerry Kennedy acquitted in DWI trial,”, 28 Feb. 2014. Web. 1 Sept. 2014.
  6. McCabe, A., “The Disturbing Side Effect of Ambien, The No. 1 Prescription Sleep Aid,” The Huffington Post, 15 Jan. 2014.
  7. Black Bear Lodge.  Web. 27 Aug. 2014.
  8. “Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration.” Emergency Department Visits Linked to Zolpidem Overmedication Nearly Doubled. Web. 1 Sept. 2014.
  9. “Ambien – FDA Prescribing Information, Side Effects and Uses.” Ambien – FDA Prescribing Information, Side Effects and Uses. Web. 1 Sept. 2014.
  10. 10. Seligson, H., “Is Ambien Sex Hotter?,” The Daily Beast, 6 Dec. 2009.  Web. 27 Aug. 2014.