Ambien is a sedative medication that helps treat people who have issues falling asleep or those who cannot stay asleep. One of the brand names for a medication called zolpidem, Ambien is available by prescription for those who are experiencing some form of insomnia. But many people do abuse the drug, leading to extreme health risks and even addiction, for which the person will need formal addiction recovery treatment.
According to the NLM, Ambien "belongs to a class of medications called sedative-hypnotics." There are actually two types of Ambien:
- Ambien- the regular zolpidem tartrate tablet
- Ambien CR- the controlled release version of the drug, which has the same ingredients but is processed differently so that it releases more slowly into your body, making the effects last longer
The NLM states that "you will probably become very sleepy soon after you take" the medication.
You will also continue to feel sleepy for a while afterward. Because Ambien is a strong, prescription medication, it can have very intense effects on the user. People who are taking it should make sure they have plenty of time to sleep for at least eight hours and plan their use of the drug accordingly.
A person who is using Ambien will obviously become very sleepy. This is the desired effect, but many people do not realize that they may become sleepy for quite some time. Those who use Ambien may also feel drugged or dizzy after taking the medication.
As stated by the NLM, some side effects of Ambien use are:
- "Unsteady Walking"
- Unusual Dreams
Ambien Can Also Cause Stomach and Gastrointestinal Issues Such As:
- "Stomach Pain or Tenderness"
- Appetite Changes
A person who is taking Ambien may also experience problems with shaking or tingling body parts, cramping and aching of the muscles, "joint, back, or neck pain," or heavy bleeding during menstruation.
You Can Tell That a Person is Using Ambien If He or She Is:
- Extremely sleepy or tired
- Having trouble with coordination and balance or experiencing vertigo (NHTSA)
- Red in the eyes
These side effects are all rather mild and can by symptoms of normal Ambien use. However, someone who experiences them often or who finds that certain side effects will not subside could be in trouble. Abuse of Ambien will also make the side effects listed above much more intense.
Other risks involved with Ambien use are:
- "Abnormal thinking and behavior changes" which involve
- Shot-term amnesia
- Cardiovascular issues such as hypertension or tachycardia (Infrequent)
- Vision issues such as blurry vision
- Those involved in "activities that require complete mental alertness the day after taking the drug." The FDA has stated that activities such as driving a car, even the day after a person has taken Ambien, may be highly dangerous and should avoided.
Among these health risks, Ambien may also cause addiction, especially if a person is abusing the drug.
The NLM states that Ambien "may be habit forming" and a person taking the drug should:
- Not take larger doses than those prescribed by a doctor
- Not take it more often than a doctor has prescribed
- Not take it for longer than prescribed, as it is usually used as a short-term medication
If a person deviates from these rules in any way, he or she is already beginning to abuse Ambien.
Ambien is a sedative which is also considered to be a depressant. According to the NIDA, depressants are "commonly abused prescription drugs," and Ambien can be abused for many reasons.
A person may abuse Ambien because he or she is having trouble sleeping and decides to use the medication without a prescription. People may also abuse it just to feel its somnolent effects which may make them feel similar to being high.
Someone who is abusing Ambien will:
- Do so in order to feel euphoric, high, or somnolent for recreation
- Have issues with coordination
- Be very tired, drowsy, and fatigued
- Possibly experience amnesia or memory loss in the short-term
- Break the medication by crushing it or chewing it.
The CDCP explains that "breaking the tablet would cause an increase in the amount of medication released into the body at one time." This is why many people who abuse Ambien do so. The rush of the drug's effects hit them all at one time. The user will then snort it or sometimes "cook it for an intravenous injection."
In many cases though, individuals who have been prescribed Ambien simply begin to take more of the drug after taking it for "extended periods of time." These people are then abusing Ambien, causing many other issues including addiction.
Ambien addiction is serious and can occur after someone has been taking the drug for a while.
Those who have a high risk of becoming addicted to Ambien will most likely experience:
- Tolerance - The original dose does not make the person feel the effects as strongly so he or she will start taking more of the drug. This happens to many people who are prescribed Ambien and decide to deviate from the dosage set by their doctors.
- Dependence - Ambien can cause strong psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms which, though not usually life-threatening, can cause a person to act in strange and disturbing ways.
When these symptoms begin to occur, addiction is not usually far away.
Someone Who Is Addicted to Ambien Will:
- Crave the drug
- Feel unable to function if he or she has not taken the drug
- Do anything to get more Ambien including something illegal or dangerous (drug-seeking behavior)
- Become angry or defensive when asked about his or her drug use
- Hide Ambien around the house
- Become apathetic toward school, work, and other responsibilities
- Abuse the drug to the point that it interferes with his or her life and still be unable to stop
Because Ambien is a sedative, it can keep people from doing their daily activities, especially if they are abusing it. Someone who is addicted to Ambien will always be abusing the drug so other responsibilities will fall by the way.
Overdosing on Ambien is another risk a person takes on when abusing the drug. The DailyMed states that "impairment of consciousness ranging from somnolence to coma, cardiovascular and/or respiratory compromise, and fatal outcomes have been reported" when individuals have overdosed on Ambien (or Ambien combined with another CNS depressant which is common).
The Symptoms of Ambien Overdose Are:
- Slowing of the breathing and heartbeat
Ambien abuse is still common in the United States today. The NIDA states that "ED visits related to zolpidem (Ambien)... more than doubled" in a four-year period "from about 13,000 in 2004 to about 28,000 in 2008." Teenagers sometimes abuse Ambien for its somnolent or euphoric effects, and the use of Ambien with another drug is very popular among younger abusers.
Many people take Ambien and other non-benzodiazepine sedatives because it is thought of as a safer alternative to benzodiazepine-based drugs. "They are thought... to have fewer side effects and less dependence potential" than benzodiazepines (NIDA). However, this does not mean that they do not have their own potential for side effects, dependence, and abuse.
Other Statistics Involved With Ambien Abuse Are:
- "In 2010 females accounted for more than two-thirds (68 percent of all emergency department visits related to zolpidem" (SAMHSA).
- In that same year, "patients aged 45 or older represented about three-quarters (74 percent) of all emergency department visits involving adverse reactions" to Ambien and other zolpidem-based drugs.
- "Memory and learning impairment can be found up to 8.25 hours following a 10-20 mg dose" (NHTSA). According to the DailyMed, "the total dose of Ambien should not exceed 10 mg once daily" so this dosage would likely be that of someone abusing the drug.
Someone who has been abusing Ambien will need to attend substance use treatment in order to stop. The drug is very addictive, and people who are already craving Ambien and its effects will not be able to stop taking it on their own. The NIDA states that "while the path to drug addiction begins with the voluntary act of taking drugs, over time a person's ability to choose not to do so becomes compromised." Addiction is "a brain disease" and must be treated by medical professionals in order for the person to stop.
Ambien withdrawal is not comfortable and may cause the person to act out strangely. It will be necessary for someone going through Ambien withdrawal to attend some kind of detox facility. In most cases, this person should consider inpatient detox as the symptoms of withdrawal are severe and disturbing.
The CDCP states that Ambien's psychological and behavioral withdrawal symptoms are:
- "Loss of personal identity"
- Depression and/or suicidal thoughts
- "Abnormal extroversion or aggressive behavior"
These are usually the most intense withdrawal symptoms. A person who abruptly stops taking Ambien will also experience insomnia again. Even someone who was abusing the drugs without experiencing insomnia at first will likely have it as one of his or her withdrawal symptoms.
Other Physical Symptoms of Ambien Withdrawal Include:
- Panic attack
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- "Uncontrollable crying" (NLM)
- Seizures (rare)
Because the psychological and behavioral symptoms are so intense and keep a person from thinking clearly or acting like him or herself, an inpatient detox facility would be recommended. After detox ends, however, the individual will need to attend formal drug addiction treatment in order to fully recover.
Someone who has been addicted to Ambien will need both medication and therapy treatments in order to recover. According to the NIDA, "medication and behavioral therapy, especially when combined, are important elements of an overall therapeutic process." Often, treatment should take at least 90 days in order to be effective.
While medication is usually necessary for treatment, therapy is what helps patients think differently about their drug use. The types of therapy which would most likely be used in Ambien Addiction treatment are:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy - CBT helps patients fight their addictions by seeing their drug use in a new way. They are taught strategies to help them identify triggers and cravings and ways to fight these effects.
- Motivational Incentives - MI uses positive reinforcement to help encourage individuals to stay abstinent from drugs. This would be especially effective for those who took Ambien to feel euphoric or high.
- Group Therapy - Group therapy is so beneficial to many addicts as they are able to talk to and interact with others who are struggling with the same issues they are.
Ambien addiction is not a mild problem. It can cause many painful issues including work, relationship, and family problems. The health risks of Ambien are also very high. If you are taking Ambien in order to fight your insomnia, make sure you know the risks of the drug going in. Do not deviate from your doctor's advice and prescription and make sure to alert your doctor to any and all problems caused by your use of Ambien.