Signs and Symptoms of Ambien Addiction
If you’ve had difficulty sleeping for a significant period of time, your doctor may prescribe the drug zolpidem (Ambien) to help you sleep. Ambien is a medication designed to help people feel calm, relaxed, and profoundly sleepy.
What Is Ambien?
Ambien is the brand name for a sedative-hypnotic prescription medication that is used to treat insomnia in the short-term. There is some evidence to suggest that Ambien use may have an arousing effect in certain comatose individuals, such as those with brain damage or injury. However, the drug is not currently approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for this use. Ambien functions in a similar way to benzodiazepines but is molecularly distinct from those drugs.
Ambien works by slowing activity in the brain, leading to a feeling of intense relaxation and drowsiness. It binds to the same receptor sites in the brain as benzodiazepines, but only to one particular subtype that mainly relates to sedation. This means it has:
- Fewer side effects than other benzodiazepines.
- Interferes less with the sleep-wake cycle.
Because these sedating effects can feel very pleasurable for the user, some people find themselves abusing Ambien for the high that it can provide. Unfortunately, this can lead users down a risky path.
When people take this medication, they should be able to slip into a deep and restful sleep within minutes and wake up feeling refreshed in the morning. For some people, the drug can be of great benefit because it helps them to sleep during a time of profound stress. For others, this isn’t the case. If you or someone you love is suffering from unintended consequences of Ambien abuse, it’s time to seek help. Please call us at 1-888-744-0789 and get connected to a treatment program today.
Signs and Symptoms of Ambien Abuse
Ambien is designed mainly for short-term treatment of insomnia. People may develop this form of insomnia in reaction to a major form of stress, such as:
- The death of a loved one.
- The loss of a job.
- A sudden conflict with a family member.
- Withdrawal from alcohol or drugs.
Taking Ambien can help those suffering from this type of insomnia. As prescribed, it has relaxing, sleep-inducing effects that can provide relief from long nights without sleep. Some people, however, develop a reaction to the drug that runs counter to these expectations.
For example, a study published in the French journal Encephale found that some people who abuse Ambien do so because the drug does not make them feel sleepy or tired. Instead, the drug seems to cause them to feel euphoric and better able to handle the stresses of life, and they never do feel sedated, even when taking very high doses of the drug.
Unexpected reactions like this can be very addicting. If you took the drug and expected to fall asleep, and instead you felt powerful, loved and in charge, your surprised brain might perceive that experience as incredibly positive. Due to the reinforcing properties of that positive experience, you will be physiologically compelled to return to the drug again and again. An addiction might quickly follow.
Ambien and Amnesia
Some people who use Ambien, even those who are using the drug properly, find that they’re able to say and do things while they are asleep. The Federal Drug Administration medication guide for Ambien cautions users about the possibility that they may engage in activities while they are not fully conscious or aware:
- Talking or having a conversation.
- Having sex.
Some of these activities seem harmless enough, but others could result in serious injury or even death. Any form of sleepwalking or sleep acting should be brought to your doctor’s attention immediately.
Who Abuses Ambien?
For some people, Ambien abuse follows a larger pattern of addiction. According to a study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 43% of study participants who demonstrated patterns of Ambien addiction had a previous history of substance abuse.
It’s unclear why Ambien use is problematic in people with a history of substance abuse, but it’s certainly cause for concern. If you’ve struggled with addictions in the past, it might be best for you to avoid taking Ambien.
The number of emergency department visits involving Ambien rose by nearly 220% from 2005 to 2010. Women accounted for nearly 70% of those visits, and the FDA has since lowered the recommended dose for women from 10 mg to 5 mg per day. Abusing Ambien may be especially risky for women.
Effects of Ambien Abuse
Many people who develop addictions to Ambien begin their addiction journey with a trip to the doctor’s office. These people may report difficulty sleeping, and they’re given a prescription for Ambien and told to take a certain dose every day.
Some people may find the effects very pleasurable and seek out more intense highs, perhaps even resorting to snorting crushed up pills in order to get the desired effect. This is an Ambien abuse pattern, and it can lead to adverse outcomes for the user.
Dependence and Addiction
Even though Ambien is generally prescribed as a short-term medication to help with insomnia, some users find the drug’s effects so enjoyable that they begin taking increasing doses.
As a person’s body and brain get used to higher amounts, they may start to feel like they need the drug, and find themselves craving Ambien when they haven’t taken it.
This is called dependency, and people who abuse Ambien run a high risk for it. Dependency can eventually lead into an addiction as the user begins to become very preoccupied with acquiring and taking Ambien.
Abusing Ambien: A Self-Test
Addiction is diagnosed as a very particular set of behaviors surrounding the substance and its use. If you’re not sure whether or not you’re addicted to Ambien, take this simple self-test:
- I take much higher doses of Ambien than my doctor recommends.
- I take Ambien during the day.
- I use the drug for fun, not to help me sleep.
- I use different doctors, or steal Ambien, in order to feed my habit.
- I get panicky when I think about not using the drug.
- I’ve tried to quit before, but I just can’t do it.
People who have an addiction to Ambien might feel as though these statements ring true. If you recognize your own behavior within these statements, it’s time to get help.
If you’ve been taking high doses of Ambien for a long period of time, you might struggle with medication withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit. These symptoms can include:
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Stomach cramps.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Hand tremors.
- Panic attacks.
It is best to work with a medical professional through this period of discomfort rather than trying to quit on your own.
Your doctor might choose to taper your dose slowly in order to give your body time to adjust to the removal of the constant presence of the drug. Your doctor may also provide you with a replacement medication that can ease your withdrawal symptoms as your body adjusts.
An Ambien overdose can be life-threatening. When a person takes too much of the drug, their breathing and heart rate can slow to dangerously low levels. A person who is overdosing on Ambien may appear very drowsy, with shallow breathing and a weak heartbeat. In extreme cases, they may even lose consciousness or slip into a coma.
It is imperative that you call 911 if you suspect that you or someone you love is suffering from an Ambien overdose. Flumazenil, a benzodiazepine antagonist “antidote” drug that appears to have some efficacy against the effects of zolpidem, may be administered by an emergency medical team. The faster the person can get medical help, the better the chances he or she has of surviving an Ambien overdose.
Addressing Ambien Addiction
While some medications may help you to deal with insomnia, there are some things you can do at home in order to improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
Getting Sleep Without Ambien
Consider these drug-free sleep tips from the U.S. National Library of Medicine:
- Avoid alcohol, coffee or caffeinated tea four to six hours before bedtime.
- Skip spicy dinners and opt for bland meals instead.
- Do not exercise right before bed.
- Get out of bed if you’re unable to sleep and try reading or relaxing to quiet music.
- Get up at the same time every morning.
- Do not nap during the day if you find it makes falling asleep harder.
- Don’t read, watch television or eat in bed.
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet.
Talk to your doctor about alternative, non-addictive medications or about non-pharmacologic interventions that may aid with insomnia.
Detoxification, or detox, is the process of abstaining from a drug long enough for it to clear your system. This period of time is generally marked by uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Ambien’s detox period is unpleasant and occasionally life-threatening. Professional medical monitoring, as you would receive at a treatment facility, is the safest way to detox from Ambien. Treatment programs can make sure that your detox experience is safe and can help alleviate some of the discomfort.
Treatment for Ambien Addiction
Once you’ve tapered away from Ambien use, a formal or private treatment program for addiction can help you develop skills and defenses to avoid relapse.
Inpatient programs are a good option for someone that can afford to take time away from home and work on abstinence in a sober living environment. Inpatient programs provide an escape from the abuse environment while you engage in treatment.
An outpatient program is a great option for anyone who just can’t take time away from home or work. These programs allow you to work through treatment while living at home. They involve checking in at a facility a couple times per week for therapy and counseling.
Rehab programs will help you hone your skills to resist future use temptations. They will also help you recognize your reasons for abusing Ambien in the first place and how to avoid tempting scenarios. When dealing with people who started taking Ambien to help with insomnia, many programs will teach people techniques for falling asleep at night without the use of drugs.
Because Ambien withdrawal can be so unpleasant, a luxury rehab program may be a suitable option for someone looking for extreme comfort during their recovery. Luxury, or executive, programs provide many amenities to enhance the comfort, entertainment, and therapeutic aspects of the program participants.
For help finding the right treatment program for Ambien abuse, call 1-888-744-0789 to speak with one of our recovery support representatives. It’s not too late to get help with Ambien addiction. Call us to get started on the road to recovery today.
- Lemmer, B. (2007). The sleep-wake cycle and sleeping pills. Physiology & Behavior, 90. (285-293).
- The DAWN Report. (2013). Emergency department visits for adverse reactions involving the insomnia medication zolpidem.
- S. Food & Drug Administration. (2016). Ambien. Medication Guide.
- S. Food & Drug Administration. (2016). FDA Drug Safety Communication: Risk of next-morning impairment after use of insomnia drugs; FDA requires lower recommended doses for certain drugs containing zolpidem (Ambien, Ambien CR, Edluar, and Zolpimist).
- Victorri-Vigneau, C., Dailly, E., Veyrac, G., & Jolliet, P. (2007). Evidence of zolpidem abuse and dependence: results of the French Centre for Evaluation and Information on Pharmacodependence (CEIP) network survey. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 64(2). 198-209.
- Victorri-Vigneau, C., & Jolliet, P. (2014). An update on zolpidem abuse and dependence. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 33(1). 15-23.