Ambien Addiction

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What is Ambien Addiction?

Ambien, or its generic name zolpidem, is a sedative-hypnotic drug prescribed to those who have difficulty sleeping. The drug helps people to fall asleep at the right time of night, stay asleep longer, or sleep more deeply, depending on their problem. While Ambien is very beneficial to those individuals who need it and use it correctly, it can also be dangerous and addictive.

Ambien is one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the United States today, along with other sleep medications such as Lunesta and Sonata. It is scheduled by the DEA as a Schedule IV drug, meaning that it is not as highly abused as drugs like heroin but still has the potential for misuse and addiction.

What are the Risks of Ambien Addiction?

Ambien has become one of the most popular sleeping pills in the United States. Between 2004 and 2008, emergency room visits related to Ambien overdose more than doubled, from approximately 13,000 to 28,000.  Ambien overdose can cause dangerous levels of sedation, coma, and slowed breathing or heartbeat. A person can die from the extreme respiratory depression that is often caused by large doses of this drug, and accidental death is also widespread. Ambien can cause uncontrolled behavior that puts the user’s life and the lives of everyone around them at risk due to actions such as sleep driving. Drivers who cause traffic accidents while on Ambien do not remember driving, or anything leading up to the accident.

There are many dangers involved when an individual becomes addicted to this drug. Issues associated with Ambien abuse and addiction include:

  • Memory problems: Amnesia is one of the usual side effects also associated with the drug. Over time, addicts of the drug will experience problems with remembering large portions of the time where they were on the drug.
  • HIV or Hepatitis: Some individuals who abuse Ambien inject the drug instead of taking it orally because it gets into their system much more quickly, which puts them at risk of contracting pathogens like hepatitis and HIV from shared needles.
  • Mixing Ambien with alcohol: When Ambien is abused in combination with alcohol, the effects of both substances become much more intense and dangerous. The use of alcohol with Ambien slows down the heart rate and breathing to the point that can lead to coma or death.

What are the Symptoms of Ambien Addiction?

Ambien will cause a person to become drowsy, tired, and lethargic. As this is often the desired effect of the drug, it is beneficial to those who have trouble getting to this state. However, even for someone who doesn’t abuse Ambien, there are specific side effects associated with taking the drug.

Short-term symptoms of Ambien abuse include:

  • Drowsiness
  • A headache
  • Unusual dreams
  • Dizziness
  • A feeling of having been drugged
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Uncontrolled sleepwalking, eating, or sexual activity
  • Blackouts

Ambien can also have rebound effects the morning after, specifically a “hangover” of drowsiness and impaired cognitive function that can make driving extremely dangerous. This rebound effect naturally increases with Ambien abuse and addiction.

Long-term side effects of Ambien include:

  • Rebound insomnia
  • Difficulty with balance and coordination
  • Stomach tenderness and pain
  • Appetite changes
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a body part
  • Pain, burning, numbness, or tingling in the hands, arms, feet, or legs
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry throat
  • Ringing, pain, or itching in the ears
  • Eye redness
  • Muscle aches or cramps
  • Joint, back, or neck pain
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Abnormal thoughts and behavior

The sublingual Ambien tablets often cause burning, redness, or tingling on the tongue. Dangerous side effects that require emergency medical attention include rash (or other signs of an allergic reaction), difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, vomiting, pounding heart, chest pain, or blurred vision. These issues are more likely to occur in someone who abuses Ambien, and even the milder side effects might become more intense the longer the individual abuses the drug.

Abnormal thoughts and behavior that can be caused by Ambien include:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Unusually outgoing or aggressive behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

What are the Signs of Ambien Addiction?

Often, Ambien abuse begins accidentally. An individual starts with a normal dosage, then winds up resisting sleep for some reason, and discovers that this induces euphoria. To continue experiencing that euphoria, the individual may fight falling asleep every time they take Ambien. A tolerance will build up over time so that the individual needs to take larger doses to experience the same effect.

This kind of chronic misuse over an extended period, usually around three to six months or longer, will lead to addiction, although dependency and psychological addiction can occur much earlier. A person can become dependent on the intended effects of Ambien, believing themselves incapable of sleeping without it. As they become tolerant to the effects of the drug over time, they will need to take larger or more frequent doses to induce sleep. This kind of misuse will also lead to addiction.

Even though Ambien is not an illicit drug, its abuse can still cause many dangers for an individual as well as problems in the person’s life and the lives of their loved ones. The drug is not meant to be taken in high doses or for recreational purposes. Other issues can occur in the life of someone who becomes addicted to Ambien including:

  • An inability to stop abusing the drug, no matter how dangerous or problematic it becomes
  • Declining performance or failures at school or work
  • Legal problems including arrest and jail time
  • Social issues such as family conflicts, loss of friendships, or breakups
  • Financial issues related to the direct cost of drugs, and the financial strain resulting from issues such as loss of employment and legal problems
  • High tolerance leading to the decision to abuse even more dangerous or illicit drugs

What to do if Someone You Love is Abusing Ambien?

If you suspect someone you care about is abusing Ambien, here are a few steps you can take:

  • Get informed about Ambien addiction – talk to your doctor, learn about addiction, so you can be better prepared to help your loved one.
  • Promote open communication – let them know you support them and are here to listen without any judgment. Remove the stigma from the conversation.
  • Support them getting into a treatment facility – Ambien addiction should be treated at an inpatient rehab program. You can find local treatment centers here.
  • Set boundaries – if they refuse to get treatment and continue using, you must set boundaries to prevent you from becoming an enabler of their addiction. Do not give them money, or hide their addiction.

When someone stops using Ambien or cuts back on their dosage, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. If you are helping a loved one through recovery, know that the following symptoms may occur:

Withdrawal symptoms

The withdrawal symptoms associated with this drug are intense and will affect an individual who becomes addicted as they will likely experience dependence too. The common withdrawal symptoms for Ambien are:

  • Shakiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Stomach and muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Flushing
  • Tiredness
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Nervousness
  • Panic attack
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a body part
  • Seizures
  • Insomnia

Among these, panic attacks and seizures can be very dangerous and frightening for someone who has never experienced them. If you are unsure about the safety of withdrawing from home, it may be best to get your loved one into a treatment facility.

Which Treatment Options are Available for Ambien Addiction?

Inpatient treatment might be necessary for those looking for Ambien addiction rehab due to the possibility of seizures when an individual stops abusing the drug. In one of these facilities, patients are looked after 24 hours a day in a controlled environment where they will have no access to the drug. If they do exhibit extreme withdrawal symptoms, these can be managed by doctors and nurses on staff.

Usually, treatment for Ambien addiction will start with a slow tapering of the medication so that the withdrawal syndrome can be eased back as much as possible. Unfortunately, unlike an opioid addiction, no medication treats addiction to sedative-hypnotics. The individual will still need to attend treatment, though, because counseling can be beneficial.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the best treatments for Ambien addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapists work with patients to modify their expectations, thinking, and behaviors. While teaching them new coping mechanisms to deal with conflict, stress, and addiction triggers. CBT allows patients to develop skills and perspectives that naturally support a positive lifestyle free from drug use.

Aftercare Programs for Ambien Addiction Recovery

  • Group therapy
    • Group is helpful because patients can hear their fears and feelings echoed in the other individuals who are also receiving treatment for the same issues.
  • Contingency management 
    • CM is best used at the beginning of treatment, once the individual has been successfully weaned off the drug. The patient receives vouchers for staying off Ambien and for good behavior which are usually for fun, drug-free activities or necessities, depending on what most motivates the individual.

Treatment should ideally last at least 90 days, but some individuals are experiencing less severe addiction may be able to transition into another, more casual treatment method after 30 days. It can be beneficial for the individual to continue with a support group or individualized counseling after formal treatment.

Ambien addiction can be dangerous and deadly which is why users of the drug should never take it more often or in higher doses than recommended by a doctor. The drug is potent and has serious side effects which should be taken into account to avoid the possibility of addiction.