For many of us, falling asleep or staying asleep is a struggle every night. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, about 1 in 3 people have at least a mild case of insomnia, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of U.S. adults report that they usually get less than the recommended amount of sleep. This is problematic.

An estimated 50 million to 70 million people struggle with insomnia or other disorders that make it difficult for them to fall asleep or remain asleep. According to the agency’s 2013 report, “both popular media and pharmaceutical companies have reported an increased number of prescriptions filled for sleep aids in the United States.”

Ambien is one of the sleep aids some people turn to for relief. Ambien is a medication that is typically prescribed for insomnia. People who have jet lag from traveling also have found relief with Ambien. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has classified it as a Schedule IV drug. This means it cannot be possessed or used without a doctor’s prescription.

What is Ambien?

Ambien, also known generically as zolpidem tartrate, is a sleeping pill used to treat insomnia in adults. The oral medication is in a class of drugs called sedative-hypnotics, and it helps people to fall asleep faster. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1992, but its generic form was approved in 2007. It is also known as a “Z-drug” that produces effects that are similar to benzodiazepines but isn’t a benzodiazepine. Other Z-drugs include Lunesta and Sonata.

Ambien produces a calming effect in users as it slows down brain activity. While Ambien is not a benzodiazepine, it acts upon the same receptors in the brain as Xanax and Valium, which are benzodiazepines. It activates the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter and binds it to the GABA receptors. Its effects start to kick in within 20 minutes after users take it.

Pills spilling out of three different pill bottles

According to the Medication Guide issued for Ambien, the recommended initial dose is five milligrams (mg) for women and either five or 10 milligrams for men. The recommended five-milligram dose should be monitored in patients who are elderly as well as those who are debilitated or have hepatic insufficiency or liver failure. It is recommended that the lowest effective dose is prescribed for anyone who takes it.  

Larger doses may help some users stay asleep for a longer time, but that should be determined by a medical doctor. The half-life of this medication is between two to three hours. Common street names for Ambien include tic tacs, sleepeasies, no-go pills, A-minus, and zombie pills.

According to WebMD, many people who take Ambien do not experience serious side effects. That doesn’t, however, mean that there are no serious side effects from Ambien use. Among them are:

  • Memory loss
  • Changes in mental state, mood or behavior

This is not a complete list of side effects. People who are considering Ambien use are advised to talk to their doctor first before doing so. The makers of Ambien advise that people with a history of addiction or substance abuse be carefully monitored when taking this medication because they are at increased risk of habituation and dependence.

What are the Signs of Ambien Addiction?

Ambien is typically limited to a short treatment window of no more than seven to 10 days. If someone needs it longer than that period, then a reevaluation is recommended, according to the Medication Guide. It is not intended for long-term use, and Ambien prescriptions should not exceed a one-month supply. Using it longer than that or using it in a way not intended can lead to dependence and addiction. A person typically abuses Ambien for its euphoric effects.

Signs and Addiction to Ambien Include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Euphoria
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Nausea
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Drowsiness in the morning after taking the drug
  • Stuffy nose
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of coordination

Signs of Ambien addiction include having established a dependence and tolerance to the drug. This means more of the drug is needed to achieve the initial effects.

Signs of Ambien Dependence Include:

  • Strong cravings for Ambien
  • Taking Ambien for longer than prescribed
  • Not using the drug in the manner it was intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts at quitting or cutting down
  • Withdrawal from not taking Ambien
  • Taking Ambien to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Hiding Ambien use from family, friends, colleagues
  • Compulsive desire to obtain Ambien
  • Using Ambien with other drugs or alcohol
  • Using Ambien with other drugs or alcohol

Ambien-addicted users who suddenly quit using the drug may experience withdrawal signs and symptoms that threaten their overall health and well being. A sudden break in use can cause chronic depression, intense panic attacks, seizures, increased heart rate, and other life-threatening health risks, especially if these are left untreated. It is not advised to quit the medication abruptly or “cold turkey,” as the practice is known. If any of these conditions are experienced, it may be time to consider professional treatment from a drug rehabilitation center.

Abruptly stopping Ambien can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that can make a person want to return to using just to end their discomfort. This return to using is known as a relapse, and it is dangerous because it can lead to an Ambien overdose, which could be fatal. Such a relapse is dangerous because it can lead to overdose, which could be fatal.

How Does Ambien Addiction Treatment Work?

Ambien addiction is serious, so if you or someone you know cannot stop misusing or abusing the drug on your own, professional treatment is the advised route.

The length of the process to treat Ambien addiction very much depends on the individual, including the person’s history of use of Ambien and/or other substances, including alcohol.

Other Factors that Can Affect the Recovery Process Include:

  • Age, sex, health, medical history, and lifestyle
  • Your weight and body fat percentage
  • How often Ambien is consumed
  • Ambien tolerance
  • The manner in which Ambien has been used
  • If Ambien has been used with other drugs

Once it has been decided that entering a treatment facility is the best option, the first step is undergoing a medical detoxification, or detox for short. This process removes all traces of the drug from your system safely and under the 24/7 guidance of medical professionals who will monitor your vitals and give you medications, if needed, during a period of three to seven days or longer if needed. Clients who complete this process are kept comfortable and given any needed medications or put on a tapering schedule to ensure they are weaned off the drug safely and effectively.

This is a good time to be honest with addiction health care providers about what substances you have been using. If you have been abusing Ambien with alcohol or other drugs, make sure they know that so they can determine how best to help you. Without a professional detox, the process of ending dependence on an addictive substance(s) can be uncomfortable and lead to severe complications.

Long-time users are advised to enter a drug rehab program and get professional help that can result in substance abuse recovery.

An evaluation will help determine how far along a person is in their Ambien addiction and whether the person has a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis that must be addressed. Co-occurring disorders means a person has a substance use disorder along with a mental health disorder.

Common mental health disorders include anxiety, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder. Finding a treatment center that addresses both conditions at the same time gives the dually diagnosed person the best chance of recovering from a substance. If you or someone you know is facing this situation, Maryland House Detox can help with these needs. Call us at 855-928-0596.

Once the detox process has been completed and an evaluation has taken place, clients are presented with the best options for a treatment program that are based on their initial evaluation. These options include residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, and partial hospitalization programs. In all of these programs, recovering Ambien users have the time and opportunity to address their addiction and begin to heal on all levels—mentally, physically, emotionally, and perhaps spiritually. These treatment programs can be tailored to an individual’s needs and preferences. They can include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Relapse prevention
  • Addiction education
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Holistic therapy
  • Medication management

Substance abuse treatment also can be customized to specific needs and preferences, and include 12-step fellowship programs (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, for example), and other therapies such as motivational therapy and trauma therapy.

People recovering from Ambien abuse are also advised to seek aftercare services that give people in recovery the tools and guidance to focus on their goals and reduce their chances of relapse. There are many opportunities out there that can help one achieve this goal, including follow-up medical care and ongoing therapies to help manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms, known as PAWS, which often happens long after dependence on the drug has passed.

How Dangerous is Ambien?

Past studies suggest that Ambien, or zolpidem, has been linked to hallucinations, sensory distortion, amnesia or memory lapses, and sleepwalking. Some users also have experience nocturnal eating syndrome or sleep eating, which is when someone eats something in the middle of the night and upon waking, don’t remember eating it. This could be concerning for people who have allergies and should avoid certain foods and drinks.

The danger of “Ambien blackouts” arises when someone attempts to carry out tasks that require focus and attention. This includes cooking, driving, operating heavy machinery and anything else that requires a person who is alert. 

The drug can slow a person’s reflexes and impair their concentration. The FDA has advised people who take an extended-release version of Ambien, called Ambien CR, at 6.25 mg or 12.5 mg to not drive or engage in activities that require mental alertness. “Zolpidem levels can remain high enough the next day to impair these activities,” in this safety announcement. The extended-release version of the drug also can trigger anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, according to the Mayo Clinic, but that happens in rare cases.

Ambien is a powerful medication that can be habit-forming. Abuse can result in a high tolerance for it, which is all that’s needed before a dependence spirals into an addiction. Ambien does affect parts of the brain, so people who misuse it are at risk of developing permanent memory loss, liver failure, kidney failure, or heart attack as a result of abuse.

Recover from Ambien Addiction Today

It can be difficult to end Ambien addiction without professional help. If you know you or your loved has tried to end dependence on this powerful hypnotic-sedative and nothing has worked, call Maryland House Detox at 855-263-0631 or reach out to us online now so we can help you rebuild your life. We can help you find the right treatment program for you or someone you know. Our facility offers a wide range of services that cater to our clients’ needs.

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