Though Ambien is a legal, doctor-prescribed drug most commonly administrated in pill form, when abused Ambien may taken orally, crushed and snorted, or even cooked and injected; these dangerous behaviors combined with the possibly devastating effects of long-term abuse makes sedatives like Ambien every bit as volatile as their illegal counterparts.
Zolpidem tartrate, better known by the brand name Ambien, is a medication regularly prescribed to treat insomnia. When taken in a dosage and manner consistent with a doctor or pharmacist’s instructions, short-term Ambien use can be an effective way to ensure a patient both gets to sleep faster and stays asleep longer. However, as the world’s population gets busier and non-traditional work schedules become more prevalent, the use of sleep-aids like Ambien has grown exponentially—and along with it, the potential for abuse. Whether misused intentionally or the result of habitually exceeding prescribed, therapeutic doses, the excessive use of Ambien can negatively affect your health, career, and overall quality of life.
Though not every patient prescribed Ambien will become dependent on the medication, studies show that prescription sleep aids can be dangerous even when taken infrequently or in small quantities. A recent Scripps Health study estimated that the use of sleeping pills could have been a contributing factor in up to 500,000 deaths in the United States in 2010; even more shocking was the revelation that ingesting as few as two pills per month put users at three times more risk of sudden death than non-users.
Another startling statistic: emergency room visits due to Ambien use more than doubled in the four year period from 2004 to 2008, jumping from approximately 13,000 to a jaw-dropping 28,000. According to the 2010 “Monitoring the Future” study conducted by the University of Michigan, the potential for Ambien addiction starts young; about 5% of high school seniors admitted using a sedative in the preceding 12 months. In that same study, around 38% of seniors said it was “fairly easy” to get sedatives, making Ambien’s prescription status all but inconsequential.
Ambien Addiction Symptoms
When the use of Ambien crosses the line from therapeutic to abusive, individuals may exhibit any or all of the following signs:
- daytime drowsiness or residual fatigue
- feeling dizzy or light-headed
- lack of coordination
- abnormal dream patterns/nightmares
- memory issues
- personality changes
- nausea and/or constipation
- a desire to self harm
- excessive agitation or aggression
- decreased inhibitions
- risky behavior
These symptoms are amplified when Ambien is used in concert with other intoxicants like alcohol or illegal drugs, and may be even more prevalent in patients who are elderly or infirm.
Ambien addicts going through detox may experience the following symptoms of withdrawal:
- anxiety and panic attacks
- digestive upset
- muscle cramping
- personality changes like unusual extroversion or odd behavior
- suicidal thoughts
Psychological, Social & Physical Effects
Pharmacologically classified as a sedative-hypnotic, Ambien works by acting on the central nervous system to inhibit neuron activity that contributes to insomnia. After taking Ambien, individuals feel sleepy, and in its extended release form, the drug will also help users stay asleep longer. Like many other drugs, the more you take and the longer you take it, the more acclimatized your system becomes and the more medication you’ll need to ingest in order for the drug to continue to have the same soporific effect. These effects don’t exist in isolation; by affecting the central nervous system, Ambien can also slow a person’s breathing and cognitive function. When the recommended dosage is exceeded, the users breathing and heart rate can slow to dangerous, life-threatening levels and normal function may be seriously impaired.
While death is an uncommon result of Ambien addiction, abusing the drug can still have a seriously negative impact. The higher the dosage, the more lethargic and disassociated the user can feel. Irregular sleep patterns, changes in behavior, depression, memory loss—all of these effects can also be detrimental to one’s psychological well-being. Chronic sedative abuse leaves the user in an altered state, and as with most addicts, it’s not uncommon for people addicted to Ambien to have difficulty maintaining relationships or holding down a job.
There have also been a number of studies that link nighttime Ambien use to psychomotor impairment that can last well into the next day. While a full 7-8 hours of sleep is recommended when taking Ambien, even then the after effects can cause impaired driving and issues with other activities that require mental alertness. When Ambien is abused, these psychomotor impairments can progress from a temporary nuisance to a full-blown, full-time problem.
Just like physical symptoms of drug abuse, social and psychological symptoms are signs that there is a serious, life-altering problem, and that it is time to seek treatment.
Once you decide to seek treatment, the first step is to detox your system. Abruptly ceasing your Ambien intake can be dangerous, leading to severe physical consequences and even seizures. The following detox methods have safer and more successful outcomes:
- Tapering – Dosages are slowly lowered over time, preventing any shocks to your system
- Medical Detox – Medical professionals at an inpatient facility can administer medications that ease withdrawal symptoms to make the detox process less painful and less dangerous
Once your system is Ambien free, it’s time to address the root of the addiction. Counseling sessions and group therapy can help you confront your dependency and understand the physical and psychological reasons behind addiction. In addition to support groups, your recovery will likely involve making positive lifestyle changes like establishing healthy sleep patterns, and incorporating things like relaxation techniques, acupuncture, massage, and meditation. Your doctor may also recommend other non-addictive medications to help you deal with peripheral problems that may be affecting your sleep. This is also the time to identify and treat any other substance abuse problems you may suffer from.
Even as your inpatient treatment concludes, it’s important to recognize that your journey to lifelong recovery has only just begun. Prior to being discharged, your recovery team will help you set up a long-term plan to transition you back into your everyday life, this time equipped with the knowledge, self-awareness, strength, and support to conquer your Ambien addiction with confidence.