What is Ambien?
Table of Contents
- What is Ambien?
- How Does Ambien Work?
- Understanding Ambien Addiction
- The Rise in Ambien Addiction
- How Long Does It Take to Start Abusing Ambien?
- Signs of Ambien Addiction
- Taking Ambien with Other Drugs
- Becoming an “Ambien Zombie” and Sleepwalking
- Can You Overdose on Ambien?
- Finding Ambien Addiction Treatment Near Me
- Medically Reviewed By
Ambien (also known as zolpidem tartrate) is a medication belonging to the drug class known as Sedative-Hypnotics. It is commonly prescribed over short periods of time to help treat insomnia – a sleep disorder that can make it difficult to fall and/or stay asleep for sustained periods. Ambien addiction can easily occur in those who develop tolerance and dependence.
This drug can come in two different forms, with the first being a quick release form typically used to help initiate sleep. The second takes the form of extended-release tablets, which can assist with maintaining sleep. Both of these forms can lead to an addiction if misused.
Ambien may also be clinically referred to as Ambien CR, as well as by several slang terms, including “No-Gos,” “Zombie Pills,” “Sleepeasy,” “Tic-Tacs,” and “A-Minus.”
How Does Ambien Work?
Ambien works similarly to other central nervous system depressants by activating a neurotransmitter called Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This stimulation slows down brain processes, which is what makes it such an effective clinical sleep medicine.
However, while CNS depressants like Ambien can be helpful for individuals with complex sleep behaviors, taking the drug when not necessary can produce feelings of euphoria and hallucinations. Side effects, of which, can make this sleep medication an addictive drug.
Understanding Ambien Addiction
Ambien serves as a non-Benzodiazepine, or “Z-Drug,” originally designed to be a less addictive version of other prescription drugs, such as Xanax. However, Ambien has been found to have a similar potential for abuse to these substances when taking the drug for long periods of time.
Currently considered a Schedule IV controlled substance, Ambien can be useful for treating sleep disorders. However, it also poses a high risk that individuals will form a physical dependency from taking this drug.
Unfortunately, many individuals may end up developing an Ambien dependence without realizing. Particularly for those using this drug to treat an insomnia disorder, they often do not realize the extent of their drug addiction until attempting to discontinue their Ambien use.
Once they stop using this drug, they may find that they are having more trouble falling asleep than before; an issue that is commonly referred to as rebound insomnia. This is because their body has formed a physical dependence on this substance.
Furthermore, for those abusing Ambien without a real need for this or other sleep medications, or misusing it as an anti-anxiety medication, this may increase their risk of experiencing more significant health risks in addition to forming a Zolpidem dependency.
The Rise in Ambien Addiction
Ambien use generally should not cause problems for those taking it according to their prescription guidelines. However, it is possible for individuals to build a tolerance to this drug if using it on a regular basis and over long periods of time.
In these cases, a person may begin taking larger doses of Ambien in order to achieve the same effects as when they first started using. Some individuals may even mix this drug with other sedatives in order to increase its effects.
This, however, only creates an even stronger Ambien dependence, as well as increases their risk of experiencing other adverse side effects from their drug abuse.
According to a 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 1.1 million people reported misusing zolpidem products in the United States. With these increasing numbers, there has also been a rise in reports of emergency room admits due to Ambien abuse.
A report produced by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicated that there had been nearly twice as many zolpidem-related visits to emergency departments due to overdose in 2010 (42,274) compared to 2005 (21,824).
In 2010, 68% of those visiting emergency rooms were females, a majority of which were between the ages of 45 and 54. Furthermore, over half (57%) of overall emergency room visits included other pharmaceuticals that had been combined with zolpidem.
Perhaps more worryingly still – 47% of the emergency room visits in 2010 resulted in either a hospital transfer or admission, with 26% of cases being referred to an intensive or critical care unit.
How Long Does It Take to Start Abusing Ambien?
There is no exact time scale as to how long it takes for someone to become addicted to Ambien, but one thing is clear – continued, increased usage is likely to cause an addiction. A dependency, of which, can occur as soon as two weeks after beginning usage.
Furthermore, taking this drug in a way that has not been directed or prescribed by your doctor constitutes Ambien abuse. Even if you simply take one extra pill to try and fall asleep faster, this is still considered substance abuse.
Furthermore, even though Ambien is meant to be taken straight before bedtime, some people will take it several hours before to induce a state of euphoria. While these individuals may have a prescription for Ambien, this is still considered to be misusing this medication.
As your body starts to build up a tolerance to Ambien, you will begin to need a larger dose to get to sleep. This strengthens your dependence on the drug, which can cause you to escalate your dose without the approval of your doctor.
Signs of Ambien Addiction
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), an Ambien addiction is one of the most severe forms of a sedative use disorder that a person can have, alongside other Z-Drugs such as Sonata and Imrest.
If you or someone you know is abusing Ambien, there are a number of signs that can indicate this problem. If any of the following signs or symptoms seem familiar, it is crucial that you seek professional help and begin treatment before this addiction gets any worse.
Experiencing Side Effects
Even if you are using Ambien within your prescription guidelines, you may still suffer from some of its side effects. However, these are more common in people who abuse it. These unwanted side effects may include:
- Feeling light-headed or “drugged”
- Daytime drowsiness, weakness, and dizziness
- Loss of coordination coupled with the feeling of being tired
- Nose or throat irritation, dry mouth, or stuffy nose
- Stomach cramps, diarrhea, constipation, or nausea
- Muscle pain or headaches
Some of the more severe side effects are:
- Feeling faint or like you are going to pass out
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Feeling short of breath
- Having a fast or irregular heartbeat
- Chest pains
If you experience any of the symptoms in the latter list, you should contact your doctor or seek out emergency medical assistance if necessary.
Becoming Withdrawn and Taking Risks
There are several behavioral signs that you may be suffering from Ambien addiction, including:
- Visiting several different physicians, or “doctor shopping,” in order to acquire multiple Ambien prescriptions.
- Getting involved in dangerous situations that may result in serious injury, which you may not be able to remember later.
- Spending significant amounts of time and money acquiring Ambien or other zolpidem drugs.
- Isolating yourself from your family and friends, or experiencing performance issues with work or school.
Taking Large Doses
One of the biggest indicators that you or a loved one has begun to abuse Ambien is if this drug is becoming increasingly consumed in larger doses. This excessive substance use usually occurs once a regular dose no longer produces the same effects as it used to.
If someone has to take more Ambien than usual in order to achieve the same results, this indicates that they have developed a physiological dependence on this substance. Unfortunately, that means it will be harder for them to stop this drug use on their own.
Taking Ambien with Other Drugs
Despite Ambien coming with strong warnings not to mix it with alcohol, this is still the most common substance that it is used with. For those who have built a tolerance to Ambien, taking alcohol alongside this drug can enhance its sedative effects.
However, this is extremely dangerous, as both alcohol and Ambien are central nervous system depressants. This means that taking them together can have devastating consequences, including confusion, dizziness, sleep apnea, and overdose.
Other common combinations include taking Ambien alongside benzodiazepines like Valium. As these are also both substances that can cause sleepiness, mixing them together may result in extreme drowsiness, loss of motor coordination, and even death.
Becoming an “Ambien Zombie” and Sleepwalking
Ambien bottles will always come with a warning label on the side that cautions the possibility of experiencing “strange behavior” and “abnormal thinking” as a result of taking this drug.
Sometimes, this behavior may seem harmless, like finding yourself getting out of bed in a state of sleep and unconscious wakefulness, sending a text message, or preparing a meal. But this behavior can also take a far more sinister turn.
Many people have reported engaging in far more risky behaviors while on Ambien, such as having sex or operating a vehicle. Or, as demonstrated in the case of Robert Stewart, visiting the nursing home of your estranged wife and killing eight people.
In Stewart’s case, his defense team managed to convince the jury he did not deserve the death penalty, as he had been taking Ambien far above his prescribed limit. Which, when combined with his bipolar disorder and depression, turned him into a “lethal sleepwalker.”
In another case, an attorney who represented patients that had been taking Ambien in a lawsuit against the drug’s manufacturer, Sanofi, discussed other examples of how people were acting in strange ways, such as eating eggs with their shells intact and consuming buttered cigarettes.
Can You Overdose on Ambien?
While Ambien may be viewed as a safer alternative to benzodiazepine sedatives, there is still a risk of overdose that comes with taking too much of this drug, or when mixing Ambien with other drugs.
As a strong central nervous system depressant, this level of Ambien abuse can slow your heart rate and/or breathing to the point of failure. These can quickly become a life-threatening medical emergency if not immediately addressed.
Signs of Ambien Overdose
It may be difficult to detect an Ambien overdose in its initial stages, as some of these side effects are very similar to those that a normal dose may cause. These include:
- Feeling light-headed
- Shallow breathing
- Going into a coma
Choosing to crush and snort powdered Ambien, as well as mixing this drug with other substances, such as alcohol, will greatly increase a person’s risk of overdosing.
If you or a loved one is using Ambien in this way, it is strongly advised that you cease doing so, and begin seeking professional help immediately.
Having Withdrawal Symptoms After You Stop Taking Ambien
If you suddenly stop taking Ambien after having used this drug on a regular basis, you may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. These can be both physical and psychological in nature, and may make it extremely difficult to maintain your abstinence from this drug.
Some of these withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Agitation and irritability
- High blood pressure
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Excessive crying
- Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks
In order to cope with these symptoms, many individuals will continue to abuse Ambien, often using even more of this drug than they did previously. This can be extremely dangerous, increasing their risk of overdose, and making future attempts to quit using even harder.
This is why seeking out professional substance abuse treatment services is so important, as these can provide individuals with the constant support and supervision they need to truly maintain abstinence.
Ambien Addiction Treatment Options
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), individuals struggling with a substance use disorder typically benefit most from combining multiple different treatment options when attempting to overcome addiction.
For those who are struggling with Ambien abuse, their addiction treatment overview will likely include a medically assisted detox, as well as inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. This may also include behavioral health services to help identify the cause of their addiction.
As discussed, Ambien withdrawal can cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms, several of which may make the recovery process from their substance use disorder particularly difficult, especially when attempting to do so on their own.
Participating in a medical detox program can provide these individuals with the extensive clinical support, structure, and security they will need throughout their treatment process.
They will live at a detox treatment facility throughout the duration of their recovery process while being constantly monitored by medical professionals. They may also be given addiction medications, which can further help manage withdrawal, as well as prevent relapse.
Similar to detox programs, inpatient treatment centers will require individuals to live on-site throughout the duration of their treatment process.
These programs typically incorporate various clinical and behavioral health treatment services and provide regular medical supervision for recovering individuals.
Inpatient treatment will usually also provide therapeutic services, including counseling sessions for both the client as an individual and those that include both them and their family members.
Choosing to recover at an outpatient facility may be a better option for those with unavoidable time commitments or financial constraints. This level of care will usually involve participating in group therapy and sober support groups.
Individuals may also have access to relapse prevention resources, as well as vocational and social skill training services.
Finding Ambien Addiction Treatment Near Me
If you think that you or a loved one may be addicted to Ambien, the team at Find Addiction Rehabs is here to help. Simply call our 24-7 hotline to find treatment centers and providers near you that are dedicated to providing all of your personal care needs.
Whether calling to locate a treatment facility in your area, verify your health insurance, or find addiction recovery resources and support, we have got you covered. So don’t wait; just pick up the phone, and let us help you take the first step to overcome Ambien, today!
Nicole Rogers is an experienced and accomplished writer with special interests in the fields of Anthropology, English, and behavioral health, and has written countless articles for newspaper publications, institutional research journals, and Find Addiction Rehabs.
Her alma mater is Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Nicole hopes to spread awareness of and combat the stigmatization surrounding addiction and substance abuse treatment through her writing and work in the field.