Ambien (also known as zolpidem tartrate) is prescribed to help treat insomnia – a sleep disorder that results in someone struggling to go to sleep, stay asleep for sustained periods, or both. That’s why Ambien falls into the class of drugs known as “sedative-hypnotics” because it induces sleep by slowing the brain’s functions down. Ambien addiction can happen slowly over time as you use it to treat your insomnia.
However, even though Ambien and other sedative-hypnotics are effective, they can cause the development of psychological and physical dependence issues in patients.
The Rise in Ambien Addiction
While Ambien shouldn’t cause patients any problems if they take it according to their doctor’s prescription, people may build a tolerance to the drug if it’s consumed on a regular basis and over a long period (i.e. they’re having to take increased doses in order for the drug to have the same effect). This results in them taking more and more Ambien to try and feel its benefits, which deepens their dependence.
According to statistics revealed in the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1.1 million people in the US misused zolpidem products in 2015.
Furthermore, the rise in Ambien addiction is leading to an increasing number of people being admitted into emergency rooms as a result. 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 (ED) due to overmedication in 2010 (42,274) compared to 2005 (21,824).
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In 2010, 68% of those visiting emergency rooms were female, with those aged 45 to 54 representing the highest proportion. And over half (57%) of the overall 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.
Ambien Addiction – How Long Does It Take?
There’s no given timescale as to how long it takes for someone to become addicted to Ambien, but one thing’s clear – continued, increased usage is likely to cause an addiction. And this can occur as soon as two weeks after you’ve started taking it.
Equally, taking Ambien in a way that hasn’t been directed by your doctor or hasn’t been prescribed by your doctor is abuse. Even if you take one extra pill to try and get to sleep, this is still considered abuse. And, 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 that removes their self-consciousness and insecurities.
As your body starts to build up a tolerance to Ambien, you’ll need a large dose to get to sleep. This strengthens your dependence on the drug and can cause you to escalate your dose without the approval of your doctor.
Are You Addicted to Ambien?
If you or someone you know is addicted to Ambien, there are a number of signs that can indicate this problem. If any of the following signs or symptoms seem familiar, it’s crucial you seek professional help before it gets any worse.
Experiencing Side Effects
Even if you’re using Ambien as you should be, you may still suffer from some of its side effects. However, these are more common in people who abuse it. These unwanted side effects 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, a dry mouth, or stuffy nose
- Upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, or nausea
- Muscle pain or headaches
Some of the more severe side effects are:
- Feeling like you’re going to pass out
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Feeling short of breath, having a fast or irregular heartbeat, or chest pains
If you experience any of the symptoms in the latter list, you should contact your doctor or visit the emergency department in a hospital straight away.
Becoming Withdrawn and Taking Risks
Key behavioral signs that you may be suffering from Ambien addiction are:
- Getting involved in dangerous situations that you can’t recall later on
- Spending lots of money on Ambien or other zolpidem drugs
- Isolating yourself from your family and friends
In some cases, Ambien is deemed a safe alternative to benzodiazepine sedatives, as you’re less likely to overdose on this drug. But as it’s a strong central nervous system depressant, it can slow your heart rate and/or your breathing to the point of failure, which can be potentially life-threatening. That said, it can be difficult to detect an Ambien overdose in the initial stages as some of the signs are very similar to the normal effects the drug has on you. These include:
- Feeling light-headed
- Shallow breathing
- Going into a coma
The risk of an overdose is particularly high in recreational users who crush the powder before snorting it or mix it with an alcoholic drink.
Having Withdrawal Symptoms After You Stop Taking Ambien
If you take Ambien on a regular basis and suddenly stop doing so, withdrawal can ensue as your body isn’t getting what it’s become used to. Psychologically, you might not be able to cope without the drug, and you may also experience some of the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Cravings for more Ambien
To cope with these, you may turn to more Ambien to ease the symptoms. In these cases, Ambien becomes the focus of your entire life. You may find yourself making up excuses so you can take more pills, counterfeiting prescriptions, hiding your struggles from your family and friends, and thinking that Ambien is the only way you can achieve a sense of calm and get to sleep. When it reaches this stage, your Ambien addiction has taken full hold of you.
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Taking Ambien with Other Drugs
Despite there being strong recommendations not to mix Ambien with alcohol, it’s the most common substance that’s used with it. This is often as a person’s tolerance builds and they need higher and higher doses of Ambien to fall asleep, so they take alcohol alongside the drug to try and enhance its sedative effects.
However, this is extremely dangerous because both alcohol and Ambien depress your central nervous system, which can have devastating consequences.
Other common combinations include taking Ambien alongside benzodiazepines like Valium.
Becoming an “Ambien Zombie” and Sleepwalking
This might sound like a movie you’ve just watched, but even the side of the bottle warns against the “strange behavior” and “abnormal thinking” the drug may induce.
Sometimes, this behavior may seem harmless, like finding yourself getting out of bed in a state of sleep and conscious wakefulness, sending a text message, or preparing a meal. But this behavior can also take a far more sinister turn, like having sex, operating a vehicle, or, as demonstrated in the case of Robert Stewart, visiting the nursing home of your estranged wife before killing eight people.
In Stewart’s case, his defense team managed to successfully convince the jury that he wasn’t eligible for the death penalty because he’d been taking Ambien above and beyond his prescribed limit, which, when combined with his bipolar disorder and depression, turned him into a “lethal sleepwalker” who was acting in a (legally) diminished way.
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.
These hypnotic effects can be amplified by alcohol.
Seeking Help for an Ambien Addiction
Despite the fact Ambien was originally advertised as a safer and less addictive alternative to benzodiazepines (i.e. Halcion), users are still at risk of becoming addicted to this drug. Nevertheless, due to the increasing problem of Ambien addiction, there are a number of services available that can help people who think they may have (or know they have) a problem.
Typically, a detox program for Ambien will include what’s known as a “medically monitored drug taper,” whereby the dose is reduced slowly to avoid any neurological or physical reaction. Once the detox is complete, the rehab center’s therapeutic services can address the behaviors and patterns that underlie the addiction – perhaps establishing what was causing the insomnia in the first place.
Regardless of a person’s Ambien abuse level, rehab often provides the most effective way to recover psychological and physical health.
If you think you’re addicted to Ambien or you’re concerned about a loved one, the team at Find Addiction Rehabs is here to help. Simply call our 24-7 hotline (877-959-7271) to access a treatment plan quickly and affordably.
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