Ambien is the brand name for zolpidem, a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that is prescribed as a short-term treatment for the symptoms of insomnia and other sleep-based disorders.
Ambien is classified as a “z-drug,” which is a medication that has sedative-hypnotic effects similar to benzodiazepines. While z-drugs are less addictive and safer to use than benzos like Halcion or Valium, they possess the potential for abuse and chemical dependency. In fact, people can often become addicted within a few weeks of misuse.
Ambien is one of the most frequently prescribed non-benzo sleep aids in the United States.
Since it is generally perceived as being safe, it has become a prime target for misuse and abuse, as users don’t think this behavior will have any negative consequences.
Even though Ambient isn’t a benzo, it’s still a depressant. In other words, it slows down activity within the central nervous system to create sedation. However, its specific intention is inducing sleep, while benzos are meant to create broader effects that will treat anxiety.
Ambien achieves these effects by altering the levels of a chemical in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA naturally regulates feelings of excitability, anxiety, and stress by inhibiting the nerve impulses that calm the body down, relax the muscles, and prepare the body for sleep.
Ambien mimics GABA and binds with “GABA receptors,” specifically the ones directly involved in initiating sleep. It activates these receptors to the point that they create an overproduction of acid that overwhelms the nervous system, which makes it slow down enough for the user to fall asleep.
Being able to spot the symptoms of abuse and addiction can be much more difficult than some people might think, especially since drugs like Ambien are overwhelmingly perceived by doctors and users alike as being “safe.”
Because people aren’t necessarily aware of the risks of misusing Ambien, the signs can more easily escape their notice, to the point that the person engaging in Ambien abuse may not recognize they have a growing problem until it’s escalated to the level of addiction.
If you suspect someone may be misusing Ambien, here are some noticeable side effects associated with regular Ambien abuse:
Once someone has progressed from abuse to dependence and addiction, they are compulsively using Ambien, and they are out of control. They usually start exhibiting atypical behavior that’s consistent with a substance use disorder, which highlights that obtaining and using Ambien have become the motivations behind the majority of their actions and decisions.
Some signs of Ambien addiction include:
Have you seen these symptoms in the behavior of a family member or friend, or have you been experiencing them yourself? If so, it’s crucial that you seek help from a professional addiction treatment center as soon as possible.
Using prescription drugs without a doctor’s consent, or in any fashion that was not directed by a physician is considered abuse. It may sound benign, but taking an extra pill for a little help falling asleep is viewed as abuse.
Once someone develops a tolerance for Ambien, they will need more significant doses to sleep. It will strengthen their dependence on Ambien, which causes the person to escalate their dose without medical supervision.
Ambien was designed to be taken right before you go to bed, but some people have been known to use it hours before their bedtime. Unfortunately, by doing this, it will lead to a euphoric experience that can cleanse someone of their insecurities and self-conscious thoughts.
In some ways, Ambien is a much safer alternative to the drugs that come to mind. Benzodiazepines are dangerous and can cause deadly overdoses in small doses. The potential to overdose on Ambien is much lower, but it may be more challenging to determine if someone has overdosed on Ambien.
The signs of an overdose are similar to the effects it produces. When Ambien is consumed in large doses, it can slow the person’s breathing or heart rate to the point where they stop breathing on their own. It can result in a fatal overdose. Slow breathing or heartbeat is a strong indicator the person in question has overdosed.
Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in conjunction with Ambien. When someone has a tolerance to Ambien, they will need higher doses to fall asleep. Someone who has developed a tolerance to Ambien may drink alcohol with their medication to increase the effects. It is an extremely dangerous combination because both drugs work to depress the nervous system.
Other people may use Ambien with benzos, which can be a deadly combination due to their similar chemical structures. When the two are combined, respiratory failure is likely, and the odds of a fatal overdose increases dramatically. There can also be a risk for damage to the brain, heart, and lungs.
When you start receiving treatment for almost any addictive substance, medical detoxification is strongly recommended. Detox physically and mentally stabilizes a person by flushing all of the drugs, alcohol, and other accompanying toxins from their system.
Because it is a nonbenzodiazepine, Ambien’s withdrawal symptoms are usually on the milder end of the withdrawal spectrum. An outpatient detox could be possible depending on the severity of the addiction, physical and mental health, and use or abuse of other addictive substances.
Even so, you should not attempt to detox from Ambien without some level of supervision from a medical detox professional. Ambien is still a CNS depressant, which means it has the potential to present unpredictable withdrawal symptoms that could be dangerous. This is quite possible when combined with the tendency to have hallucinations or suicidal behavior.
Once someone has finished detoxing from Ambien, they will need to continue their Ambien addiction treatment by addressing the issues at the roots of their addiction and unhealthy behaviors—in either an inpatient or outpatient addiction recovery program.
Whether someone chooses to live onsite during their recovery or remain at home and commute to treatment sessions, clients will work with doctors, clinicians, and other staff members to learn how to develop positive and effective coping skills. These will help them manage their addiction and avoid relapse in the long term. Some common therapies and treatment methods that users may experience during their recovery program include:
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the most common side effects include both sleepwalking and other activities performed in your sleep, generally with no memory of them upon waking. These forgotten activities can include:
While some of these side effects (such as talking in your sleep) aren’t all that alarming, sleep-driving is obviously dangerous, both for the user and other people. In fact, long-term Ambien abuse has also been found to increase someone’s likelihood of dying during the night by at least 15 percent.
While it is possible to overdose on Ambien alone, people increase their risk of a fatal overdose by mixing Ambien with other depressants to increase the strength of its sedative effects (including benzodiazepines, opioids, and alcohol).
The symptoms of an Ambien overdose include:
Kripke, D. F. (2016, May). Hypnotic Drug Risks. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4890308/
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018, September). 2017 NSDUH Annual National Report. from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2017-nsduh-annual-national-report
National Institute on Drug Abuse. 8: Definition of dependence. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/neurobiology-drug-addiction/section-iii-action-heroin-morphine/8-definition-dependence
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). 8: Medical detoxification. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification