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”: 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 nonbenzo 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.
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How Does Ambien Work?
Even though Ambien 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 the acid that overwhelms the nervous system, which makes it slow down enough for the user to fall asleep.
Struggling with sedative addiction? Let our treatment specialists help you now!
Struggling with sedative addiction? Let our treatment specialists help you now!
What Are the Signs of Ambien Addiction?
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:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Memory problems
- Chronic drowsiness
- Impaired coordination
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequently blacking out
Once someone has progressed from abuse to dependency and addiction, they are compulsively using Ambien, so they’re 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:
- Taking more Ambien than the prescribed dosage
- Taking Ambien without a prescription
- Developing an increasing tolerance to the effects of Ambien
- Experiencing cravings and withdrawal when not using Ambien
- Paying too much money for Ambien
- Giving away valuables to buy Ambien
- Lying about or covering up Ambien use
- Not being able to function normally without Ambien
- Noticeably declining in vocational or academic performance
- Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn
- Being unable to stop using Ambien, even after trying to quit
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.
What Is Involved in Ambien Addiction Treatment?
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. So they may be able to do an outpatient detox, depending on the severity of their addiction, their physical and mental health, and their 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, especially 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 more positive and effective coping skills that 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:
- Behavioral therapy
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Addiction education
- Motivational interviewing
- Holistic therapy
- Group counseling
- EMDR therapy
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Relapse-prevention planning
How Dangerous Is Ambien?
Ambien is supposed to be the safe alternative to stronger sedatives (such as benzos and barbiturates), but it can be risky to use it, due to certain side effects. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the most common side effects include both sleepwalking and all kinds of other activities in your sleep, generally with no memory of them upon waking. These forgotten activities can include:
- Having full conversations
- Cooking and eating
- Having sex
- Leaving the house
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 just Ambien, 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:
- Intense drowsiness
- Drifting in and out of consciousness
- Suddenly passing out
- Dangerously shallow, slow breathing
Ambien Abuse Statistics
- According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 10 million adults aged 18 and older in the United States currently use nonbenzo prescription sleep aids, including Ambien.
- The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that roughly 740 people per day abused Ambien and other prescription sleep aids for the first time that year.
- Studies conducted by the FDA have found that about 21 million adults aged 18 and older in the U.S. have misused or abused Ambien and other similar nonbenzo sleep aids at least once.
Start Your Recovery Journey Today
While Ambien abuse and addiction may not seem like something worth worrying as much about as an addiction to depressants (such as benzos, barbiturates, and alcohol), it needs to be treated with the same level of importance and urgency, as it can still be extremely dangerous.
Is someone you care about struggling with an addiction to Ambien? Are you? If so, don’t wait to get the help you need. Call California Highlands Addiction Treatment now to take the first steps toward recovery. We provide the full continuum of care, from detox to ongoing treatment.
Kripke, D. F. (2016, May). Hypnotic Drug Risks. Retrieved from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4890308/
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018, September). 2017 NSDUH Annual National Report. Retrieved from from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2017-nsduh-annual-national-report
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017, November). Consumer Updates: Combating Misuse and Abuse of Prescription Drugs. Retrieved from from https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm220112.htm