Ambien abuse has become a major social concern in recent years as emergency room visits involving this drug have steadily increased over the last ten years. Having widely replaced benzodiazepines for the treatment of insomnia, Ambien and other sleep aids have been growing in prescription and recreational popularity, and Ambien abuse is a growing trend across all demographics. In fact, since its introduction in 1993, the number of Ambien prescriptions written has increased three fold. Ambien, or its generic name zolpidem is a non-benzodiazepine hypnotic sedative that is used to treat insomnia and some brain disorders. Although Ambien is molecularly different from a benzodiazepine, it binds to the same GABA receptor in the brain that enhances the action of the inhibitory neurotransmitter. Working in as little as 15 minutes, Ambien is effective in initiating sleep, but a controlled release formulation of the drug is needed to maintain sleep in those who have a hard time staying asleep.
Is Ambien Addictive?
Ambien is intended for short term use, and typically indicated to be used for a period not to exceed 12 weeks. Although the active ingredient in Ambien is not a benzodiazepine, it has many features in common with benzodiazepines, such as;
- Ambien binds to the same location on the GABA receptor as benzodiazepines
- Ambien is a sedative hypnotic (central nervous system depressant), just as benzodiazepines are
- Ambien causes severe withdrawal symptoms after prolonged use, similar in effects as benzodiazepines
Ambien abuse and addiction is much more likely to occur in those with a history of abuse and addiction than in those who are prescribed this medication and take it as directed for short periods of time. Some of the effects of Ambien can be pleasurable, and therefore addictive to those who have an affinity for central nervous system depressant drugs, such as benzodiazepines, alcohol, and opiods. Such effects are
- Altered thought patterns
- Lack of inhibition
- Increased impulsivity
Typically, individuals who seek drugs that alter one’s mood, thoughts, and behaviors are more susceptible to abusing Ambien. If Ambien is abused by an individual, tolerance and dependence are likely to develop, requiring more of the drug to achieve the same effects, and withdrawal symptoms if use is drastically decreased or abruptly stopped. Chronic abuse of Ambien may also result in a paradoxical rebound effect of insomnia and increased anxiety. All of these characteristics are also identical to those of benzodiazepines. While Ambien is molecularly different from benzodiazepines, its effects are very similar, and it can be addictive in those who chronically abuse this drug.
Dangers of Ambien Abuse
Ambien is indicated to be taken only at bedtime, and only when 7-8 hours of sleep are available to the user. Several occurrences of adverse side effects from using Ambien inappropriately have been reported, and some have occurred when Ambien has been used as directed. These effects include:
- Anterograde amnesia
- Nausea and vomiting
- Poor motor coordination, lack of balance
- Sleep walking, or engagement in other activities like driving while sleeping
- Impaired judgment and reasoning
- Change in libido (either increase or decrease)According to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), the active ingredient of Ambien, zolpidem has been used as a date-rape drug to commit sexual assaults on women. Of the more than 12 million people with prescriptions for Ambien, the majority of the cases as reported by Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), the number of emergency room visits involving zolpidem skyrocketed from 6,111 in 2005 to over 19,000 in 2010. Most of these occurrences were in combination with other depressant drugs such as painkillers, alcohol and benzodiazepines. Most of these visits were related to the misuse and abuse of Ambien from individuals who were either seeking a high from using multiple depressant drugs with Ambien, or those who were attempting to commit suicide. No matter what the intent, abusing Ambien is extremely dangerous and can quickly lead to death.
Because of the sedative and hypnotic effects of Ambien, abuse is extremely dangerous and can lead to fatal overdose and serious accidents that result in devastating injury and possible death. Many people who abuse Ambien do so with other substances to increase the sedative and hypnotic effects of the drug. While this type of behavior often results in a dangerous overdose, there are many signs of excessive use in an individual who has taken too many depressant drugs. In addition to the common side effects of Ambien, an individual who has taken too much of the drug, or combined it with alcohol, benzodiazepines and/or narcotic painkillers may exhibit some of the following signs:
- Inability to stay awake
- Dangerously shallow breathing
- Drastically reduced heart rate
- Slurred speech
- Perceptual distortions (misjudgment of distance such as an inability to place an item on a table)
- Staggering while trying to walk
- Severely slowed reaction time
- Poor motor function
Individuals who abuse Ambien may do so by crushing and snorting the pills, or dissolving them in water and injecting them. Although this is very common with most prescription drugs of abuse, Ambien is a fast acting drug, taking its effects in as little as 15 minutes. While some abusers of Ambien may choose to snort or inject the drug, most take it orally since there is little time to wait to feel the effects.
Ambien abuse is especially dangerous in individuals who suffer from mental health issues such as chronic depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or other mood and personality disorders. Since Ambien is often counter-indicated in many people with mental health issues because of its tendency to alter thought patterns and moods, individuals who abuse Ambien based on their mood are at an extremely high risk for overdose and suicide. The self-medicating behaviors of some individuals who suffer from mental health disorders can quickly lead to overwhelming suicidal thoughts when a drug like Ambien is abused.
Ambien Withdrawal and Detoxification
Because Ambien is very similar to benzodiazepines in its actions in the brain, withdrawal from this drug, once dependent on it can be very dangerous and in some cases, fatal without medical consultation and supervision. Some of the withdrawal symptoms associated with long-term use of Ambien include:
- Abdominal pain
- Depressed mood
- Severe mood swings
- Vivid nightmares
- Increased anxiety
- Nausea and vomiting
- Panic attacks
- Shaking and tremors
- Recurrence of insomnia (can reappear gradually over several weeks)
Typically, when Ambien use is ceased, medical professionals will slowly decrease the amount of Ambien over a period of several weeks. In severe cases of Ambien abuse and addiction, the preferred course of detoxification may be to switch a user to an equivalent dose of a long-acting benzodiazepine, and gradually taper the individual from that instead of attempting to do so with Ambien alone. Since benzodiazepines have the same action on the brain, they can assist with reducing the severity of withdrawal symptoms throughout the detoxification process. There have been some reports of suicidal thoughts during Ambien withdrawal, as well as other extreme mood and personality disruptions.
It is important to never attempt to stop taking Ambien suddenly without medical consultation, even if it has only been taken for a short period of time, and as directed.
Ambien detox for those who use it medically and as directed should not be a long or arduous process, but for those who abuse the drug and/or use it excessively, there are higher risks for complications and much longer period of detoxification than normal.
The determination of whether or not addiction treatment is needed after Ambien detoxification has been completed depends on the individual and how he or she was taking the drug. For example, an individual who took Ambien for 2 weeks, as directed, and was then tapered off of the drug with no problems, likely does not need to participate in any kind of addiction rehabilitation program. However, for an individual who took Ambien non-medically, misused his or her prescription, attempted suicide while taking Ambien, or abused other drugs while taking Ambien, addiction treatment is highly recommended. Addiction treatment is not about Ambien or any other drug, but rather about the individual and why he or she engaged in destructive and addictive behaviors in the first place. If a drug rehab program focused solely on the drug of abuse and not the individual, there would be nothing to stop him/her from returning home and abusing a different drug. In addiction treatment, individuals gain the knowledge and understanding to empower themselves to resist destructive behaviors that lead to addiction of all substances. In a treatment program, individuals discover and address
- Underlying issues, trauma, and pain that may have contributed to addiction
- Dangerous behaviors, people, places, and things that may jeopardize sobriety and recovery from addiction
- Faulty coping, communication, and survival skills that have been insufficient in facilitating the resistance of using drugs to cope with life’s disappointments and stress
- Lack of supportive individuals and groups with whom an addict can relate and use to refrain from relapsing
If you, or someone you love is abusing and/or addicted to Ambien, please don’t wait to get help. Ambien is not safe for long-term use, and when abused with other drugs, can quickly lead to death. At addiction-resource.com, we understand the delicate and urgent nature of addiction, and we will work with you to find the most effective detox facility where a safe and complete detoxification from Ambien can be accomplished. Additionally, it is our goal to help you discover the best and most individualized addiction treatment program for yourself or your loved one, so the path to recovery can be effective and one to which you relate and can benefit. Not all addiction treatment programs are created equal, and some may work better for you than others, depending on needs, preferences and belief systems.