Ambien (zolpidem), is a commonly prescribed sleep aid in the United States. As a Schedule IV controlled substance, it is thought to have a low potential for abuse.
However, many people misuse Ambien by taking more than prescribed to help them sleep when they build a tolerance to it. Others abuse it by taking it and purposefully staying awake. This produces a euphoric, out-of-body effect, which may be accompanied by strange behavior and short-term memory loss.
Abusing Ambien can damage a person’s health and may lead to physical dependence and addiction.
What Is Ambien?
Ambien (zolpidem) is a non-benzodiazepine sleep medication, also known as a “z-drug.” It targets the same area of the brain as benzodiazepines like Restoril (temazepam) that are also prescribed for insomnia, but it has a different chemical structure.
Like benzodiazepines, Ambien enhances the effect of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which slows brain activity so a person can relax and sleep. This also slows the central nervous system, decreasing vital functions like breathing and heart rate.
Signs Of Ambien Addiction And Abuse
When someone takes Ambien in any way other than prescribed, it is considered abuse. Some people increase their dosage or take it longer than recommended and become dependent on the drug mentally, physically, or both. Some obtain it illegally, even if they’ve never had a prescription.
Ambien comes as a pill and is often abused orally, but some people dissolve it under their tongue or crush it into a powder to snort it in hopes of a more immediate effect.
Other signs of Ambien addiction and abuse include:
- obtaining prescriptions from multiple doctors
- continually increasing dosage
- inability to control use, even with negative consequences
- financial strain from buying Ambien
- secretive behavior
- loss of interest in hobbies
- a constant state of sedation
Dangers Of Ambien Abuse
Ambien (zolpidem) is relatively safe when taken as prescribed. However, it is generally not prescribed for longer than two weeks because the body can quickly become tolerant to its effects. It is intended as a temporary sleep aid.
If a person continues taking it after their doctor recommends that they stop, they may develop a physical dependence on it. This occurs when the body gets used to having Ambien in order to sleep and has withdrawal symptoms, such as rebound insomnia, without it.
Because of the way that Ambien affects the brain, taking it in excess can cause changes in brain structure that makes the brain less efficient at operating without the drug. When someone is not taking Ambien, the brain may be unable to properly regulate GABA, causing too much brain activity as well as cravings for the drug.
Side Effects Of Ambien Abuse
Abusing Ambien has been linked to strange sleep behavior, called “parasomnia.” Some individuals have driven a vehicle, prepared food, or had sex while taking Ambien and did not remember it later.
Parasomnia can be very dangerous to the individual and others and may occur even with prescribed use. The chance of it happening increases when a person mixes Ambien with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants.
While these cases are rare, taking Ambien in high amounts does increase the likelihood of daytime drowsiness, which can impair a person’s ability to function normally.
Other Ambien side effects that may be worsened by abuse include:
- dizziness and loss of balance
- nausea or vomiting
- constipation or diarrhea
- muscle aches
- neck, back, or joint pain
- uncontrollable shaking
- changes in appetite
- strange dreams
- dry mouth
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Ambien Overdose Risk
It is difficult, but possible, to overdose on Ambien alone. Taking the drug with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol, opioids or benzodiazepines significantly raises overdose risk and can be deadly.
If Ambien is dissolved under the tongue or crushed and snorted, it reaches the bloodstream faster and all at once. This can produce a more intense effect, which makes it a desirable method of abuse. It can also increase toxicity levels too rapidly and cause an overdose.
It is especially dangerous to abuse the extended-release version of Ambien (Ambien CR) in these ways. Ambien CR contains a higher dose of zolpidem that is intended to be dispersed through the body over time. If it hits the bloodstream all at once, it can have a drastic effect.
Ambien Withdrawal And Detox
A physical dependence on Ambien can be just as challenging to overcome as a mental addiction. The withdrawal symptoms that occur if someone abruptly stops taking Ambien may drive them to take more of the drug.
Ambien withdrawal symptoms may be:
- nausea or vomiting
- abdominal cramps
- panic attacks
A doctor may recommend tapering off Ambien to ease the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. This should be done with medical support, as it is difficult for a person to tell how much and how often to reduce their dosage.
Medically supervised detox may also be beneficial to those seeking to rid their body of Ambien safely.
Ambien (Zolpidem) Addiction Treatment
Many people who struggle with Ambien (zolpidem) addiction have co-occurring mental disorders like depression or anxiety. This leads them to abuse the drug for the thrill of euphoria or the sense of calm it produces, which helps them relax during the day and sleep at night.
At Vertava Health of Ohio, we offer dual diagnosis treatment and other evidence-based practices to address issues that lead to substance abuse. These are often the cause of relapse.
Our inpatient rehab program uses behavioral therapy to help individuals develop coping skills, regulate emotions, and change negative thought patterns. We encourage whole-person healing through experiential therapies like yoga, art, and music, as well as recreation and adventure.
By tailoring our treatment plans to individual needs, we ensure that each person receives the most effective care for their situation. Addiction to Ambien can have devastating effects, but with the right treatment program, anyone can make a new life in recovery.