Ambien is notorious for causing people to sleepwalk, go for a drive, and raid their refrigerators without remembering anything the next morning. Ambien helps a lot of people, and experts say it is not addictive if it is used exactly as prescribed, for the duration prescribed. There is a risk of addiction if you already have a substance use disorder (SUD).
The Ambien Trap
If you use Ambien for a long time or you take higher-than-recommended doses, you are raising the potential for addiction. Since the drug is only prescribed for short amounts of time, it is common to have difficulty sleeping, or insomnia symptoms to worsen for a few nights after you stop taking Ambien. This is called rebound insomnia.
It usually goes away after a few nights, but who wants to go back to not being able to get to sleep? So, what do you do? You might try to buy it from illegal sources, especially if you already have a SUD. If not, you might start using alcohol or other illicit drugs to get you to sleep.
Is Ambien Right For You?
To make sure Ambien is safe for you, tell your medical professional if you have ever had:
- Depression, mental illness, or suicidal thoughts
- Drug or alcohol addiction
- Lung disease or breathing problems
- Sleep apnea (breathing stops while sleeping)
- Liver or kidney disease
Stephen Ross, MD, an addiction expert at New York University School of Medicine said, “We’re now seeing more and more case reports—many case reports—of people becoming genuinely addicted.” Typically, a person starts taking higher doses of the drug to get the same sleep-inducing effect.
Dr. Ross has reported that some people have become so tolerant of the drug that they take up to 10 or even 20 pills instead of the recommended dosage of one. Some people find that in the process of treating insomnia, they like the “high” or anxiety-easing effects that they get from Ambien.
Ambien can become habit-forming if it’s taken too often. This is a possibility that it is more likely if you have a family history of addiction or you’re currently addicted to other drugs. It is dangerous if taken recreationally or mixed with other drugs.
Ambien has a comparatively short half-life. This means that it is cleared from the body rather quickly. The fact that it doesn’t linger and cause morning grogginess is one of the reasons it has become so popular as a drug for insomnia. But, people who take Ambien to get high or suppress anxiety can experience a rebound effect as the drug wears off and take more pills to fight it.
Dr. Ross said, “It starts as an attempt at self-medication. Much of addiction starts that way, as a failed attempt at treating one’s own symptoms.” He says that addicts are not usually a group of people that just go looking for pleasure.
It is generally people in pain or discomfort physically or psychologically. Drugs are very good self-treatments that eventually have the side effect of altering and reorganizing their reward and motivation circuits.
The popularity of Ambien has exploded since it first became available in 2007. Americans bought nearly 16 million prescriptions of zolpidem. That represented 30% of all non-barbiturate sleeping aids sold at pharmacies.
By 2009, the number sold more than doubled to 34.9 million. The use of the brand-name fell when the generic version became available but Ambien was still 12% of all sleep-aid prescriptions sold.
Ambien is the best-selling prescription sleep medicine in this country by far. And the popularity of Ambien and its generic, zolpidem continues to grow.
Carol Boyd, Ph.D., a professor of nursing at the University of Michigan, studies prescription-medication abuse among young people. She says sleep medications “are widely advertised, they have abuse liability, they are relatively easy to get.” Doctors have begun to prescribe sleep medications for adolescents more often.
This raises the chances that their family and friends will get access to these medications without a prescription Dr. Boyd also says that the misuse of Ambien and other sleep aids doesn’t seem to be widespread now but it has the potential. “These sleepers must be kept on our national radar.”
Misusing prescription drugs is a serious and increasing problem in the U.S. Most people don’t think twice about sharing drugs prescribed to them with family members and friends. And most of the time people are borrowing prescription drugs to help with pain or to get to sleep, not to get high.
Opiates such as Oxycontin, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and stimulants are the most frequently abused prescription drugs. Sedative hypnotics such as Ambien and Lunesta are far behind. But, according to Dr. Boyd, they are very popular and prescription rates are growing. The increasing availability of sleep meds appears likely to cause higher rates of use without a prescription (known as nonmedical use).
In Congressional testimony, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) pointed to Ambien as “a troubling sign of a growing problem.” Emergency-room visits related to Ambien have been steadily on the increase.
Ambien misuse is more common among teenagers and young adults. Periodic use in social situations sometimes becomes a regular habit. Ambien is sometimes used as a substitute for other drugs or to counteract stimulants. It is usually snorted or injected for that purpose.
Side Effects of Ambien
Ambien is prescribed because the doctor has decided that the benefit to you is greater than the risks. Most people don’t have serious side effects, but some can occur. The recommended doses are not the same for men and women and are not approved for children. Misuse of Ambien can have dangerous side effects. You need to contact your doctor if any of these things happen:
- New or worsening depression
- Suicidal thoughts
- Agitation and aggressive behavior
Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms
If you have been taking Ambien in large doses for more than a few weeks, you might experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop. There is little data available about Ambien withdrawal and more research is necessary. But, from reports of specific cases, medical professionals know that withdrawal can range from mild to severe and depend on these factors:
- How long you’ve used Ambien
- The dosage you’re taking
- The forms you’ve used (swallowed as a pill, snorted, injected)
- Your specific genetic makeup
Ambien withdrawal symptoms usually begin several hours to a couple of days since your last dose. They should end within a few days. You should know that Ambien withdrawal symptoms can be complicated by the effects of other medications or substances you may be taking.
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms
- Aches and pains
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fast heart rate
- Problems with speech
Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms
- Confusion or delirium
- Panic Attacks
Substances Commonly Used With Ambien
Ambien and Alcohol
One of the larger issues in alcoholism treatment is when people mix alcohol with other substances. Whether done by accident or on purpose, it is likely to result in an overdose or other harm.
Some people mix drugs with alcohol to sleep more soundly. This is a fallacy. Sleep that comes from overuse of alcohol is not a normal restful sleep cycle and may result in dangerous behaviors.
Other people use the two together to get the euphoric or hallucinatory effect. Drug abuse such as this has its risks, particularly if it’s done regularly. Along with the physical and behavioral risks, there is the potential of the person developing an addiction to both substances. This leads to the continued use and abuse and the possibility of an overdose.
Some people don’t realize that alcohol and medication can bring about a severe reaction in their bodies. Other times, people who abuse drugs might combine alcohol and medication on purpose to self-treat physical conditions or experience the euphoric high.
Ambien is a drug that is very risky to mix with alcohol. Combining these substances can result in a dangerous physical reaction that can be life-threatening. Some specific outcomes of mixing Ambien with alcohol are:
- Extremely slow breathing and heart rate
- Severe drowsiness
- Loss of coordination
- Mood swings
- Loss of memory
- Blacking out
Ambien and Weed
Similar to mixing alcohol with Ambien, mixing marijuana with Ambien is also a bad idea. This depends on how much marijuana you use and what effect it has on you. Nevertheless, mixing any product with the potential to alter your consciousness with one that sedates you is dangerous.
When cannabis is combined with a sedative hypnotic-like Ambien, you could find yourself in a very unusual condition. Using weed and Ambien together can result in:
- Difficulty concentrating
Recovering from Ambien use can be formidable. If you are having trouble quitting or you’re trying to quit more than one substance, it’s important to ask for help. Ambien use disorder is potentially a very serious problem.
If you’ve been using it in ways other than how it is prescribed, for a long period, or with another substance, you will need help to quit. Treatment options are:
If you have a severe addiction or have been using Ambien for a long time, you are likely to need a medically supervised detoxification. This means that you will be monitored by medical professionals until the toxins are out of your body. Withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous if you are not supervised and medically treated.
During residential treatment, you will live at the facility in a safe and structured environment. You are removed from any distractions that might have triggered your substance use. Counselors will help you understand your drug use and help you learn to live drug-free again.
Outpatient treatment is for people with a mild to moderate substance use disorder (SUD). If you were not a heavy user, don’t have a co-occurring condition, and aren’t addicted to more than one substance, an outpatient program could be best for you. You will attend sessions at the treatment facility but still live at home. There are outpatient programs of varying intensities and duration.
Types of Therapy for Ambien Addiction
During your treatment, you will attend therapy sessions to help you overcome your psychological dependence and addiction to Ambien. Common therapies practiced are:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT explores the differences between what we want to do and what we actually do. Addiction is an example. It focuses on your behavior and thought patterns (cognition).
This is another “talk therapy” in which you have one-on-one time with your therapist and discuss your current situation and your goals for recovery.
Group therapy typically consists of 5-15 clients and 2 therapists. Group members share coping techniques and generally support each other. It also acts to hold members accountable for their behaviors.
After your treatment program is completed, an aftercare program is beneficial to help maintain your sobriety and prevent relapse.
Wake Up and Ask for Help
If you or someone close to you is struggling with an addiction to Ambien, you can reset your life by contacting us at Unity Behavioral Health. We have caring individuals waiting to talk to you 24-hours a day.
Our locations offer an array of amenities and our addiction care specialists will help you determine which is best for you. Our staff is comprised of experienced medical professionals who will treat you with respect and compassion. It’s time to ask for help.