As the number one sleeping pill on the market right now, Ambien has undoubtedly become increasingly popular, especially in people 60 years or older. But despite the fact that it is a popularly prescribed medication, Ambien may not be completely safe and risk-free, especially among people in its largest demographic.
Also known on the street as Zombie pills, sleep easy, and No-Go pills, Ambien has earned its infamous aliases for understandable reasons. Ambien is a powerful sleeping aid that, when abused, can cause intoxication, a boost in self-confidence, hallucinations, and a somewhat “drunk, wobbly” feeling.
Ambien abuse can lead to drug dependence and addiction, causing a wide range of symptoms. Ambien withdrawal can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, medically dangerous. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of Ambien withdrawal and what makes it potentially deadly. If you or someone you know is struggling with Ambien addiction, it is treatable with help.
Ambien (zolpidem tartrate) is a psychoactive drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Psychoactive drugs are chemical substances that change how the brain communicates with systems in your body. Perception, behavior, mood, and consciousness can all be effects of Ambien, but it is primarily used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders.
It is usually taken orally in the form of a small, oblong tablet or as an extended-release tablet, which means the tablet is made in a way that the drug is released slowly, causing an easier “kicking in” of the drug. Although orally is the medically prescribed way to ingest Ambien, when it is used as a recreational drug, it may be crushed up and snorted for more a faster, more intense high.
Extended-release tablets often have large doses of the medication inside capsules that are released slowly. This allows you to take one tablet and sleep through the night, even though one safe dose only lasts a few hours. However, during recreational use, they can also be opened or crushed to take all of the substance at once.
Ambien is a non-benzodiazepine hypnotic, so it’s unlike alprazolam and diazepam on a molecular level (in relation to chemical structure). Although it is called a “non-benzodiazepine,” it is almost identical in the way that non-benzodiazepine and benzodiazepine drugs have similar benefits, side effects, and risks. Plus, both Ambien and benzodiazepines work on the same receptors in the brain (GABA receptors) and they cause the same effects.
Ambien addiction can begin to take hold in as little as two weeks of regularly abusing Ambien and other forms of zolpidem. If you take normal doses of the drug for too long, it can also cause addiction. Some users and loved ones of users may find it difficult to identify if someone has an addiction to Ambien, so detecting symptoms of withdrawal is crucial in the recovery process.
Apart from ignoring the intended use of Ambien, there are three major factors that may contribute to how an Ambien addiction may develop: biological, environmental, and psychological.
Biological causes of Ambien addiction refer to genetic factors when it comes to developing physical or psychological dependence. Studies show a genetic link between grandparents and parents passing a propensity for addiction on to their kids. Genetic factors can explain why some people develop substance use disorders after the same level of use as someone who does not become addicted. If you have a family history of drug abuse and addiction it’s important to treat addictive drugs with extra care, even prescriptions.
Environmental causes and factors that may contribute toward Ambien addiction are related to not only the area you live in but your lifestyle as well. Poverty level, homelessness, and even peer pressure can play a determining role as to whether your use of Ambien can turn into dependency and addiction. For instance, imagine that you see an advertisement for Ambien and then ask your doctor about it. You get a prescription and start using it normally. Then a friend tells you that mixing it with alcohol offers an intense high. If you start abusing Ambien, you may be led to addiction by environmental factors.
However, psychological causes of Ambien addiction are the most common causes. Many people will abuse Ambien in an attempt to mask memories and traumatic experiences, depression, or anxiety.
As a central nervous system depressant, Ambien can make you feel more relaxed, temporarily relieving depression and anxiety. However, it can ultimately worsen the chemical imbalances that come with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.
In many cases, multiple factors come together to cause a substance use disorder and it’s difficult to pinpoint one definitive cause. If you believe that more or more of these factors might apply to you, ask your doctor if your addiction risk factors could cause any complications before taking Ambien.
Ambien addiction is much more dangerous than many people realize. Before discussing Ambien addiction, we must understand why people abuse Ambien and what it does for them. It is important to note that to benefit from the pleasurable effects of an Ambien high, large doses must be taken, or you must go against the urge to sleep. When taken as directed, only one percent of patients have reported strange feelings and/or minor hallucinations.
Some common short-term effects of taking Ambien are:
Many of those suffering from Ambien addiction do not actually realize that they are dependent until they stop taking Ambien and start to have trouble sleeping without it. Ambien dependency can easily lead to an overdose. Ambien is very easy to develop a tolerance toward, and over time, Ambien addiction can lead to higher doses.
To notice if someone is addicted to Ambien, you must pay very close attention to the small details. Are they spending more and more time alone? Are they participating in dangerous or even illegal activities to get more Ambien? Are they doctor shopping (going to multiple doctors to be prescribed more Ambien)? These are all questions you should be asking yourself.
Although Ambien is assumed to be a much safer drug than benzodiazepines, Ambien overdoses have been reported and some have proved fatal. Typically, fatal cases happen in instances of suicide, when Ambien was taken in extreme excess. However, overdose can happen when abusing the drug, especially when it’s mixed with other substances like alcohol.
Ambien overdose symptoms are similar to other CNS depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines. As your nervous system is depressed to dangerous levels, you may start to notice extreme drowsiness, dizziness, trouble breathing, and loss of consciousness. Because overdose causes you to fall asleep or lose consciousness, you may not be able to notice dangerous symptoms.
However, if you or a loved one is awake to notice the signs of overdose, there are a few symptoms that may stand out to you:
Irregularities in breathing. Ambien overdose can cause respiratory depression or slowed breathing, which can be fatal.
Slower reaction time. This is typical of inebriation but becomes more pronounced during an overdose.
Nausea or vomiting.
Hypoxemia. A condition caused by lack of oxygen concentration. During hypoxemia, your face, lips, and fingertips might turn blue.
Hypercapnia. A condition caused when too much carbon dioxide builds up in the bloodstream.
Side effects of hypercapnia and hypoxemia may also include flushed skin and minor muscle twitches. Please note that these symptoms indicate that a potentially fatal overdose is occurring and if you notice them, you should seek medical assistance immediately.
Because Ambien is regarded as a simple sleeping pill, people have a tendency to not take Ambien addiction seriously. People who are addicted to Ambien will sometimes not even realize their dependency and may even experience chronic depression, seizures, intense panic attacks, an increase in heart rate, and many other major health problems. Because of its difficulty to detect, and its life-threatening effects, Ambien addiction, and withdrawal can be fatal.
Ambien is not “just a sleeping pill,” and people must realize that prescription-strength sedatives are nothing to play with. If taken too often, and in too high doses, permanent memory loss is a possibility.
Though stated on prescription labels, many people fail to recognize that while on Ambien, or any zolpidem substance for that matter, one may “wake up” mid-sleep while on the drug. While in this “sleepwalking” state, the user may participate in actions that they will not remember in the morning, including:
Sleep-driving, for example, is one of the most dangerous things that one could do while sleeping, so treatment of Ambien addiction must be put into effect as soon as possible.
In case you didn’t know, the term “cold turkey” refers to the action of immediately quitting all use of a drug. Many people attempt to detox themselves by going cold turkey, and though it may sound like a good idea, the truth is quite the opposite.
When one is addicted to any substance, the body slowly becomes dependent on it. When the user is not consuming or using that substance, their body begins to go believe something is wrong, and that the substance belongs in the body.
Once the victim of addiction stops immediately, the drawbacks are much worse than stopping without a professional’s help in a controlled environment. According to Health.com, only between three and 10 percent of people quitting smoking cold turkey are successful. Most drugs and substances are the same.
Non-benzodiazepines are often used because they are assumed to be safer alternatives to other drugs in the benzodiazepine class. However, differences between the two may not be so obvious. Benzodiazepines are known to cause dependence in as little as four weeks of regular use of prescribed does. Typically, doctors discourage long-term ongoing use. It can cause tolerance and addiction if used improperly.
They also have dangerous withdrawal symptoms like seizures and Delirium tremens, disorders characterized by tremors, panic, and a catatonic state. Symptoms can be fatal without treatment. However, studies have shown that non-benzodiazepines like Ambien, which suppress the nervous system in the same way, can have some of the same negative side effects, including Delirium tremens. People should exercise the same caution when using Ambien that they do when using benzodiazepines.
Although Ambien is different in that it is a prescription sleeping pill, Ambien addiction treatment is similar to many other substance abuse programs in a plethora of ways.
As with many drug addiction treatment programs, detoxification is the first step. Detox of Ambien addiction may include prescribed psychiatric treatments for anxiety and depression caused by Ambien withdrawal, but there are few drugs that actually treat the effects of withdrawal. The only reliable detoxification process for Ambien is not to quit cold turkey, but rather slowly lower the daily Ambien dose.
After the five to seven-day detox, it is all smooth sailing, as our inpatient treatment program is the highest level of treatment available. Under 24/7 medical supervision, you will transition from detox into less intensive treatment. In a comfortable environment, you will be able to not only participate in inpatient programs but residential treatment programs as well.
The last step in recovering from Ambien addiction is to meet with your “case manager” to discuss your aftercare plan. Case management includes possible employment and housing after recovery, as well as many other topics.
Your mission is to get back on track, and our case managers are trained to help you in any way possible. We know how difficult it is to basically put your life on pause for recovery, so our managers will help life management outside of recovery as well. All you have to do is get to the center and let us do the rest.
If a friend or a loved one is suffering from Ambien addiction or withdrawals, treatment centers will always be a healthy option. But what about the time they are not spending in recovery? That is when you come into play.
While someone suffers from Ambien addiction, being supportive can be an important way to encourage them in their recovery. As a close companion, you must always provide a positive outlook on the recovery process. The most helpful thing you can do is simply provide a positive environment. Studies show that an overly critical spouse or family member is one of the most significant factors in relapse.
If the patient going through recovery is part of an outpatient program and only visits the recovery center a few times a week, make them feel welcome when they get back home. Let them know how proud you are and how great their treatment seems to be working.
If the patient going through recovery is part of an inpatient program and stays on site at the recovery center, a phone call works wonders. A simple “Hi, I was just checking in on you and making sure everything is going well” can easily be the difference between relapse and recovery.
A commonly overlooked method of providing a positive recovery environment for your loved one is to make them feel stronger. Start saying things like “we” and “us” more, and it creates a bond between you and your loved one. Make sure they know that together you are a team fighting against this addiction.
If you or a loved one has experienced any of the symptoms of Ambien tolerance, dependence, addiction, or withdrawal, there is help available to deal with any potential substance use disorder you might be experiencing. Ambien addiction is one of the most dangerous drug addictions anyone could fall into. If you or a loved one suffers from Ambien addiction, the time to act is now.
Call Arete Recovery right now at (855) 781-9939 and start becoming yourself again. We are not just some recovery group; we are a family, and we’re here to walk you through every step of recovery you need to take back your life.
Fals-Stewart, W., O'Farrell, T. J., & Hooley, J. M. (2006, March 02). Relapse among married or cohabiting substance-abusing patients: The role of perceived criticism. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0005789401800216
Gock, S., Wong, S. H., Nuwayhid, N., Venuti, S. E., Kelley, P. D., Teggatz, J. R., & Jentzen, J. M. (1999, October 01). Acute Zolpidem Overdose-Report of Two Cases * | Journal of Analytical Toxicology | Oxford Academic. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jat/article/23/6/559/863571
Mattoo, S. K., Gaur, N., & Das, P. P. (2011, November/December). Zolpidem withdrawal delirium. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3229797/