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.
What Is Ambien?
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. It also comes in 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 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.
What Are The Signs Of Ambien Addiction?
Apart from ignoring the intended use of Ambien, there are three major factors that may contribute to how 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 to 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.
Though Ambien is a non-benzodiazepine sedative, and it’s said to be safer than other prescription sleep aids, it can still be dangerous when used in high doses. If the drug is taken for too long or abused, it can lead to adverse side effects. Ambien works in the brain in a way that’s similar to other nervous system depressants like benzos and even alcohol. However, they are generally not as potent. Still, high doses of Ambien can cause intoxication that’s similar to alcohol and other depressants.
If you are worried a loved one may be abusing Ambien, there are several acute symptoms that you might be able to notice, including:
- Loss of motor control
- Difficulty maintaining consequences
- Euphoric feelings
- Slowed heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Slowed breathing
- Hallucinations (clothing moving or swaying, text on computer screens warping, etc.)
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.
Many of those struggling with 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:
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
A condition caused by lack of oxygen concentration. During hypoxemia, your face, lips, and fingertips might turn blue.
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.
Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms
Because Ambien is regarded as a simple sleeping pill, people have a tendency not to 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.
Permanent Memory Loss
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, 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:
- Having sex
- Many other actions that would be out of the ordinary while sleeping
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.
Can Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms Kill You?
Like most CNS depressants, Ambien is a GABAergic chemical. This means that it enhances the activity of a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a naturally occurring chemical that the brain uses to communicate in the nervous system. This chemical’s role is to relax you by slowing down your nervous system so that you can rest and sleep. It also eases anxieties and allows your brain to come down from periods of high energy, stress, and activity.
Different chemicals achieve this GABA-exciting effect in different ways, but they all ultimately cause you to feel calm and drowsy. However, it can have some severe consequences if you take Ambien for longer than prescribed, if you take high doses, if you use it without a prescription, or if you mix it with other drugs. As you abuse Ambien, your brain will start to adapt to the abundance of the chemical in your system by taking measures to counteract the resulting chemical imbalance. In other words, your brain will try to add more nervous system stimulating chemicals to the mix to counter the depressing effects of the drug.
Quitting cold turkey is like releasing the floodgates. The excitatory effects that were building up and being held back by the drug will be unleashed and your nervous system will go into overdrive.
This nervous system overactivity can cause serious symptoms, including:
- Severe confusion
- Unresponsive Behavior
- Seizures and Convulsions
- Dysphoria (a state of unease or that something is wrong)
CNS depressant withdrawal has been known to cause a medical condition called Delirium tremens (DT). The condition is characterized by a sudden onset of confusion, strange behavior, and serious symptoms. DT often occurs with shaking, convulsions, irregular heartbeat, shivering, or shaking. People who experience DT also report hallucinations and a sense of panic. Many people report the feeling or perception that snakes, insects, or rats are crawling on them. It has also been observed causing bizarre symptoms of catatonia like being awake but unresponsive, agitation for no reason, repetitive movements, waxy flexibility (allowing other people/ examiners to move them into new body positions which they maintain), and others.
Delirium treatments become extremely dangerous in the case of seizures, fever, and coma. While these symptoms are rare, they are more likely when a person is dependent on a very high dose of a CNS depressant, which they stop suddenly. Without medical help, these symptoms can be deadly. However, the prognosis is significantly improved by medical intervention, with fatality dropping to less than two percent of cases.
Going “Cold Turkey”
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.
Is Ambien Safer Than Benzos?
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.
What Is Involved In Ambien Addiction Treatment?
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.
Helping A Loved One
If a friend or a loved one is struggling with 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.
Someone with Ambien addiction needs supportive care, and you can be an important person 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, as it creates a bond between you and your loved one. Make sure they know that together you are a team fighting against this addiction.
Start Your Journey To Recovery Today
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 a chronic disease that can affect the reward center of the brain, causing compulsions to use that are difficult to control. Addiction is also progressive, which means that can get worse over time, affecting more and more of your life, including your health, relationships, job, legal standing, and many other aspects of day to day living. Addressing a substance use problem early can stop it from progressing into a severe disorder that causes these kinds of consequences. However, even if you are in the severe stages of substance use or if you’ve relapses several times before, addiction is still treatable. Learn more about Ambien addiction to start your road to recovery today.