Ambien is known as a Z-drug, or a prescription sleep aid. The nickname seems to imply it will help you catch your “Zzzz’s”, but the medical community uses the nickname to refer to a class of sedative-hypnotic medications that all begin with “z” including zolpidem, zopiclone and zaleplon. And some people are convinced the Z stands for zombie.
Ambien Side Effects
Ambien is the most common brand name for the drug, zolpidem. Although an effective sleeping aid, it comes with serious and unwanted side effects.
Common side effects of Ambien:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle cramps
- Impaired vision
Severe side effects of Ambien:
- Depression and/or suicidal thoughts
When first marketed, zolpidem was praised as a safe alternative to benzodiazepine drugs to help people suffering from insomnia. Side effects were downplayed, but some interesting results from after-market research found patients were taking a riskier and more dangerous gamble than they realized. Courts across the country became familiar with “the Ambien defense” or “the Zombie defense,” in cases that ranged from drunk driving to manslaughter with defendants claiming they were not in control of themselves due to taking the drug.
How Addictive is Ambien?
Ambien abuse often leads to accidental addiction. It may begin innocently enough when taking the prescribed amount each night. As tolerance begins to raise within a couple of weeks, a user may increase their dose, or take it earlier than directed. Due to the amnesia side effect, it is possible to forget and take another. While most doctors are more hesitant at writing prescriptions for any sedative-hypnotic drug, there are some who still write prescriptions beyond the recommended two weeks, which can easily lead to physical dependence.
Often patients don’t realize they are addicted to Ambien until it’s too late. Tolerance to the drug builds up quickly, so the user may be accustomed to the feelings that come with using it.
It also turns out that Ambien can make you high—really high. Some describe it as a euphoria that allows a person to rise above all inhibitions and insecurities.
In the end, it turns out that Ambien is addictive, and it’s more common than most people would admit. Sadly, many people who use it never realize they are addicted until they try to stop. Knowing the signs of an addiction to Ambien may help save a life.
How to Tell If Someone Is Addicted to Ambien?
Some behaviors are apparent when someone is abusing Ambien. The following are signs that are telling of an addiction to Ambien (Zolpidem):
- Cravings for the drug
- Increased doses
- Become emotionally dependent on the effects of Ambien
- Running out of prescription too soon
- Doctor shopping to gather prescriptions
- Lying about running out to get more Ambien
- Purchasing Ambien illegally from dealers or online
Physical signs of addiction may appear as:
- Loss of coordination or balance
- Flu-like symptoms
- Dry mouth
- Stuffy nose
- Watery or red eyes
More severe side effects include:
- Vision distortions
- Being in a confused or dream-like state
- Suicidal thoughts
- Sleep walking
Watch for someone who may be displaying abnormal behavior. They may be succumbing to complex behavioral changes, or performing activities while asleep, as mentioned above.
Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal from Ambien can have physical and psychological effects. As the drug is no longer used, the body will begin to physically detox it from its system. This results in experiencing physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
Ambien withdrawal symptoms usually begin within 48 hours of the last dose, and it is during this stage that some people first realize they are addicted to zolpidem.
Physical withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Joint and muscle pain
Psychological effects of withdrawal may or may not appear during the first 48 hours. Some of these include mood swings, crying and depression.
Withdrawal symptoms may peak, or be at their worst, anywhere from days three to five. This is the most difficult phase of withdrawal and if use was heavy, oversight should be maintained in case of a seizure. After this period, withdrawal symptoms will subside, but will last from one to two weeks depending on the individual.
Due to the nature of Ambien’s effect on brain chemistry, more psychological symptoms may come and go throughout the entire course of withdrawal. Some of these may include:
- Depression or suicidal thoughts
Some people have been addicted to Ambien for much longer than a few weeks. In this case, they may experience what is known as PAWS, referring to post-acute-withdrawal-syndrome. It is also called protracted withdrawal and can last for a few weeks to a few months. Symptoms of protracted withdrawal from Ambien may come and go.
Ambien Addiction Treatment
Suddenly stopping any sedative-hypnotic drug is not recommended because it can cause rebound effects. Undergoing treatment at a professional facility will provide oversight for when severe symptoms arise. Professional intervention can also help uncover any co-occurring addictions or mental health disorders that may have led to zolpidem addiction.
Addiction treatment begins with physical detoxification. Because Ambien builds up in the body and changes brain chemistry, medical detoxification may be necessary. In this case, a replacement drug may be used to ease withdrawal symptoms and allow the brain to readjust. A replacement drug like quetiapine, an anti-psychotic drug that may be used to help the patient taper off from drug dependency. This medication has shown promise in alleviating zolpidem withdrawal symptoms.
After physical detoxification, recovery can begin. This may involve a variety of counseling sessions, psychotherapy, classes and behavioral therapies. They may be done at an inpatient or outpatient facility. Availability of services, physical location, insurance, or severity of the addiction can determine which option is best.
Inpatient Treatment Centers
Inpatient facilities may be the best option as they have the highest rate of success. In the case of Ambien, many psychological issues that were numbed due to the sleeping aid may arise. These issues may be difficult to deal with. An inpatient facility provides around-the-clock care to ensure the patient is provided with the best support and treatment to help them recover. This helps avoid relapse and greatly lowers the risk for an accidental overdose.
Outpatient Treatment Centers
Outpatient facilities for addiction treatment are geared towards patients who suffer from milder addictions and don’t require constant oversight. Outpatient facilities are a necessity for some who must work, have family commitments, or for those who prefer to be home.
During treatment, a person will work with an addiction specialist who can help set up a treatment plan. The patient may acquire their medications for physical detoxification at a hospital or the outpatient facility either daily or every few days.
After the detoxification, they may then return for scheduled therapies or counseling as recommended by an addiction specialist. Some people will use inpatient for the physical detoxification and then utilize the services of an outpatient facility to complete rehabilitation.
Recovery and rehabilitation are usually incorporated by both inpatient and outpatient facilities. They may include individual or group counseling, or both. Individual can help uncover history, behaviors, patterns of thought or psychological issues that led to addiction. Group therapies are important for many recovering addicts as they share struggles, successes and even advice on staying sober.
Specialized therapies are often used by both types of facilities. These are often research driven, proven therapies that have been used successfully for addiction recovery. Some are Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Contingency Management. Each method is proven to help with substance abuse, with slightly different variations.
If you or a loved one is addicted to Ambien, it important to get help soon. Checking into a quality treatment facility will ensure proper and successful recovery. Professional treatment can help make the process more manageable and it’s never too late to recover.
Northeast Addition Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.