What is Ambien?
Ambien is the brand name of zolpidem. Ambien is sold as a sleeping aid and is designed to help those with insomnia. The drug is only available with a doctor’s prescription. Ambien should be used as prescribed and only by the person for whom it is prescribed.
Ambien is usually not addictive if taken as directed. However, long-term use can lead to dependence, where some find they cannot sleep without taking it.
How Ambien Works
Ambien is classified as a sedative-hypnotic drug, which works in a similar way to benzodiazepines or barbiturates, while not causing as much susceptibility to dependence and addiction. It works by slowing down the nervous system to induce sleep.
Part of the reason why Ambien can be habit-forming is that there can be a rebound effect, causing even more severe insomnia the night after taking the drug. The rebound effect increases dependence on the drug since it becomes more and more difficult to sleep without it.
It is dangerous to mix Ambien with alcohol, benzos, or barbiturates because it may depress breathing and intensify the drug’s effects.
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Understanding Ambien Abuse & Addiction
The drug’s manufacturer advertises that it is a non-addictive sleeping medication and a good alternative to other sleeping medications that are known for being addictive. But while it is true that Ambien may not be addictive for most people when taken as prescribed, it can be addictive when misused. Many regular users of Ambien find that they become tolerant to the drug’s effects so that more of it is needed for them to get the same effect, i.e. sleep. Taking more Ambien than prescribed or mixing it with other drugs and/or alcohol can be dangerous and can increase dependence on the drug.
Most people who misuse Ambien do so by taking a dose several times stronger than prescribed to obtain a high. There are cases, however, of people who initially became addicted by using it as directed. While rare, this can occur, and typically occurs with people who have previously experienced a substance misuse disorder.
While some people can develop an addiction to just Ambien, the drug is also commonly combined with other substances. Some people combine Ambien with alcohol or opioids in an attempt to boost their effects. Not only does combining these drugs raise the risk of serious health effects like experiencing an overdose, but it also increases the potential for an addiction to develop.
Signs of Ambien Misuse
Ambien abuse can occur on its own, or even more frequently when Ambien is combined with other substances, such as alcohol. Whenever someone uses Ambien outside of how it’s prescribed or without a prescription, it can be considered abuse. Other signs of Ambien abuse are:
- Taking Ambien only for certain effects, such as relaxation
- Continuing to use Ambien even when it leads to negative effects
- Using Ambien for longer than prescribed
- Using larger doses of Ambien than prescribed
- Doctor shopping for prescriptions
- Trying to hide Ambien use
- Withdrawal symptoms if Ambien isn’t used
- Memory loss
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of coordination
- Muscle weakness
People struggling with Ambien misuse or addiction should consider seeking professional help. Addiction, if ignored, can severely impact a person’s health. Contact The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake to learn about how treatment programs can help address addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.
Some users even crush and snort Ambien pills to get a stronger effect from the drug, which is a sure sign that abuse is occurring. Other symptoms of Ambien abuse may look similar to alcohol intoxication and may also include using Ambien recreationally, having withdrawal symptoms, or repeatedly failing to cut back on using the drug.
Some users may have episodes of sleepwalking or eating in their sleep even with normal use. Hallucinations are sometimes reported by those who are abusing Ambien.
Immediate Effects of Ambien Use
Ambien is classified as a sedative-hypnotic drug, usually only prescribed to treat insomnia for one to two weeks and no more. Before someone takes Ambien, they should have enough time to get a full night’s sleep of at least 7 to 8 hours.
If someone has to wake up before a full sleep period, they may experience memory loss or have trouble doing things that require them to be alert. Ambien side effects may include:
- Daytime drowsiness
- Memory loss
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Performing activities while not fully awake — sometimes these activities can be dangerous such as “sleep-driving”
- Dry mouth
- New or worsening depression
- Odd dreams
Long-Term Side Effects of Ambien
Are there long-term side effects of Ambien? Addiction and dependence are two possible long-term side effects of Ambien use. If someone develops an Ambien dependence, withdrawal symptoms may occur if they stop using it. Other possible long-term side effects of Ambien include digestive problems and chronic fatigue, as well as headaches.
Ambien Side Effects in Men
Many of the side effects of Ambien are the same in men and women. But are there certain Ambien side effects in men only?
Some doctors believe Ambien may cause or worsen erectile dysfunction in men. This issue is possible, especially if Ambien is combined with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol or opioids.
Ambien Side Effects in Women
What about the side effects of Ambien in women? Recently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a recommended change in how women are prescribed Ambien. The FDA recommends lower doses of Ambien for patients, and especially women. Ambien effects in women can include daytime impairment as well as an increased risk of activities like sleep-driving.
Ambien Withdrawal & Detox
Withdrawal symptoms from Ambien use include mood swings or uncontrollable crying, nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, flushing, seizures, and of course, trouble sleeping.
It is important to be monitored when stopping the use of Ambien because of the possibility of seizures and other dangerous effects. In many cases, the Ambien is tapered off slowly to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms, and sometimes a drug with similar effects but less severe withdrawal symptoms are given in place of the Ambien and then tapered off.
In the case of an Ambien overdose, flumazenil has been used to block the dangerous depressant effects of the drug and reverse the overdose.
Finding Help for Ambien Addiction in Colorado
Treatment for Ambien abuses includes therapy methods like cognitive behavioral therapy and lifestyle changes like exercise, which can help reduce stress levels so that sleep will come more naturally to those affected. Having a sleep routine, avoiding caffeine later in the day, and avoiding alcohol and smoking are also recommended for those with insomnia after Ambien abuse.
Dual diagnosis treatments for co-occurring mental health conditions that may have contributed to insomnia and Ambien abuse are also part of treatment.
If you or a loved one live with Ambien addiction, help is available. The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake offers treatment programs that address addiction and co-occurring disorders. You deserve a healthier future, call today.
We can help answer your questions and talk through any concerns.
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Pietrangelo, A. “Can Ambien Cause Erectile Dysfunction?” Healthline, September 17, 2018. Accessed June 10, 2021.
Peters, B. “Ambien Side Effects on Memory and Behavior.” Verywell Health, January 9, 2020. Accessed June 10, 2021.
Heydari, M., and Mohsen Saberi Isfeedvajani. “Zolpidem dependence, abuse and withdrawal: A case report.” Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 2013. Accessed June 10, 2021.
Harding, A. “Can You Become Addicted to Ambien?” Health, February 29, 2016. Accessed June 10, 2021.
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The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.