To some who struggle to fall asleep, Ambien can provide much-needed relief—yet for others, it can turn into a downward spiral. Zolpidem, the active ingredient in Ambien, produces fewer side effects than other sleep aids, which is generally seen as preferable. But this can be a double-edged sword, especially since Ambien sometimes provides a pleasurable sensation. This combination can lead to addiction—and often the only way to reclaim one’s health is to seek help.
Side Effects of Ambien
Even when taken as prescribed, Ambien can cause a lot of problems for a person. People often report sleepwalking, sleep talking, making and eating food, having sex, and “sleep driving.” For instance, listen to this one girl’s tale of her night out in a new city on the Huffington Post. She had taken Ambien to go to sleep and woke up having no idea what happened over the course of the night. Her story isn’t the only one.
Other side effects of Ambien include:
- Agitation, irritability
- Abnormal thoughts or behaviors
- Worsens depression
- Increase of suicidal thoughts
- Anxiety, panic
These negative effects can be compounded with the use of other drugs and alcohol. These substances can escalate the side effects, causing a person to become even more erratic in behavior and less cognizant of their own actions. While some side effects like sleepwalking and sleep eating seem to be more of a sleep-related problem, many of these effects noted seem to take on dissociative properties, almost as if a person is in a fugue state.
The increasing popularity of Ambien prescriptions and the subsequent likelihood for abuse (especially if taken longer than recommended) correlates to Ambien-related emergency room visits. In a span of five years, from 2005 to 2010, emergency room visits due to Ambien more than tripled (6,111 in 2005 to 19,487 in 2010), according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Spotting an Ambien Addiction
Between 50 and 70 million American adults suffer from some form of sleep disorderaccording to the CDC, with Ambien being one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for treatment. Because it’s possible to function well in daytime while taking Ambien at night, it’s easy to start abusing Ambien—but sooner or later consequences will manifest.
People with a history of drug addiction and those under emotional stress are particularly susceptible to Ambien abuse. Addiction can be spurred by losing one’s job, relationship conflicts, or other traumatic or stressful events. If someone you love has been taking Ambien for longer than originally prescribed, refuses to stop the drug, or has lost interest in their usual activities, they might be suffering from addiction.
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Symptoms of an Ambien Addiction
There are multiple symptoms related to Ambien abuse, but you’ll probably need to look closely to spot them. Some people become addicted to the drug’s high, and start taking it recreationally during the day; they might snort it to increase the effect. Others develop a tolerance by taking it for too long and become dependent upon a higher dosage to attain the same results. In between taking the drug, your loved one might experience withdrawal symptoms like dizziness, irritability, fatigue, cravings, nausea, and hand tremors. Similarly, they might be unreasonably preoccupied with getting Ambien—or buying it on the street. This can all lead up to an Ambien overdose, which is extremely dangerous and can even be life-threatening.
After a few days, the effects of Ambien seem to linger even though it has a relatively short half-life (meaning it leaves the body relatively quickly). After one to two days of stopping Ambien use, people often cite:
- Uncontrollable crying
- Insomnia (in some cases worse than the insomnia that was initially treated by Ambien)
- Stomach pain and cramps
- Panic, anxiety
- Nausea, vomiting
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The Importance of Treatment
When someone you love is abusing Ambien, the journey back to health can be incredibly challenging. The detox process of coming off the drug can be extremely dangerous, depending on the level and length of abuse. It’s critical to undergo medically supervised detoxificationwithin a safe environment like a residential treatment program, with doctors on-call to ensure your loved one is in good hands.
Getting to the root of your loved one’s addiction requires finding the underlying cause of it. Any mental health problems or co-occurring disorders related to the addiction must be identified and treated in order to heal. This can be successfully achieved through dual-diagnosis programs that use a combination of holistic and evidence-based approaches—including experiential therapy, spiritual workshops, talk therapy, and community—to truly understand the person behind the addiction. Recovering from Ambien abuse is no easy feat, but it’s certainly possible with the help of a professional and compassionate team.