Ambien Addiction Health Risks
Addiction to Ambien is a possibility for anyone who misuses this short-term insomnia medication. Any misuse of Ambien is risky because there is the potential for side effects as well as dependence. Side effects may include headaches, dizziness, gastrointestinal issues, and in some cases unusual, complicated behaviors while sleeping that can lead to very serious accidents. Ambien misuse can also cause an overdose, which may be fatal, especially when combined with other sedatives.
Ambien is a type of sedative that is prescribed to help people fall asleep, but it comes with risks and is not intended to be used for long periods of time. One of those risks is the potential for abuse and addiction. Misuse of Ambien can lead to a substance use disorder, which requires professional treatment to overcome.
The misuse of Ambien also poses risks for a number of other health issues. These include increased side effects, the risk of overdose, long-term health problems, and a rare but very serious side effect that causes people on Ambien to perform complicated tasks while asleep.
This can lead to accidents and injuries. Ambien abuse and addiction are very serious issues that can significantly impact health. Anyone struggling to stop using this drug should seek professional addiction support.
What Is Ambien?
Ambien is a brand name prescription drug made by French pharmaceutical company Sanofi. The generic name of the medication is zolpidem, and there are other manufacturers and brand names in addition to Ambien, including Edluar, Intermezzo, and Zolpimist. Ambien is prescribed as a sleep aid. It is approved as a short-term treatment only for insomnia that is characterized by an inability to initiate sleep. It does not help someone stay asleep.
Zolpidem belongs to the class of drugs called sedative-hypnotics. These are all central nervous system depressants, meaning they slow down activity in the brain. This has the effect of lowering heart rate and breathing and making a person feel drowsy, relaxed, and sleepy. Other drugs in this class are benzodiazepines, which are used to treat anxiety; barbiturates and quinazolinones, which are too risky to be used often; and melatonin, antihistamines, and some antidepressants.
Ambien Abuse and Addiction
Zolpidem and other drugs in its class of hypnotics are considered to have potential for abuse and dependence. The Drug Enforcement Administration has listed these drugs as schedule IV controlled substances for this reason. They are in the same schedule as benzodiazepines like Valium, Darvocet, and Xanax.
Any misuse of Ambien is considered abuse and puts an individual at risk for becoming dependent and developing a substance use disorder. Misuse includes taking larger doses than prescribed, using the drug for a prolonged period of time after a doctor has directed it be discontinued, taking doses more frequently, or using someone else’s prescription.
A substance use disorder involving Ambien is characterized by using more of the drug than intended, spending a lot of time using it, not doing other activities because of drug use, and continuing to use it in spite of problems it causes. A more severe dependence is characterized by developing a tolerance to the drug and being unable to stop using it because of withdrawal symptoms. Potential withdrawal symptoms caused by Ambien include low mood, insomnia, muscle cramps, sweating, vomiting, tremors, and convulsions.
The Risk of Side Effects
In addition to the problem of addiction itself, abusing Ambien can increase the risk of experiencing side effects and may also increase their severity. The most common side effects are not necessarily serious, but there is a possibility that some of these can be harmful to health and dangerous:
- Feeling drugged
- Poor balance and coordination
- Stomach pain
- Shaking and tremors
- Changes in appetite
- Muscle aches and cramps
- Burning or tingling in arms, legs, hands, or feet
- Dry mouth
- Ear ringing
- Back and neck pain
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
One of the strangest and most troubling possible side effects of Ambien is also rare and dangerous. Someone who is abusing or has become dependent on Ambien is at a greater risk of experiencing this side effect and being injured or hurt in some way as a result. The packaging of Ambien comes with a warning that it can cause abnormal thinking, complex behaviors, and unusual behavioral changes.
These unusual behaviors can be almost anything, but most noteworthy is that some people on Ambien have completed very complex tasks while asleep, including driving vehicles, preparing meals, making phone calls, and having conversations without remembering any of it once awake. Other effects that have been reported or observed include lowered inhibitions, extraversion, aggression, hallucinations, amnesia, anxiety, and depression.
These particular side effects may occur in anyone using Ambien, from someone using it for the first time to a heavy, dependent user. The more a person uses the drug, though, the greater their chances of experiencing one of these troubling side effects. The changes in behavior and mood and the psychotic symptoms can contribute to mental health issues and cause damage to relationships. The complex behaviors, completed while asleep, have the potential to be very dangerous and could lead to accidents that cause injuries or even fatalities.
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The most serious risk of becoming dependent on or abusing Ambien is having a fatal overdose. Taking too much of this drug at once can be toxic and lead to death if not treated immediately. The amount that will cause an overdose or death varies by individual. The greater tolerance a person has developed, the larger dose it will take to trigger overdose. It is important to know that any misuse of Ambien, even the first time doing so, can potentially lead to an overdose.
Signs of overdose on Ambien include extreme drowsiness, slowed breathing, a slowed heart rate, and loss of consciousness or unresponsiveness. An overdose can be treated and, if medical care is administered in time, a fatality can be avoided. Treatment may include administering fluids, emptying the stomach, using life support measures, monitoring vital signs, and medications when appropriate.
Combining with Other Depressants
The risk of experiencing an overdose, and of dying, increases when Ambien is combined with any other central nervous system depressant. Someone who is abusing or who is addicted to Ambien is more likely to combine the drug with other substances. Other depressants that are extremely dangerous to use with Ambien include alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium.
The depressant effects of all of these substance are additive. They all cause heart rate and breathing to slow down, so when more than one is used that effect is increased. The combination of two or more depressant drugs can cause respiration to slow to the point that a person actually stops breathing. This can happen with just one type of depressant, but it happens more easily and more quickly when they are used in combination.
Long-Term Health Risks of Ambien
The long-term health effects of using Ambien have been investigated in a few studies. This is supposed to be a short-term treatment, so anyone who is abusing Ambien is at risk for these long-term problems. One study found that higher doses of Ambien were associated with an increased risk of developing epilepsy, a seizure disorder. Another study connected Ambien use to an increased risk of development of Parkinson’s disease, a serious neurological condition.
Yet another study has linked the use of Ambien to an increased risk of death. Researchers followed 10,000 people, some who used Ambien and similar sleeping aids and others who did not. During the time period of the study, 1 percent of non-users died, while 6 percent of users died. When other factors were controlled for, this significant difference still existed. The researchers have no explanation for the results but guess that it may be related to accidents caused by impairment or interactions with other drugs.
Treating Ambien Addiction
The health risks of misusing and becoming dependent on Ambien are very serious. From unpleasant side effects to sleep activities to a fatal overdose, there are many ways in which abusing Ambien can have lasting consequences for health. Treatment for addiction can help anyone learn to stop misusing substances, especially when care is tailored to individuals and involves a range of types of treatment that address all of a person’s needs.
Residential treatment is common for substance use disorders because it provides a safe place to get treated for a long period of time, preparing individuals to make big life changes. Treatment may include various types of therapy, medical care, holistic treatments, alternative therapies, group and family support, and diagnosis and management of any additional mental or physical health problems. With a personalized approach and a range of treatment strategies, someone who is struggling with Ambien addiction can learn to stop, while also minimizing the health risks associated with this prescription drug.