Sleep disorders can have a significant effect on your life and well-being. A good night’s sleep can set the tone for the following day, but a healthy sleep schedule is also important for healing and staving off disease. Sleep problems such as insomnia are one of the most common ailments that Americans face, affecting as much as a third of adults in the U.S. Since the late 1800s, doctors and researchers have been exploring the use of psychoactive substances to remedy insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Insomnia is often related to an overactive central nervous system that prevents your brain and body from relaxing when it’s time to rest. Drugs in the central nervous system (CNS) depressant category can be used to correct that issue by suppressing and regulating nervous system activity. Medications like barbiturates and benzodiazepines were used throughout the 20th century to calm your nerves. Today, non-benzodiazepine alternatives known as Z-drugs are among the latest depressant drugs created for this medicinal purpose.
Ambien is one of the most commonly prescribed Z-drugs in the United States, and it’s used for the short-term treatment of sleep disorders like insomnia. However, like other CNS depressants, it comes with several adverse side effects, including chemical dependence and addiction.
Ambien addiction is a significant threat to people who use the drug for too long. Even though it’s regulated and prescribed, Ambien can still be dangerous. If you or someone you know has been prescribed the sleep aid, learn more about Ambien addiction and how it can be treated.
What is Ambien?
Ambien is the trade name for a drug called zolpidem that is used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. Although its effects are similar to benzodiazepines, its chemical structure is distinct, placing it in a category known as non-benzodiazepine Z-drugs. These medications are primarily used for their sedative and hypnotic effects. Ambien is often used in sleep disorders like insomnia that prevent people from falling asleep. Because it has a relatively short half-life, its effects wear off after a few hours. So, it has not proven to help people stay asleep longer like other sleep aids.
Ambien works in the brain in a way that’s similar to other CNS depressants. It primarily affects a naturally occurring neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA. The drug binds to GABA receptors to increase the neurotransmitter’s effectiveness. GABA is responsible for regulating nervous system excitability and helping you calm down and relax when it’s time to rest.
As a depressant, Ambien can cause intoxication and even euphoria in a way that is similar to alcohol. In some circumstances, especially when it’s abused, Ambien can cause dizziness, lethargy, lightheadedness, loss of motor control, slurred speech, and other symptoms that mimic drunkenness. Adverse effects are more pronounced in people over age 65, and it’s generally recommended for older people to seek other alternatives.
Ambien can cause dependency in senior adults and when people use the drug for longer than directed. Negative side effects, including overdose, can be pronounced when the drug is mixed with alcohol, other depressants, and opioids.
What Are Signs of Ambien Addiction?
If you have been using Ambien, and you are worried that you might be developing a substance use disorder, there are a few signs that may mean you should seek help or speak to your doctor. The first sign that drug use is becoming a problem is a growing tolerance. Tolerance is when your brain starts to become used to Ambien in your system. It may adapt by balancing brain chemistry with its own excitatory chemicals. As this happens, it may feel like your normal dose is becoming weaker over time. Compensating by taking stronger or more frequent doses might increase your risk of developing a physical dependence on the drug.
Dependence occurs when your nervous system stops making some of its own chemicals and starts to rely on the drug to maintain brain chemistry. If you stop using the drug or cut back, you can start to feel uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia, anxiety, panic, tremors, and even seizures. If you stop abruptly, you can experience a condition called delirium tremens (DTs), which can be deadly without medical treatment.
If You Are Worried About a Loved One’s Ambien Use, Friends And Family Members May Notice Behavioral Signs, Including:
- An alcohol-like intoxication
- Hangover symptoms
- Mood swings
- Shaky hands
- Poor work or school performance
- Trying and failing to stop using
- Legal issues like DUI
A substance use disorder can become an addiction when drug use becomes compulsive to the point in which a person continues to use despite the consequences. If drugs are negatively affecting your health, social life, mental health, or finances, and you still can’t quit, you might need help overcoming an addiction.
How Dangerous is Ambien?
Ambien is a prescription drug that is strictly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but that doesn’t mean it’s harmless. It has a high addiction liability. If you become dependent, it can cause serious withdrawal symptoms like seizure and delirium tremens, which can be deadly without medical intervention. Plus, intoxication can cause symptoms similar to drunkenness, which is dangerous when operating machinery or driving a vehicle.
Ambien is at its most dangerous when it is mixed with other drugs. Ambien is less toxic than some other sleep aids used in the past, such as those in the barbiturate class. However, when combined with alcohol, other depressants, or opioids, Ambien can cause an overdose that leads to respiratory depression, coma, or death. Most of the overdoses involving Ambien also involved some other drug.
How Does Ambien Addiction Treatment Work?
Substance use disorders have a wide range of severity form drug abuse to serious addiction. Plus, there is a wide range of underlying factors that can contribute to a substance use problem and need to be addressed. Because addiction is so complex, it’s vital to the success of addiction treatment that your clinicians help to individualize your therapy experience.
When you enter a treatment program, you will sit down with a therapist and go through an assessment process. In many cases, this process will involve what is called a biopsychosocial assessment, which is designed to gauge your biological, psychological, and sociological needs.
After this assessment, you will be placed in a level of care that is appropriate for your needs. Although, if you have extremely urgent needs, you may be treated and stabilized before being fully assessed. Since Ambien is a CNS depressant, it can cause potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. To avoid serious medical complications, treatment may start with medical detox.
Also called medically managed intensive inpatient service, medical detox involves 24 hours of care every day for about a week. During that time, you may be treated with medications that will help avoid dangerous complications and alleviate uncomfortable symptoms.
After detox, you may continue your treatment at a level of care that’s appropriate for your needs. This can include inpatient residential services, intensive outpatient, and outpatient services. Addiction treatment can involve a variety of therapy options like individual therapy, group sessions, family therapy, and a range of behavioral therapies. Cognitive behavioral therapy is among the most commonly recommended therapy options. It involves helping you to identify triggers, develop positive coping skills, and creating a relapse prevention plan.