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Ambien Addiction: Signs, Risks, and How to Get Help

Around 70 million Americans struggle with chronic sleep issues.1 Sleep deprivation can lead to several issues such as chronic disease, mental illness, decreased work performance, and increased risk of injury.1

Central nervous system (CNS) depressants like Ambien are often prescribed to treat sleep disorders.2 Although a doctor may prescribe a person CNS depressants, long-term use can lead to tolerance.2 This means that a person needs a higher or more frequent dose to get the same effects they did previously.2 Ambien, like other CNS depressants, can lead to substance use disorder (SUD) or Ambien addiction.2

If you or someone you know are worried about Ambien misuse, this page discusses the risks, signs, and symptoms of Ambien addiction as well as Ambien addiction treatment options.

What Is Ambien?

CNS depressants are a group of drugs that include hypnotics, sedatives, and tranquilizers.2 They act by increasing inhibitory brain activity and are prescribed to treat anxiety, panic, or sleep disorders.2 Different types of CNS depressants are prescribed by doctors for different issues.2 For example, while tranquilizers are used to treat anxiety, hypnotics and sedatives like Ambien (also known by its generic name, zolpidem) are prescribed to treat insomnia and induce sleep.2

Most CNS depressants largely act by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity in the brain.2 GABA is a chemical that inhibits brain activity, causing a relaxing effect as well as drowsiness.2

Ambien has a short half-life and is quickly absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract.3 It’s often prescribed for short-term use (around 10 days to up to 4 weeks), typically in 5 mg or 10 mg oral doses, and is available in either immediate or extended-release forms.3, 4

Long-term use of a CNS depressant like Ambien can lead to tolerance and dependence, even when prescribed by a doctor.2 When tolerance occurs, a person will require a higher dose to experience the desired effect of induced sleep and reduced sleep latency. A person with dependence may experience withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly reduce or stop taking the drug.2 Medically supervised detox can benefit people struggling with addiction to a CNS depressant like Ambien to help ensure comfort and safety.2

When used regularly or at higher doses than prescribed, a person is more likely to experience tolerance and dependence, as well as addiction. Because of its high potential for misuse, Ambien is typically not recommended as a first-line treatment for most people.3

CNS depressants like Ambien have additive effects with other sedatives, hypnotics, and tranquilizers (including benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium, as well as alcohol).5 Taking Ambien in combination with other CNS depressants, as well as with opioid painkillers, increases the risk of next-day impairment, abnormal behavior changes, and dependency.6 Combining these substances can also lead to a life-threatening overdose where a person stops breathing.7

Is Ambien Addictive?

Yes, using or misusing prescription CNS depressants like Ambien can lead to problem use and the development of a substance use disorder (SUD), which occurs when a person’s recurrent, uncontrollable use of a substance causes significant negative physical, occupational, or social consequences.2

People can become addicted to Ambien by taking the drug for prolonged periods, or by misusing the drug. Misuse includes taking more than prescribed, taking someone else’s prescription, or taking Ambien to get high.2

People who misuse prescription CNS depressants might swallow pills in their typical form or sometimes open capsules or crush pills.2

Risks of Ambien

Ambien use comes with several potential adverse side effects. Most common adverse effects include:3, 4

  • Drowsiness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Feeling drugged or dizzy the next day.

Complex behaviors while not fully awake have also been known to occur, including sleep-driving, sleepwalking, and others. The risk of experiencing these behaviors increases with the dose taken and use with other CNS depressants and alcohol.5

In rare cases, anaphylaxis, including swelling of the glottis, larynx, and tongue, has occurred after a person’s first or subsequent doses of Ambien. When this occurs, it is important to tell your doctor and seek emergency care, as some patients have had additional symptoms such as shortness of breath, throat closing or nausea, and vomiting.5

It is not recommended for people with depression to take Ambien as it can worsen their symptoms and can increase suicidal actions and ideation.3, 5 Because Ambien has a very high potential for misuse or dependence, it is also not recommended for those with a history of drug misuse.3, 5 Overdose is also a risk, as extreme CNS depression from zolpidem can lead to cognitive impairments, coma, cardiovascular and respiratory depression, and death.3, 5

What Are the Signs of Ambien Misuse and Addiction?

If you are concerned that you or someone you care about may be misusing Ambien or addicted to Ambien, knowing what signs to look for can help.

In clinical settings, sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorders are professionally diagnosed based on a person presenting 2 or more characteristic signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes within 12 months. As outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), these criteria include:8

  • Taking the drug in larger amounts than intended.
  • Wanting to stop using the drug but being unsuccessful in doing so.
  • Spending a significant amount of time obtaining the drug or recovering from its effects.
  • Craving or experiencing strong urges to use the drug.
  • Failing to fulfill home, school, or work obligations due to drug use.
  • Continued to use the drug despite interpersonal problems caused by drug use.
  • Giving up important activities in favor of drug use.
  • Partaking in physically hazardous situations due to drug use.
  • Continuing to use the drug despite the knowledge that physical or psychological problems are likely being caused or worsened by drug use.
  • Tolerance development, marked by an increased amount needed to gain desired effects or a notably diminished effect from using the same amount previously used. (This criterion does not apply to prescription use under medical supervision.)
  • Withdrawal, as shown by withdrawal symptoms or taking the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms. (This criterion also does not apply to prescription use under medical supervision.)

Getting Better Sleep Without Ambien

Sleep is as important as food or water to the body.9 Without it, we lessen our ability to form and maintain the neural pathways in the brain that help us learn new things and create memories.8, Lack of sleep also negatively affects our attention and focus.8 A chronic lack of quality sleep has been shown to increase the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, obesity, and more.9

Fortunately, there are many ways to support healthy sleep that do not include taking medication, including:10

  • Removing electronic devices like computers, smartphones, and televisions from your bedroom.
  • Keeping your bedroom dark, relaxing, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Keeping a consistent bedtime, even on weekends.
  • Avoiding large meals as well as alcohol or caffeine before sleep.
  • Getting physical exercise during daytime hours to help you fall asleep more easily at bedtime.

Getting Help for Ambien Addiction

If you or a loved one are struggling with Ambien misuse or addiction, help is available. Several treatment options and settings are available for Ambien addiction, including detox, inpatient rehab, and outpatient rehab programs.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of evidence-based addiction treatment across the U.S. Our admissions navigators are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when you contact . We can help you verify your insurance, navigate your coverage, and find out what Ambien addiction treatment programs may be best for you.

 

 

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