Zolpidem (Ambien) Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options
Zolpidem can cause dangerous behavior, negative health effects, and addiction. These risks increase if a person takes the drug outside of prescription limitations.
Though zolpidem (Ambien) is thought to have a low potential for abuse, many people are misusing it and experiencing negative mental and physical effects. A common form of misuse is taking zolpidem to experience euphoric effects rather than to sleep. This has been linked to a variety of consequences, most notably bizarre behavior, and amnesia.
What Is Zolpidem?
Zolpidem, branded as Ambien, is one of several “z-drugs” used for short-term treatment of insomnia, or difficulty sleeping. Z-drugs are classified as nonbenzodiazepines — different in chemical structure from benzodiazepines, but affecting the same area of the brain.
Similar to benzodiazepine drugs like temazepam (Restoril) and flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), zolpidem is a sedative/hypnotic substance that depresses the central nervous system, allowing someone to relax more fully. When taken as directed, it decreases the amount of time it takes for someone to fall asleep.
The extended-release form of zolpidem enters the body more slowly, for people who have trouble staying asleep all night. This version, Ambien CR, is a round blue pill with an outer coating that delays the drug’s effects. The standard form of Ambien comes as an oval white pill. Zolpidem may also be prescribed as an oral spray, called Zolpimist.
Signs And Symptoms Of Zolpidem (Ambien) Abuse And Addiction
Though zolpidem is only prescribed for a short time, someone may take more than the recommended dosage in order to sleep better and longer. They may keep taking it beyond the prescribed time frame as well. Using any medication outside of the prescription limitations is considered substance abuse.
The longer a person takes zolpidem and the higher the doses, the more likely they are to build a tolerance, meaning they need more of it in order to get the same effect. This can easily turn into a mental dependence (addiction).
It is possible that someone is addicted to zolpidem (Ambien) if they:
- visit multiple doctors in order to obtain several prescriptions (called “doctor shopping”)
- take pills from someone else’s prescription
- mix zolpidem with other substances, such as alcohol
- take zolpidem and purposefully stay awake to experience a euphoric sensation
- continue taking zolpidem even though it has negative effects on health and lifestyle
Someone who is addicted to using zolpidem as a sleep aid believes that they cannot sleep without it. People who abuse zolpidem in order to get high may begin to crave the drug and go to great lengths to obtain it. Poor performance at work or school, financial difficulties, and secretive behavior may all be indicators of uncontrolled drug use.
When any substance is taken in excess, the risk of negative consequences increases. The most common side effects of zolpidem are daytime drowsiness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, and amnesia.
The drug label advises people against taking zolpidem if they have less than seven to eight hours to sleep, as the effects may not have worn off by morning. It also warns against driving and other activities that require complete focus. These cautions, however, do not prevent people from sleep activity.
People taking zolpidem have been reported to do strange things in their sleep, such as eat, drive, and have sex. Often, they have no memory of the event when they wake. This is very dangerous, as it can occur even when zolpidem is taken as recommended and is nearly impossible to control.
Some people have blamed zolpidem for their actions, claiming that they were in a mental fog and did not realize what they were doing. The “Ambien defense” has been used in murder trials and social media scams. While the validity of these claims is still in question, bizarre sleep behavior is indeed a side effect of zolpidem that may be worsened by excessive use.
Other consequences of zolpidem abuse may include:
- decreased alertness
- increased insomnia
- blurred or double vision
- thinking or behaving abnormally
- decreased inhibition
- aggressiveness, agitation or anxiety
- visual and auditory hallucinations
- difficulty breathing
- swelling of throat and tongue that may block an airway
- worsened depression or suicidal thoughts
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Dangers Of Zolpidem Abuse And Addiction
Zolpidem (Ambien) is not widely thought to be addictive or dangerous. Reports of misuse are common when it comes to benzodiazepines or opioids, but sleep medications are often overlooked. However, given the amnesiac properties and uncontrollable behaviors, zolpidem can cause just as many problems as other abused substances.
Many people drink alcohol with zolpidem, which can drastically increase the risk of complication. When someone uses a sleep medication with other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines or opioids, their heart rate and breathing may be lowered to life-threatening levels.
Even without mixing substances, it is possible to overdose on zolpidem. Some people take the drug by crushing and chewing or snorting it, which can get it into their system faster and cause it to build up more quickly if taken in excess. The result may range from heavy sleepiness to coma and cardiovascular or respiratory failure.
Zolpidem Withdrawal And Detoxification
When someone is dependent on a substance, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking it. This can make it very hard to break away from an addiction or substance abuse.
Withdrawal symptoms associated with zolpidem include:
- insomnia and fatigue
- abdominal and muscle cramps
- nausea and vomiting
- sweating or flushing
- tremors or convulsions
- uncontrolled crying
- panic attacks
Many addiction treatment programs begin with detoxification to clean an abused substance out of someone’s system before they begin rehabilitation. Detox can be very difficult to undergo alone, as the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms are likely to drive someone back to the drug.
Medically supervised detox programs help with this by monitoring a person’s vital functions and providing medication if needed to ensure they are safe and reasonably comfortable during withdrawal. Once the drug is no longer in a person’s body, they can begin treatment for their substance use disorder.
Treatment For Zolpidem (Ambien) Addiction
There are no medications approved for treating addiction to sleeping medications like zolpidem (Ambien). Instead, addiction treatment programs use a variety of therapies that address issues related to substance abuse and aim to heal the whole person.
Drug rehab programs may treat zolpidem abuse and addiction with individual counseling, group therapy, addiction education and coping techniques. Cognitive- or dialectical-behavioral therapies are often used to help people struggling with substance abuse to make healthier choices by reframing their thoughts and behavior.
Inpatient addiction treatment is beneficial for many people struggling with zolpidem addiction. It requires a person to live in a substance-free community away from the daily stress that likely contributes to their substance abuse. A new environment can make all the difference in helping someone develop more positive relationships and a better quality of life.
Contact us to learn more about zolpidem abuse, addiction and treatment options.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration — Questions and Answers: Risk of next-morning impairment after use of insomnia drugs…
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: DailyMed — Label: Ambien
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Zolpidem