Ambien Addiction and Abuse

Ambien is a powerful sedative prescribed to people suffering from acute insomnia. Users can become addicted if they use Ambien longer than two weeks or at higher than prescribed doses.

Addiction to Ambien

Ambien is in a class of drugs known as sedative-hypnotics. This non-benzodiazepine “z-drug” has the same medical effectiveness as benzodiazepines like Xanax without the same hazardous and habit-forming properties those drugs are known for. The makers of Ambien designed and marketed the drug as a less addictive alternative to benzos for people with acute insomnia.

An addiction to this drug can form in as little as two weeks. Many people don’t know they have a problem until they stop taking the drug and realize they cannot sleep without it.

The presence of withdrawal symptoms is one of the main signs of an addiction. Signs of an Ambien addiction include:

  • Refilling prescriptions unusually often
  • Repeatedly taking larger doses than prescribed
  • Experiencing cravings for Ambien
  • Engaging in dangerous situations without any memory of them later
  • Spending large amounts of money on the drug
  • Isolating oneself from family and friends

Most Ambien addictions begin with a simple case of short-term insomnia. Ambien becomes less and less effective after taking it for more than a couple weeks. Some users underestimate the addictive potential of Ambien because it’s prescribed by a doctor and they only use it to help them sleep.

“Before long I needed to take a pill every night. If I tried to fall asleep naturally, I would have what’s called “rebound insomnia,” meaning I would be up all night as a result of taking the drug the night before.” – Writer and former Ambien addict Laurie Sandell, Glamour, 2008

What Is Ambien (Zolpidem)?

Ambien is the brand name of Zolpidem. It is primarily prescribed as a temporary treatment for insomnia.

Ambien is a schedule IV controlled substance. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), this means people aren’t likely to use it recreationally. Despite this, many users have abused the drug for its euphoric and hallucinatory effects.

Ambien is taken by mouth as a small, oblong tablet or as an extended-release tablet. Some people may crush up the pills and snort them to get a stronger effect.

Ambien was primarily marketed as an alternative to benzodiazepines, like Halcion, which were coming under public scrutiny for their addictive potential and other side effects. The makers of Ambien claimed their drug was safer and less addictive.

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Signs of Ambien Use

Many people taking Ambien don’t realize how quickly they can become dependent on the drug.

It may be difficult to recognize when someone is abusing Ambien because it may seem like they are just taking their medication as prescribed. Continued Ambien use often results in tolerance, or needing a larger dose to feel the drug’s effects. As someone’s tolerance increases, they may start taking more than one pill to fall asleep. They may also exhibit unusual behavior without having memory of their actions.

Some of the signs of Ambien abuse include:

  • Uninhibited sociability and talkativeness
  • Frequent blackouts
  • Strange behavior with no memory
  • Sleepwalking or sleep activities
  • Hypersexual behavior
  • Impaired coordination and balance

Dangers of Ambien (Zolpidem)

Ambien is designed to calm the mind and body to induce sleep for people struggling with insomnia. In lower doses, Ambien is an effective medication. When taken at higher doses, however, it can produce a number of unpleasant side effects.

  • Anxiety
  • Blackouts
  • Jaundice
  • Mood swings
  • Shallow breath
  • Liver dysfunction

Many Ambien users have reported strange and disturbing side effects from the drug. Some of these effects involve users going from a sleeping state to engaging in complicated activities without any recollection of their actions.

Sleep Activities on Ambien

  • Sleepwalking
  • Making and eating food
  • Having sex
  • Driving
  • Talking on the phone

“I’d wake up to find in my bed cheese and crackers and a sharp knife on a plate (hey, at least I was classy). One morning I wandered into the kitchen to make coffee and discovered a pot of soup over an open flame on the stove. I had no idea how it got there.” – Former Ambien addict and writer Laurie Sandell, Glamour, 2008

Ambien Hallucinations

When people take Ambien and either its effects aren’t strong enough or they force themselves to stay awake, many have strange hallucinations. Hallucinations range from thinking someone is in the room with them to believing inanimate objects are moving or talking.

“Adverse effects such as hallucinations and psychosis have been reported, particularly with [Ambien]. Increasing reports of bizarre and complex behavioral effects from z-drugs have prompted regulatory agencies to issue warnings and restrictions on prescribing, dispensing, and using z-drugs.” – Addiction specialist Dr. Michael F. Weaver, Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 2015

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Recognizing an Addiction to Ambien

Even people using Ambien appropriately may become addicted to it over time. Some users get so used to Ambien’s effects that they become unable to fall asleep without it. This is a strong indication that an addiction has formed.

Behaviors that may indicate an addiction to Ambien include:

  • Seeing more than one doctor for prescriptions
  • Spending a lot of time and/or money trying to acquire Ambien
  • Trying and failing to cut down on Ambien use
  • Continuing to use Ambien despite dangerous actions like sleep-driving
  • Frequent issues at work (e.g. absences, poor performance, etc.)

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawing from Ambien is difficult partly because of the changes that are taking place in the brain. Withdrawal symptoms are a result of the brain trying to reestablish normal activity.

Withdrawal from Ambien has the opposite effect of taking the drug. Abruptly stopping doses of Ambien leads to more severe symptoms.

“Seizures have been observed after the discontinuation of [Ambien] in individuals using extremely high doses of this agent, as have other signs of withdrawal including tremor, agitation and anxiety.” – Lowinson and Ruiz, Substance Abuse, Fifth Ed., 2011

Ambien withdrawal symptoms:

  • Agitation and irritability
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Shakiness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Convulsions
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Panic attacks

Rebound Insomnia

Ambien’s main purpose is to treat insomnia. When a person becomes dependent on Ambien and stops taking it, they may be unable to sleep. This is known as “rebound insomnia,” a withdrawal symptom in which the inability to sleep returns, often worse than before.

Some former Ambien addicts have said their rebound insomnia lasted several weeks after they decided to quit. But ultimately, most addicted people end up sleeping better after the withdrawal period is over.

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Withdrawal Duration

The duration of withdrawal from Ambien varies from user to user. Symptoms may last as little as a few days or as much as several weeks. Those who take large doses of Ambien over a long period of time usually have the most intense withdrawal symptoms.

A typical dose of Ambien is 10 mg daily. But many people addicted to Ambien take far larger doses, often hundreds of milligrams per day. People taking Ambien CR (controlled release) should be aware that their withdrawal symptoms may last longer. The goal of Ambien CR is to keep users asleep, whereas regular Ambien is meant to help users fall asleep. Ambien CR keeps users asleep by remaining in the body for a longer period of time, meaning it takes longer to leave the body.

Ambien Withdrawal Timeline

First 4-8 hrs. Ambien has a shorter half-life than most sedatives. Half-life is how long it takes for the drug to leave the body. Severely addicted people may notice the first signs of withdrawal in as little as four hours after their last dose.
Days 1-2 Usually about 48 hours after the last dose of Ambien, withdrawal symptoms fully manifest. Users are likely to experience confusion, memory loss and mood swings. It is also difficult to sleep during this time.
Days 3-5 The symptoms of Ambien withdrawal can peak after five days of discontinued use. Leading up to this time, users might feel shaky and nauseated. Some people also have panic attacks. Rebound insomnia may still be a struggle.
Weeks 1-2 After withdrawal symptoms peak, former Ambien users begin to feel normal again. Symptoms slowly fade during the second week and former addicts should start being able to sleep normally without Ambien.

Ambien-specific Rehabs

Most rehabs are capable of treating people with an Ambien addiction. But some treatment centers are better equipped than others. Some of the top treatment centers for people wanting to quit Ambien include:

Questions about treatment?

Call now to be connected with a compassionate treatment specialist.

Tips for Managing Sleep Without Ambien

Getting back on a normal, healthy sleep cycle is essential to preventing an Ambien relapse. Tips for accomplishing this include:

  • Reprogramming your internal clock. Having a consistent bedtime teaches the body’s internal clock when it is time for sleep. Eventually, people following a routine sleep schedule naturally become tired when it’s their regular bedtime.
  • Ongoing counseling. Continuing therapy helps former Ambien addicts stay sober, but it can also help them sleep better. Insomnia is often the symptom of a deeper issue like anxiety, stress or depression, and therapy can help resolve those issues.
  • Reducing stress. There are several activities that reduce stress and make it easier to fall asleep. Meditation, daily exercise and even the occasional massage can reduce stress.
  • Canceling out distractions. Having a distraction-free sleep environment also makes it easier to get to sleep. Hanging up dark curtains to block outside light, putting on a fan for ambient noise and avoiding television before bed are good ways to minimize distractions.
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Most people know caffeine and nicotine make it harder to sleep, but many don’t know alcohol also affects sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation: “Alcohol may help you to relax and fall asleep in the short term, but it can disrupt sleep over the course of the night.”

Find Treatment Now

The first step toward getting help for an Ambien addiction is determining what your individual needs are. Every rehabilitation and outpatient clinic has minor differences. You need to figure out if inpatient or outpatient treatment is best for you.