Can You Become Addicted to Ambien?

Ambien, also known as zolpidem, entered the drug market in 1992 as a sleep aid with promising results. NPR states around 60 million Americans struggle with sleep disorders. For many of these people, Ambien came as a lifesaver and finally provided relief from sleepless nights.

When used as prescribed, the traditional form of the drug is taken at bedtime to help users fall asleep. The extended-release version hit the market in 2005 with two layers — the first to put you to sleep and the second, internal layer helped to keep you that way. According to Forbes Magazine, US physicians doled out 40 million prescriptions for the sedative hypnotic drug in 2011.

The downside of any pharmaceutical drug is obviously the potential for abuse, and Ambien has been no exception. Formerly thought to be safer than benzodiazepines, studies show that this sedative-hypnotic drug is one of the most addictive of its kind in modern medicine.

Who Is Abusing It?

Ambien is quite popular with America’s youth. KSL News reported seven percent of high school students admitted to abusing prescription sedative drugs like Ambien in 2005, a large increase from the 2.8 percent that did in 1992.

Research points toward a greater trend for Ambien abuse among older Americans as well. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration notes past-year data from 2013 on the age of onset for specific drugs. For sedative users, the average was 25 years old. Additionally, 74 percent of individuals who needed emergency treatment for issues linked to Ambien use between 2005 and 2010 were people over the age of 44, per Men’s Journal.

The mentally ill are also more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than the general population. Ambien is favorable to many who suffer from anxiety disorders and depression. People who suffer from these conditions may abuse the drug as a coping mechanism. The National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence notes 63 percent of older adults cited anxiety and depression as their primary reasons for engaging in drug or alcohol abuse.

What Does Ambien Abuse Look Like?

Someone who is abusing Ambien may:

  • Have slurred or distorted speech
  • Experience bouts of amnesia
  • Have short-term memory loss
  • Exhibit unusual amounts of energy
  • Appear to be confused
  • Display lethargy
  • Have tried to quit or cut back their use but failed
  • Experience nausea with or without vomiting
  • Have poor judgment
  • Have trembling limbs
  • Experience cravings for the drug

What Are the Risks?

Some of the biggest risks involved with Ambien abuse occur when it is mixed with other substances. Combining this drug with alcohol greatly increases the risk of seizures, damage to the esophagus, and even coma.
Ambien also comes with its own risks, especially when abused in large doses. Side effects range from headaches to sleepwalking. In 2010, 19,487 people were treated in American emergency rooms for complications stemming from zolpidem-based drugs like Ambien and Ambien CR, CBS News reports.

A schedule IV controlled substance, there is a formidable risk of overdosing on Ambien. U.S. News reported that as many as 500,000 deaths in 2010 may have been linked to the use of sleeping pills like Ambien, even in minimal and infrequent doses. Additionally, since this drug acts on the same areas of the brain that other drugs do — like benzodiazepines — mixing multiple drugs can render a life-threatening cocktail.

Recovering from Ambien Abuse

Bouncing back from Ambien abuse is easier said than done, and it won’t happen without some concentrated effort. Common side effects of withdrawal from Ambien include mild symptoms like sweating and fatigue, and more extreme symptoms, such as tremors, panic attacks, and intense delirium. Most often, detox requires that you slowly taper off Ambien. The tapering schedule will be dependent on how much you’ve been using. Since Ambien withdrawal is known to produce seizures if the dose is reduced too rapidly, you can expect the detox process to take some time. It should only be done under supervision from consulting physicians who can ensure the process is safe.

Other treatment options for Ambien addiction have emerged, but their use is not widespread. For instance, the American Journal of Addiction published the results of on study in which a 52-year-old male was treated for a zolpidem addiction with quetiapine — commonly recognized as Seroquel. The man was able to successfully detox from zolpidem. After six months of taking 800 mg of quetiapine nightly post detox, he experienced no cravings for zolpidem. This is a remarkable finding considering the individual had a long history of poly-drug and alcohol abuse.

While new research is continually being done, tried and true treatment for Ambien addiction includes comprehensive therapy services, supervised detox and robust aftercare. If you’d like more information on how we can help you get clean – and stay clean – call us today.

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