An estimated 50 million American adults struggle with insomnia. Luckily, there are several medications available to help a person get a restful night’s sleep. One of these medications is Ambien (zolpidem). This drug is highly effective at aiding in sleep. However, like many central nervous system (CNS) depressants, Ambien comes with the risk of abuse and dependence. If you or someone you know is struggling with an Ambien addiction, we are here to help.

When dependent on Ambien, the body requires the drug to function properly. especially when it comes to sleep. Stopping Ambien abruptly when dependent on the drug can cause a number of withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, it’s important to taper off of the medication slowly under a doctor’s supervision. Keep reading to learn more about how to properly detox from Ambien and what to do once you are entering recovery. 

Ambien Addiction

Dangers of Ambien Addiction and Abuse

Ambien was initially promoted as a safer alternative to benzodiazepines, with less risk for addiction or tolerance, but studies show that this has been underestimated. There are also serious health risks associated with long-term use of Ambien and Ambien addiction, including a potentially increased likelihood of respiratory issues, reflux, and infections.

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 for the treatment of short-term insomnia. When taken at higher doses, however, it can produce a number of unpleasant side effects. Doctors generally prescribe Ambien for two weeks at most. Beyond that time frame, it may not be as effective. People who continue to take Ambien may end up accidentally — or even intentionally — abusing the drug. Any dose of Ambien used outside of a doctor’s instructions is considered abuse.

Can You Become Addicted to Ambien? 

It’s a common misconception that medications prescribed by a doctor aren’t addictive or dangerous, but this is not always the case. There are specific guidelines for use for a reason—to minimize the side effects and to lessen the potential for abuse and addiction. When a person starts to take the drug more often or at higher doses than directed, the risks increase significantly. 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. 

Warning Signs of Ambien Addiction

Many people taking Ambien don’t realize how quickly they can become dependent on the drug, even if they are following their prescription. 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
  • 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

“I think I’m addicted to Ambien, what do I do next?”

A physical dependence to Ambien can form in as little as two weeks, whether the user is following a prescription or abusing the drug. Ambien addiction and dependence is characterized by tolerance, whereby the user requires larger amounts of the substance to feel the same effect, and withdrawal symptoms which appear if the user stops taking the drug or reducing their dosage. Eventually, Ambien dependence may become a full-blown addiction, which is characterized by tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, impaired control over use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and cravings. Many people don’t know they have a problem until they stop taking the drug and realize they cannot sleep without it.

Medically managed withdrawal, also known as medical detox, is when you decrease the use of a substance in a facility while under the care of trained medical staff. Case report evidence supports there being a potential risk of withdrawal seizures. For this reason, medical management of Ambien withdrawal could be beneficial as this is potentially a life-threatening complication. Staff at a treatment or detox facility can provide medication and constant monitoring to ensure your safety.

“I think someone I care about has an Ambien Addiction, what do I do next?”

Watching for strange behaviors when someone is abusing the drug should make addiction easy to spot. In reality, identifying a true Ambien addiction is more difficult. Families can certainly spot the warning signs, but professional help is needed to diagnose and treat an Ambien addiction. If you suspect someone you care about is suffering with an Ambien addiction keep these things in mind:

  • Be compassionate. Recognize that addiction isn’t a character flaw or a choice, but rather a disease.
  • Don’t criticize or shame. Shaming or criticizing a family member who is struggling with an Alcohol Addiction or an Opioid Addiction is often counterproductive to their Recovery. While tough love may have a small part in helping an alcoholic spouse, this is not the place for it.  
  • Educate yourself. Knowledge is power, and educating yourself on addiction and treatment is a benefit when learning how to help someone with an addiction. The more you know, the better you’ll understand what is going on and be able to better help your loved one.
  • Don’t be an enabler to the problem. There can be a fine line between helping someone with an addiction and enabling them. Sometimes when we think we’re protecting a loved one from the consequences of their addiction, we are actually enabling them to continue with potentially destructive behavior. 

Withdrawal and Treatment from Ambien Addiction

Ambien may seem like a harmless prescription to some, but the withdrawal symptoms from the drug can be dangerous. Symptoms from Ambien withdrawal usually begin within 48 hours after the last dose was taken. 

Depending on the amount used, frequency of use, and other factors, the individual may experience the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Cravings for Ambien
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps or discomfort
  • Uncontrolled crying or depression
  • Flushing
  • Panic attacks
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Rebound insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Seizures

Recovery and Life After Ambien

Sleep medications can be useful in the short term, but relying on them usually isn’t the best long-term solution for insomnia. For example, medications can mask an underlying problem that needs treatment. Recovery from an Ambien addiction means learning to live sober. Practicing techniques to manage symptoms of insomnia can help you stay away from sleeping pills. For someone with unmanaged insomnia, recovery will also involve learning about your diagnosis, what triggers your symptoms, and how to apply coping skills.

The best approach is to address whatever is causing your sleep problems in the first place. Other therapies include learning new sleep habits (such as keeping your bedtime and wake time consistent from day to day), getting counseling for anxiety or other psychological concerns, and using stress-reduction techniques. 

Some skills that you may practice include:

  • Avoiding caffeine, exercise, or electronics before bed.
  • Going to bed at the same time every night.
  • Keeping your room cool and dark.
  • Practicing meditation.
  • Relaxation techniques.
  • Using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Get Quality Ambien Addiction Treatment At Harmony Ridge

At Harmony Ridge, we offer a multitude of approaches to Ambien addiction treatment that will help you overcome your substance abuse, including medical detox. Whether you enroll in outpatient, partial hospitalization, or residential treatment, we can provide you with the tools and life skills to begin living a sober existence. We can already see your potential. If you would like more information about our Ambien addiction treatment programs, contact us today.