When Dependence Is a Concern
Ambien is still less likely to cause dependence than medications such as Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), or Restoril (temazepam). Treating insomnia with medication is not the ideal situation. Research from Mayo Clinic shows that using medication to treat insomnia on a long-term basis could hide other problems. It is also best to use other long-term plans and therapies to combat sleeping problems.
Those who have had a past drug abuse history or psychiatric diagnoses are at an increased risk of becoming addicted to Ambien. One way doctors can help manage addiction is to gradually reduce the use of Ambien until a person can safely stop using it. This is because a quick decrease in dosage has been known to cause seizures, uncontrolled crying, discomfort in the abdominal area, nausea, panic attacks, tremors, and severe anxiety.
One must differentiate between dependence and addiction. Addiction is psychological in nature, while dependence is more physical. Some symptoms of Ambien addiction include:
- The use of Ambien for reasons other than what it is prescribed to do, such as recreational use
- An increase of dosage that is not suggested by a physician
- Experiencing cravings for Ambien
- Repeated use even if Ambien is having a negative impact on one’s personal relationships or profession
- Purchasing Ambien illegally to maintain one’s habit
If a doctor observes a patient who is addicted to Ambien, the treating doctor can choose the best way to deal with withdrawal symptoms by mitigating them as they progress or dealing with them through a gradual reduction in Ambien dosage. It is important to deal with issues being masked by addiction and work with doctors, psychiatrists, and other qualified professionals so that the root causes of addiction are dealt with. In this vein, detox from Ambien does not constitute addiction treatment in and of itself. Comprehensive therapy must be given to address the issues that led to the drug abuse in the first place.
There are also prescriptions one can use to deal with withdrawal symptoms, such as barbiturates or other hypnotics. These medications do potentially pose the risk of switching one addiction for another, and one must be aware of that risk. The key to successfully getting rid of an Ambien addiction is to change behaviors and engage in counseling, as well as creating motivational actions that can help a person get through the hurdle of addiction.
Those struggling with Ambien addiction are often best served in a comprehensive inpatient treatment program that can address the addiction from all angles of life – physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual. This kind of care embraces the entire person, not just the addictive behaviors.
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Side Effects and Risks
As with any prescription, there are potential side effects with Ambien use. Some common and less severe side effects include:
- Decreased energy
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weakness and fatigue
- Dry mouth
- Abnormal dreams
- Eyesight problems
- A feeling of lethargy
- Changes in mood
- Some more severe side effects include:
- Loss of breath
It is important to let a physician know about any side effects one feels while taking Ambien. In addition to these symptoms, some people experience an allergic reaction to Ambien. This is rare, but should be immediately taken care of. Signs of an allergic reaction include hives, trouble breathing, and facial swelling. Seek prompt medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms.
Increased Risk of Death
A 2012 study published by the British Medical Journal made a correlation between prescription sleeping pills such as Ambien and early death. The study also concluded that even people who used a low amount of the medication were at risk. Even when factoring in age, health condition, race, and alcohol and tobacco use, those who used sleeping pills were at a higher risk of death than those who did not use sleeping pills.
Stopping Ambien Use Safely
If you, or someone you know, are addicted to Ambien, or have used the drug for a sustained period of time, it’s important to seek medical supervision prior to stopping use. Suddenly stopping use of the drug can lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as extreme irritability, insomnia, anxiety, delirium, and even seizures. In addition to being uncomfortable and potentially dangerous, the presence of withdrawal symptoms often leads individuals to use the drug again in an effort to make the withdrawal symptoms disappear.
Oftentimes, medical professionals will slowly lower the dosage of Ambien over time, allowing the body to become accustomed to lower doses. Eventually, the dose will be low enough that the person can safely stop taking the drug altogether.
A comprehensive addiction treatment program will include medical detox. This ensures that clients can safely and comfortably withdraw from substances of abuse, including Ambien. Therapeutic treatment must follow Ambien detox to ensure the best chances of a full recovery.
Ambien is the most famous brand name for prescription sleep aid zolpidem. This medication is designed to treat insomnia by helping a person’s brain relax enough to fall asleep. It is in a class of drugs called sedative-hypnotics, which can be effective in treating sleep disorders; however, they can also cause serious side effects, including abuse, addiction, and, most famously, parasomnias like walking, eating, driving, and having sexual encounters while asleep.
Zolpidem abuse can cause a high similar to narcotic drugs and result in effects like hallucinations, memory loss, lack of coordination, extreme fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Even when taken as directed, zolpidem has some potential to become habit-forming, although this is less likely than with benzodiazepines, which were used to treat sleep issues in the past. It is important not to take any sleep aid, including Ambien, for longer than two weeks because dependence can form. Instead, any underlying causes of insomnia, like an anxiety disorder, should be diagnosed and addressed.
What medications, other than Ambien, can treat insomnia?
There are different reasons a person might experience insomnia, and these reasons require different approaches and treatments. While a person may take Ambien or another prescription sleep aid for a few nights, ultimately, this treatment should not be ongoing for most people.
Some people may choose to take nonaddictive substances or herbal remedies, like Benadryl, which can cause drowsiness and may allow the person to fall asleep.
A doctor may find that a person suffers from depression or anxiety, which could lead to insomnia, including chronic insomnia. Mental health conditions like these should be addressed with therapy, first and foremost. In addition, many people also receive prescriptions for antidepressants while they work with a therapist. These treatments help to moderate mood, so swings in worry or guilt are less liable to keep the person awake at night.
People who have more serious sleep disorders, like narcolepsy, will receive a combination of prescription medications. These may sometimes include sedative hypnotics like Ambien, but will more likely involve a combination of stimulants and sedatives to maintain a regular circadian rhythm. One early symptom of narcolepsy is chronic insomnia.
Are there less addictive alternatives to Ambien?
People who suffer from insomnia, particularly chronic insomnia, should focus on getting their underlying condition diagnosed. Therapy and conditioning techniques will help most people with insomnia overcome the sleep disturbance without long-term use of medication. Some of these techniques include:
- Sleep restriction: With this therapy, a person will intentionally sleep less, within very specific hours, while under the supervision of a doctor or therapist. For example, if the person needs to get up at 7 a.m., then they will be required to stay awake until 1 a.m., no matter how fatigued they may be. Then, they will go to bed and get up at 7 a.m., with no sleeping in to “catch up” on sleep. Although this causes serious exhaustion for a few days, the body gets used to the specified hours and will learn to fall asleep.
- Reconditioning: People who struggle with insomnia likely have negative associations with their bed or bedroom. To overcome this, they should move to another room and engage in a relaxing activity, like reading (without use of any screens) until they feel sleepy again. This associates tiredness with bed and activity with other areas of the home.
- Relaxation techniques: Mindfulness, relaxing exercise, deep breathing, imagining peaceful settings, and other techniques can help a person relax enough to fall asleep. If the person is frustrated, worried, or anxious that they cannot go to sleep, engaging in a relaxing technique can take their mind off their inability to sleep and allow their body to relax.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: People with underlying mental health concerns like depression or anxiety are likely to benefit from therapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If insomnia has become a chronic problem, the therapist will be able to help the person understand underlying reasons that may be related to the mental health condition and retrain their behaviors to better support restful sleep.
What are the risks of taking Ambien on a long-term basis for a sleeping problem?
Ambien and similar sedative-hypnotic medicines are less addictive than benzodiazepines, but they can still lead to dependence, tolerance, and abuse. Problems with taking Ambien for a long time include decreased effectiveness as the body becomes used to the dose; excessive drowsiness that makes many activities dangerous, including driving; dizziness that leads to falls and physical harm like bruising, straining, or broken bones; and parasomnias, including walking, eating, talking, driving, and having sex while asleep.
How long does it take to detox from Ambien?
Detoxing from Ambien typically takes about one week, although people who have used Ambien at high, nonprescription doses or who have taken the drug for a long time may suffer from a longer withdrawal syndrome, post-acute withdrawal syndrome. It is important to work with a sleep therapist, mental health therapist, or physician regarding alternatives to Ambien so the underlying cause of insomnia is treated, particularly since withdrawal symptoms from Ambien include rebound insomnia. However, with the help of a medical practitioner or therapist, Ambien can be replaced with melatonin (as needed), a specific sleep schedule, relaxation techniques, or other non-medical remedies that will work better on a long-term basis.