Insomnia is a common disorder that affects millions of Americans each year. To combat this, doctors prescribe sleep aids to help ease anxiety and promote sleep. Ambien is a prescription that’s used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. It’s a relatively mild central nervous system depressant, but it can still cause dependence, addiction, and a potentially deadly overdose. Learn more about Ambien addiction and its signs, symptoms, and treatment options.

What Is Ambien?

Ambien is the brand name for a non-benzodiazepine prescription sleep aid called zolpide.

Though it’s not a member of the benzodiazepine category of substances, it shares some of the same effects. It’s a member of a group of chemicals called z-drugs, which are central nervous system depressants that are commonly used to treat sleep disorders like insomnia. They are relatively mild compared to other depressant sleep aids like benzodiazepines and barbiturates. However, they can also come with some of the same adverse effects if you take a high enough dose or use the drug for too long.

Ambien works in a way that’s similar to other depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines. It works by affecting a chemical messenger in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is designed to regulate excitability in the nervous system and facilitates relaxation when you need it. When Ambien binds to GABA receptors, it causes GABA to work more efficiently, causing anti-anxiety, hypnosis, sedation, and relaxation.

Ambien is typically prescribed for short term therapeutic treatment of a sleep disorder. Patients usually take the drug for two to six weeks. Taking the drug consistently for too long can cause you to become chemically dependent, which is when your brain starts to rely on the drug to maintain normal brain chemistry. If you stop using the drug after you become chemically dependent, you might experience uncomfortable and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Ambien may also be abused for its depressant effects, which can cause alcohol-like intoxication in higher doses.

What Are the Signs of Ambien Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disease that can get worse over time if it’s left untreated. It can also start to affect different aspects of your life, including your health, relationships, job, and legal standing. It’s possible to get the help you need and achieve long-lasting sobriety no matter where you are in the disease, even if you’ve relapsed several times. However, addressing a substance use problem early can help you avoid some of the most dangerous consequences of addiction like health problems, strained relationships, and financial issues.

Learning to recognize the signs in yourself or someone else can help you to get the help you need as soon as possible. Here are some of the signs you might be able to recognize in yourself if you’re struggling with a substance use disorder related to Ambien:

  • Trying unsuccessfully to cut back or quit
  • Feeling unpleasant symptoms when you cut back
  • Needing higher doses than before
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Powerful drug cravings

If someone you know might dependent or addicted to Ambien or a similar drug, there are a few signs and symptoms you might be able to notice in someone else.

Signs might include:

  • Isolation
  • Hiding drugs around the house
  • Lying about using drugs
  • Unexplained medical, legal, or financial issues
  • Tremors/ shaky hands
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Strange sleep patterns
  • Irritability

How Does Ambien Addiction Treatment Work?

Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. If you‘ve become chemically dependent or addicted to Ambien, you may need help from medical and clinical professionals to achieve sobriety.

Ambien is a central nervous system depressant, which can be potentially life-threatening during withdrawal. Z-drugs aren’t known to cause fatal withdrawal symptoms as much as barbiturates and alcohol, but it does have the potential to do so in certain circumstances.

For that reason, you may need to start treatment in a medical detox program. Medical detox involves 24-hour medically managed treatment. It’s ideal for people who are likely to go through severe withdrawal symptoms, but detox is also able to help people that come to treatment with other medical conditions or complications.

After you complete detox, you may need to go through more in-depth addiction treatment. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), detox is an essential part of treatment for many people, but it’s not enough to cause a long-lasting change in someone who’s become addicted.

Addiction treatment after medical detox involves inpatient treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, and outpatient treatment. As you progress in your recovery, you will need to spend less time in therapy each week, until you’re ready for complete independence. After that, it’s wise to continue to pursue your recovery through community resources like 12-step meetings.

How Dangerous Is Ambien?

Ambien is relatively mild compared to other central nervous system depressants. However, in high doses, it can cause intoxicating effects and even overdose. Ambien overdose can cause extreme drowsiness, loss of motor function, confusion, slowed heart rate and slowed respiratory functions. Ambien is less likely to lead to a fatal overdose than other depressants, but in very high doses, respiratory depression can be deadly.

Ambien is also more dangerous when it’s mixed with other opioids, alcohol, benzodiazepines, and other central nervous system depressants. Mixing the drugs can cause them to potentiate each other, which means their similar effects are more intense together. When depressants and opioids potentiate one another, they can cause a dangerous overdose with smaller doses of each respective substance. For that reason, you may not think you’ve taken an excessive amount of either of the drugs.

When prescription drugs like Ambien are abused, it’s often taken alongside alcohol. This can happen accidentally if the drug is taken in a social setting where alcohol is also present. It can also happen intentionally. Ambien and alcohol may be mixed to cause a more intense high without needing large amounts of the drug.

Mixing drugs is one of the most common ways drug use leads to a fatal overdose. If you are taking Ambien and a doctor prescribes you an opioid or depressant medications, double-check to make sure you’ve been given safe doses.

Ambien Abuse Statistics

  • There was a 220% increase in people seeking medical help for Ambien reactions between 2008 and 2013.
  • As many as 70% of Americans have sleep disorders, many of which are treated with z-drugs like Ambien.
  • In 2014, there were 60 million prescriptions written to treat sleep disorders.
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