Ambien is a sedative used to treat difficulty falling asleep, disturbed sleep during the night and early morning walking. Although the drug is safe for most people to take, it is not recommended for pregnant women and can severely impair brain function when taken alongside alcohol. As the University of Minnesota discusses, some of the other unwanted side-effects of Ambien include daytime sleepiness, memory loss, confusion, hallucinations, agitation, low mood and even suicidal thoughts. An overdose also increases the risk of falling into a coma and high doses are sometimes fatal. These aren’t the only problems with Ambien though. While most problems with sleep are short-lived, requiring only temporary treatment with Ambien (or zolpidem as it is generically known), continued use of sleeping pills can lead to drug dependency, as this sleeping tablet is potentially addictive.
Although an addiction to Ambien may develop unintentionally with chronic use, some people abuse the sedative deliberately. For instance, figures on prescription sedative abuse show that 0.2% of the US population abuses sleeping pills, with rates highest among those aged 18 to 24 years. Young people may obtain sleeping tablets without a prescription from relatives and friends if they struggle to sleep as a result of stressful situations in their lives, though they may also turn to the internet and other illegal drug sources to get hold of sedatives. Besides youth and ease of access being a risk factor for sedative abuse, the National Institutes of Health explains that anyone with a history of alcohol or drug abuse is also at increased risk of Ambien abuse. Drug users may take sedatives to substitute their drug of choice if they cannot get hold of it, or if they abuse stimulants such as cocaine or amphetamines, sleeping pills can help manage the insomnia associated with stimulant abuse.
As with many other medications it is possible to develop drug tolerance with repeated use. This is where you body becomes used to the effects of Ambien so you no longer can achieve sleep so easily or stay asleep for as long. To counteract insomnia you then take higher doses of Ambien to achieve better sleep again. Tolerance to Ambien can develop in as little as a fortnight, which is why long-term use of this sedative is discouraged. With increasing doses of the sleeping tablet your body can become dependent on Ambien, so as you then rely on the drug to function normally, you experience a range of unpleasant symptoms if you try to withdraw from the drug. It isn’t just physical dependence that can develop though, as psychological dependence can also occur, which leads to an addiction to Ambien. This means that you crave the sedative and will go out of your way to get hold of a supply of Ambien to maintain your habit.
Once addicted to Ambien this increases your risk of adverse side-effects due to the increased doses you take and you increased frequency of use. People with Ambien dependency or addiction are therefore much more likely to require treatment in the emergency department to manage the effects of overmedication. For example, figures from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that rates of admissions to the emergency room due to high doses of zolpidem are on the increase, with more than 42,000 occurring between 2009 and 2010. This accounts for a third of all zolpidem-related admissions, with women and those aged 45 to 54 most likely to overmedicate, and a quarter are serious enough to require treatment in intensive care.
If you have been abusing Ambien, signs of an addiction include:
- Telling your doctor you have lost your Ambien prescription, visiting multiple doctors for prescriptions, forging prescriptions or sourcing sedatives from elsewhere
- Losing control of your drug use
- Having sudden mood swings
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you go longer than usual without Ambien
- Making poor judgments and taking unnecessary risks
- Neglecting other areas of your life
If you have a dependency on Ambien and you reduce or stop its use abruptly, you will develop a range of withdrawal symptoms. The severity of these withdrawal symptoms from Ambien and how long they last will depend on how heavy your use of sleeping pills has been and how long you have taken them for. As the FDA explains, the most common signs when withdrawing from Ambien are difficulty sleeping, feeling lightheaded, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, anxiety, panic attacks and crying uncontrollably. While you might be able to cope with milder symptoms that last just a day or two, more severe and prolonged withdrawal symptoms may require medical management. Before trying to detox from Ambien you should seek help from an addiction treatment center so that you can access the support you need to withdraw comfortably and stay abstinent from your habit.
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