Ambien Addiction, Withdrawal, and Treatment
- Ambien Addiction
- Signs and Symptoms of Abusing Ambien
- Ambien Withdrawal & Detox
- Treatment for Ambien Dependency
Ambien is one of the most common prescription depressant medications on the market, and is frequently prescribed as a sleep aid. Other similar medications include Ambien CR, Edluar, Intermezzo, Lunesta, Sonata, and Zolpimist, as well as the generic medications zolpidem, eszopiclone, and zalepon, respectively. These medications differ in chemical structure from benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Xanax, but affect the central nervous system in much the same way. All central nervous system depressants work by acting on the neurotransmitter gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) to decrease brain activity. While Ambien is believed to be less addictive than benzodiazepines, it is still classified as a commonly abused prescription drug.
Ambien comes in tablet, syrup, or liquid form, and is generally taken orally. Tablets are oval shaped, and may be white or beige in color. The drug may also be inhaled, and taken intravenously or rectally when being abused. Street names for the drug include forget-me pill, Mexican Valium, R2, Roche, Roofies, Roofinol, Rope, or Rophies. It is also possible for Ambien to be confused with other prescription depressants such as barbiturates (Nembutal, pentobarbital, Luminal, and phenobarbital) or benzodiazepines (Xanax, alprazolam, Limbitrol, chlordiazepoxide, Valium, diazepam, Ativan, lorazepam, Halicon, or triazolam). Street names for these additional medications may include barbs, Phennies, red birds, reds, tooies, yellow jackets, yellows, candy, downers, sleeping pills, or tranks.
Ambien use as a prescription drug is intended to be short term, lasting no more than two weeks. Typically, it works within 15 minutes when taken orally at a therapeutic dose, with effects lasting up to three hours. It has a hypnotic effect on users that helps induce sleep, but it can produce a number of complicated side effects. Users may sleepwalk, sleep eat, or perform other activities they do not remember. Morning-after effects can be similar to a hangover, even when used for the prescribed purpose at the prescribed dose. It does not aid sleep quality or duration, and can leave users dangerously impaired, particular when operating a motor vehicle and even after a substantial period of sleep. Ambien also affects women differently than men, with women metabolizing the drug more slowly, putting them at a higher risk for the disorientating morning-after effects.
There are a number of potentially dangerous drug interactions that can occur when using Ambien. It is also particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol, which can slow respiration and blood pressure to lethally low levels. Similarly, those abusing central nervous system stimulants, whether legal (such as Adderall) or illegal (such as cocaine) varieties, are at risk of abusing central nervous system depressants such as Ambien to counter the effects.
Combining psychoactive drugs is known as polydrug use, while the use of stimulants and depressants together in a single cocktail is known colloquially as over and under or as a speedball, and can have deadly consequences. Notable deaths attributed to stimulant-depressant polydrug use include actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and River Phoenix, comedians Jim Belushi and Chris Farley, Major League Baseball (MLB) players Ken Caminiti and Eric Show, and musicians Chris Kelly and Brent Mydland, among others. While speedballs are typically thought to contain illegal drugs, any stimulant and depressant combination can have the same effect, and result in death.
Signs & Symptoms of Abusing Ambien
While Ambien is perceived to be less addictive than other sedatives, it is possible to become dependent both physically and psychologically. Taking a higher dose than prescribed or using the drug longer than recommended are the most common risk factors for dependency.
Signs that someone may be abusing Ambien include:
- Frequent drowsiness
- Slurred speech
- Seemingly in a trance or hypnotized state
- Hallucinations or visual distortions
- Perceptual issues
- Mobility and memory issues
- Amnesia or memory loss
Unfortunately, those are also common side effects from proper use of a prescription. Memory issues are of particular concern, as they can lead to high-risk behavior such as impaired driving, unprotected sex, and use of other drugs which can result in HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, or other infectious diseases. Those experiencing such side effects or who have concerns about dependence should consult their physician to determine if they should discontinue use.
Consequently, Ambien is often abused for its hypnotic effects, with the most frequent population of abusers being those who abuse other drugs. Using Ambien with other drugs or in combination with alcohol significantly increases the likelihood of a dangerous drug interaction or overdose.
The most common signs of overdose include:
- Slowed breathing
- Slowed heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Coma or loss of consciousness
When taken in combination with alcohol, the drug can be lethal. Users presenting with the symptoms above or any other symptoms (which may indicate an allergic reaction) are experiencing a medical emergency, and need treatment immediately.
Ambien has also become a commonly used drug for date rape. Its popularity for this purpose is thought to be the result of several factors, including ease of access, banning of other date rape drugs such as Rohypnol, quick metabolization, easily dissolves in liquid, fast-acting, and enhanced effects when used with alcohol.
If you suspect that you or someone you know has been dosed with Ambien without consent and/or sexually assaulted while under the influence, seek medical attention immediately. It is also important to get a blood test done as soon as possible to preserve evidence of a potential crime. The drug remains in the system for as little as 36 hours for infrequent users.
Ambien Withdrawal & Detox
Those who have developed a dependency or stop taking the medication abruptly after more than two weeks of continued use may experience withdrawal. Withdrawal from Ambien is similar to other depressants.
Signs and symptoms may include:
- Mood changes
- Depression or sadness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Uncontrollable crying
- Nervousness or panic attacks
- Trouble sleeping
Detoxification may be needed even with the normal use of Ambien. It may be necessary to taper off this drug by gradually lowering the dose to avoid adverse effects. Depending on the symptoms and level of dependency, this may take months. Detoxification using this method should be done under the supervision of a physician. The long-term effects of Ambien dependency are not well known, as misuse often occurs in conjunction with other drugs.
Treatment for Ambien Dependency
While tapering the dose over time to avoid serious withdrawal symptoms is recommended, there are no drugs approved in the treatment of Ambien dependency. Likewise, little research exists on the effects of behavioral therapies on this addiction. If addiction to other substances is a factor, those with Ambien dependency should focus on treatment for the other addiction as a first line defense.
Seeking alternative treatments for insomnia may also help reduce the risk of dependency and relapse. Mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, as well as medical conditions such as asthma, arthritis, acid reflux, neurological conditions, and chronic pain, can also cause insomnia. Lifestyle factors also play a critical role in the root causes that might lead to use of Ambien in the first place. Abnormal sleep patterns caused by shift work, outdoor lighting (which can be seasonal based on geography), indoor lighting (which can be from the type of bulbs used or ambient light from electronics), nutrition, alcohol (depressant) use, caffeine (stimulant) use, meal timing, or chemical imbalances within the brain can all be factors.
- Prescription Drug Abuse – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- FDA Is Committed to Determining Sex Differences in How Drugs Work – US Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
- Ambien With Other Meds – Livestrong.com
- Misuse of Prescription Drugs – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- Zolpidem (Oral Route) – Mayo Clinic
- Zolpidem – US National Library of Medicine
- Darren Sharper case spotlights sleep drug’s dark side – USA Today
- Commonly Abused Drugs Chart – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- What Causes Insomnia? – National Sleep Foundation