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Ambien is a prescription drug that is often prescribed to treat insomnia. Although Ambien is the brand name, the drug itself is known as Zolpidem1 Because it has sedative effects, it is very effective in helping those with sleep problems. Unfortunately, its effectiveness also leads to the drug being abused by the who are seeking a numbing or sedative-like high.

How Does Ambien Work?

Many people who struggle with insomnia having a hard time relaxing and may be unable to stop thoughts from racing in their heads. Ambien slows down the activity in the brain so that those who have this problem are able to relax and fall asleep. This is done by targeting certain neurotransmitters that are in the brain. When the chemicals in Ambien attach to these neurotransmitters, they slow down, which makes it easy for a person to fall asleep. Those who abuse the drug will find themselves in a sleep-like slumber after taking the drug. They may fall asleep frequently, but over time, the effectiveness of Ambien wears off. This means that more and more of the drug must be taken to achieve the same results. This applies to those who need the drug for insomnia as well as those who abuse the drug for other purposes. Because of this, doctors only prescribe Ambien for a short period. This is intended to prevent further disruptions and sleep or reliance on the drug2

What Are the Side Effects of Ambien?

Although Ambien is a prescription drug, it is often prescribed as a last resort for those who have extreme insomnia. These periodic bouts of insomnia are often disruptive to one’s daily life. Because of this, the benefits outweigh the side effects for those who have a legitimate need for the sleep aid. Despite this those who take Ambien may experience certain side effects while taking the drug. Some of the most common side effects3 for those who take the drug as prescribed by a doctor include:

  • Dizziness.
  • Daytime drowsiness.
  • Weakness.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Nausea.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Headache.
  • Visual changes.
  • Impaired coordination.
  • Feeling intoxicated.
  • Confusion.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Dry mouth.

While these side effects may be present when taking the recommended dose as prescribed by a doctor, those who take more than the recommended dose may experience more serious ones. If you take Ambien and experience side effects such as memory loss, mood or behavior changes, hallucinations, aggressive behavior, or thoughts of suicide, seek medical help immediately. It is also important to note that several other drugs can cause serious interactions with Ambien. Some of the most serious interactions included alcohol, cold medicines, muscle relaxants, anti-depressants, and pain medications. To avoid potentially fatal interactions, advise your doctor of any and all drugs that you may be taking. It is also wise to check for potential interactions before taking any other medications, including over-the-counter products.

Long-Term Effects of Ambien Abuse

Because Ambien is designed to be used for a short period, those who use it and higher than recommended doses or for a prolonged period may experience more serious effects. The side effects of normal usage can continue to affect a long-term user of Ambien, but they also face others. These problems can affect all areas of the body from the mind to the cardiovascular system. Some of the most common long-term effects of using Ambien, include:

  • Delayed response times.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Altered judgment.
  • Delayed reflexes.
  • Decreased motor skills.
  • Feeling disoriented.
  • Nightmares.
  • Depression.
  • Memory loss.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Lots of emissions.
  • Suicidal thoughts like anxiety.
  • Aggressiveness.
  • Slow breathing.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Liver problems.
  • Sleep apnea.
  • Decreased heart rate.

These side effects are severe, but rarely affect those who take Ambien for a few weeks in prescribed doses. They are most common and then among those who abused the drug by taking high doses, snorting it, or mixing it with alcohol.

Other Dangers of Ambien Abuse

Abusing Ambien can cause a host of problems. From being unable to sleep without it to more severe problems like liver damage, there is no denying that the drug is dangerous. Unlike other drugs that are frequently abused, Ambien also comes with the odd risk of bizarre behaviors and memory loss. This may not seem like a big deal, but it can lead to serious trouble. Those who abuse Ambien by taking it in large doses, or for extended periods of time, frequently reported odd behaviors that they cannot remember. Those who have experienced this phenomenon report sleepwalking and taking part in other activities that they have no conscious knowledge of. Some of the most common complex behaviors include driving while asleep, eating while asleep, or engaging in sexual activity while asleep. Activities occurring while a person is asleep are incredibly dangerous and can lead to serious accidents or non-consensual activities. These effects may not happen to everyone who abuses Ambien, but the frequency of occurrence is alarming. It can even result in criminal charges in the event of driving under the influence or participating in unwanted sexual activities.

Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms

Despite the fact that Ambien is a prescription drug prescribed by a medical doctor, those who are addicted can experience serious withdrawal symptoms. This is because it is addictive and alters the functionality of the brain when taken. When the drug is taken regularly, the brain begins to depend on the chemicals in order to function. As a result, an addict who suddenly stops taking Ambien will experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms. The severity of the withdrawal symptoms will also depend on different factors including how long the drug has been taken and the dose that the addict typically takes. Those who have taken Ambien regularly for several years, for example, will experience much more severe withdrawal symptoms than someone who has only used it for a few months. Likewise, someone who takes a relatively low dose will have a less serious reaction than someone who takes a large dose. In most cases, symptoms start around 48 hours after the last dose was taken. Symptoms that those withdrawing from Ambien can expect include:

  • Sweating.
  • Mood swings.
  • Depression.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Worsening insomnia.
  • Seizures.
  • Fatigue.
  • Cravings.
  • Anxiety.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Muscle aches and pains.

The majority of addicts who are detoxing from Ambien experience the worst symptoms around three to five days after their last dose. Generally, withdrawal symptoms subside within one to two weeks after detox. The body will stop reacting, but psychological effects will probably continue for many weeks or even months after Ambien usage has been stopped. This is normal and is part of ending any addiction. To learn to cope with these cravings and psychological effects, it is important to seek ongoing treatment to aid in your recovery. From 12-step programs to group meetings, there are many approaches the addicts find helpful and overcoming their addictions.

Treatment for Ambien Abuse

Those who are addicted to Ambien frequently need help to stop. Some may be tempted to stop abruptly, but this can be dangerous. Withdrawal symptoms from a sedative such as Ambien can result in potentially serious or life-threatening reactions4 Because of this, it is wise to detox from the sleep aid in a treatment center that offers around-the-clock care. This will ensure that the addict’s mental state, as well as their physical health, are monitored throughout the detox process. Once a person has detoxed from Ambien, they will need further help to overcome their addiction. This can be done in an inpatient or outpatient setting. In an inpatient setting, the addict will be required to remain in the center for several weeks. During this time, they will learn the skills needed to cope with their addiction and begin life without Ambien use. This is often the best option for those who have severe addictions to the drug.

Those with milder addictions may prefer an outpatient treatment option. With this option, addicts visit a treatment center several times a week to complete treatment but are able to carry on with their day-to-day lives. This may consist of therapy, group sessions, support groups and 12-step programs. The time required for this program will vary from one facility to the next, but typically, addicts will commit around 20 hours per week in an inpatient setting. Reach out to an admissions coordinator at Windward Way Recovery to learn more about the specifics of outpatient treatments.

Dual Diagnosis and Ambien Abuse

Often when a person abuses a medication such as Ambien, there is an underlying issue that contributes to their addiction. Most times, addicts may have a mental disorder that has gone undiagnosed and untreated for many years. Because of this, the use of the drug may be an attempt to self-medicate and relieve the symptoms of their mental illness. In a dual diagnosis treatment center like Windward Way Recovery, these people are able to receive a diagnosis and a plan for treatment that may make the recovery process much easier. This is not offered in all treatment centers, but it is a very effective approach. Besides the typical treatment plans, addicts will also learn how to manage the symptoms of their mental illness. When they can understand that manage their illness, it often aids in their recovery from Ambien abuse.

If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to Ambien or other sedatives, reach out for help to take control of your life. Many people who have received treatment for Ambien addictions have experienced great success upon completing treatment. Contact us today at (855) 491-7694. We are happy to provide a free clinical assessment with no obligation to attend a treatment program. You can also speak to an admissions coordinator 24/7 to learn about our treatment centers and programs or to discuss your specific circumstances.

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