Insomnia is one of the most common health complaints among American adults, affecting between 30 and 50 percent of people at some point during their lives. It can be caused by a wide range of factors, including chronic pain, depression, stress, erratic work schedules, and poor sleep hygiene.
Prescription sleep aids, such as Ambien, are often viewed as a “quick fix” for those who are struggling to get the rest their body needs, but it’s important to be cautious. Many sleep aids, including Ambien, have a high potential for addiction.
Also known by its generic name zolpidem, it was first approved for medical use in the United States in 1992. In 2017, it was 50th on a list of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States.
Ambien is a powerful sedative prescribed to people who are suffering from acute insomnia. It works by activating the neurotransmitter GABA to slow down the brain and the central nervous system.
There are two forms of Ambien that patients may be prescribed. The quick-release form is used for initiating sleep, while the extended-release form is given to patients who are struggling to maintain sleep.
It is intended for short-term use and should only be taken after efforts to improve sleep hygiene or otherwise address the root cause of a person’s insomnia have failed. It is never recommended to take Ambien on a nightly basis.
How Ambien Addiction Develops
Originally, Ambien was developed as an alternative to addictive benzodiazepines like Xanax. It was marketed to consumers as a safer and less habit-forming choice.
Today, It is widely recognized as being just as addictive as drugs in the benzodiazepines class. It is possible for addiction to develop whenever the drug is taken for more than two weeks at a time or in higher-than-prescribed doses. In fact, the majority of people who abuse Ambien began using the drug after obtaining a legitimate prescription.
People who abuse it may crush up the pills and snort them to get a stronger effect. This behavior is most common among teens and young adults who often mistakenly believe using prescription medication in this way is safer than experimenting with illegal drugs.
When Ambien is purchased on the street without a prescription, slang terms for the drug include zombie pills, sleepeasy, no-gos, A-minus, and tic-tacs.
Recognizing an Ambien Addiction
Signs a person may have an Ambien addiction include:
- Using it more frequently or in higher doses than what has been prescribed by a healthcare provider
- Buying it illegally or seeing multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions
- Experiencing strong cravings to use the drug
- Failing in efforts to stop or cut down on the use of it
- Decreased performance at work or school
- Neglecting relationships with family and friends
- Lack of interest in hobbies or activities that were previously a source of pleasure
- Using Ambien in physically dangerous situations, such as driving under the influence or operating heavy machinery
- Financial problems related to spending large amounts of money on the drug
- Being angry or defensive when others express concern about their Ambien usage
- Physical symptoms such as frequent headaches, diarrhea, heartburn, stomach pain, and lack of coordination that have no other identifiable cause and appear to be most severe during the morning hours
In some cases, people who are taking high doses of Ambien may engage in complex activities such as driving or cooking while asleep with no later recollection of what has occurred. For obvious reasons, this poses a high risk of serious injury to oneself or others.
The Danger of Using Ambien with Other Addictive Substances
When a person becomes addicted to Ambien, they will often combine the drug with other addictive substances to intensify its effects. The most common approach involves combining Ambien with alcohol, but many people also combine Ambien with benzos such as Valium.
Combining substances increases the risk of dangerous side effects. There is an increased risk of respiratory failure and fatal overdose, as well as a potential for permanent damage to the heart, brain, and lungs.
Signs of an Ambien overdose involving multiple addictive substances include pinpoint pupils, slurred speech, irregular breathing, and difficulty waking up. If you believe a loved one is experiencing an Ambien overdose, call 911 immediately and provide as much information as you can about what substances you believe they have taken.
Addiction is a chronic illness, not a character defect caused by a lack of willpower. Someone who is addicted to Ambien needs access to evidence-based care—especially if they are using Ambien in conjunction with other addictive substances.
At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, our Pennsylvania residential substance abuse treatment center provides a full continuum of care for men and women struggling with addiction. This includes medically managed detox as well as counseling, recovery education, and relapse prevention. If you or a loved one are struggling with the effects of an Ambien addiction, we can help.