Prescription sleep aids aren’t supposed to be addictive, but when people have problems with chronic insomnia, they often use these drugs in ways that differ from doctors’ recommendations. They might also use them to get high. A commonly misused sleep medication is Ambien. If someone becomes reliant on Ambien, they’ll likely need professional treatment to break the dependence.
What to Know About Ambien
Ambien and Ambien CR—brand names for zolpidem tartrate—are two of the top sleep aids prescribed to help patients reset their circadian rhythms after suffering from insomnia.
Insomnia is often caused by chronic pain, grief, mental and physical health issues, stress, trauma, varying work shifts, and other factors. People in recovery might also experience bouts of insomnia for up to two years.
Manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis, these medications perform in different ways:
- Ambien is an immediate release prescription formula for the “short-term treatment of adults who have trouble falling asleep.”
- Ambien CR is an extended release prescription formula for adults to alleviate “trouble falling asleep and/or waking up often during the night.”
A prescription for approximately 10–15 days is designed as a short-term solution for sleep disruption. Individuals only take the medication when they’re certain they’ll have a minimum of 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. The goal is to foster an opportunity for a person to eventually return to their normal sleep pattern. A physician prescribes Ambien and Ambien CR based on gender and circumstances, but the average dose is between 5mg and 10mg per tablet.
Not Recommended for Everyone
Doctors don’t recommend Ambien or Ambien CR to individuals under age 18 or for those with a family or personal history of:
- Alcohol or substance use disorder
- COPD and other respiratory conditions
- Kidney or liver disease
- Sleep apnea
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
Side Effects of Ambien and Ambien CR
According to WebMD, common side effects of these two medications include:
- Changes in appetite
- Digestive issues
- Daytime drowsiness
- Dizziness and headaches
- Problems with attention span, memory, or retention
- Tingling in the extremities
- Unusual dreams
Sanofi-Aventis also warns of “complex sleep behaviors” known as parasomnias. When an individual isn’t quite awake after taking the drug, they might experience:
- Sexual activity
- Preparing and eating food
- Having phone, text, and social media interactions
Many people don’t remember doing these things at all, which increases the risk that they might harm themselves or others.
More Side Effects
Additional serious side effects of Ambien and Ambien CR include:
- Abnormal behavior and thoughts, such as “acting strangely,” agitation, aggression, confusion, hallucinations, and suicide ideation and attempt
- Allergic reactions, such as respiratory issues or tongue and throat swelling
- Depression, anxiety, or worsening symptoms of known mental health conditions
- Memory loss and “lost time”
Someone who experiences complex sleep behaviors or severe side effects while taking this medication requires immediate medical care.
Why Ambien Can Be Addictive
WebMD reports that long-term use of prescription sleep drugs eventually interferes with a person’s normal sleep patterns. If someone also believes they won’t rest well unless they take them, this is the beginning of psychological dependence.
Physical dependence on Ambien/Ambien CR/zolpidem might occur for two reasons:
- Using these drugs illicitly. Some people liquefy or snort them, then stay awake to experience hallucinogenic effects. Street names include A-minus, deathmoth, have-a-snickers, no-gos, sleepeasy, tic-tacs, and zombie pills.
- Altered brain chemistry. Sleep aids made with zolpidem are classified as sedative-hypnotics: they contain chemical compounds to prompt calm and induce sleep. They can also have a depressive effect. Over time, the brain’s neurotransmitters become reliant on the medication, and someone might need higher and higher doses to achieve the same effects, creating a compulsive craving.
Ambien Addiction Treatment at Willingway
When a person develops a dependency on Ambien or Ambien CR, it’s dangerous to quit “cold turkey” or switch to a different sleep medication without medical guidance.
Professional treatment, usually at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, provides a safe, monitored environment for a medically-supervised detoxification program to minimize Ambien’s withdrawal effects. This helps reduce physiological drug dependence.
An individualized treatment plan such as what residents receive at Willingway also includes therapeutic applications to address sleep concerns and resulting behavioral issues. Sleep disorders rarely happen without cause. For example, if someone is stressed because of different work responsibilities, health conditions, or family conflict, they’ll not only uncover these issues but also learn new methods for handling them more effectively.
Through professional guidance, our clients also learn how to improve their sleep hygiene. According to the American Sleep Association, between 50–70 million people in the U.S. have a sleep problem, including chronic or situational insomnia, circadian rhythm disorder, sleep apnea, snoring, and restless leg syndrome. Additionally, many adults get less than the recommended 7–9 hours of sleep. So Ambien addiction treatment also includes methods for how to improve sleep.
If you have questions about how our board certified team can help you or a loved one, please talk with one of our admissions team members today.