Zolpidem, known by the brand name Ambien, is a prescription drug classified as a nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic. Doctors often prescribe it to help patients dealing with insomnia. It emerged as a viable alternative to benzodiazepine sleep aids in Europe in 1986, then made its way to the U.S. in 1992.¹
How Did Ambien Become Mainstream?
Ambien was initially seen as a safer alternative than benzodiazepine medications typically prescribed to people dealing with insomnia and other sleep disorders.² The drug also did not seem to cause the same grogginess level the day after like many benzodiazepines. There were concerns over how those drugs could potentially depress the central nervous system, especially when taken with alcohol. Some common benzodiazepines include:
People usually take Ambien at bedtime to help them fall asleep. It works by gradually slowing down brain activity so that you relax enough to fall asleep. ³ Most people start feeling the effects of Ambien soon after taking the medication. Physicians typically recommend that patients stay in bed after taking their prescribed dose.
The popularity of Ambien increased with the introduction of a two-layer version of the medication in 2005 called Ambien CR. After the first layer put you to sleep, the second layer continued working so that individuals got an uninterrupted night of sleep.
Ambien is meant to be a short-term solution for treating sleep disorders. Anyone who has taken some form of Zolpidem for longer than two weeks may find it less effective.
Why Should People Have Concerns About Ambien Abuse?
The abuse of prescription CNS depressants like Ambien, opioids, and other stimulants has become a health crisis in the U.S. Estimates show that over 18 million people identified as misusing their prescribed medications at least once during 2017. One of the reasons abuse of Ambien and other prescription drugs has become such an issue is how easily so many people gain access to them.⁴
Further study of Ambien’s effects showed that many people started building up a tolerance to the drug. That led to them taking larger than prescribed doses, leading to Ambien abuse and addiction. As the drug’s profile grew, so did the number of people abusing Ambien.
That led to the FDA changing the labeling requirements for Ambien and other zolpidem products in 2013. They recommended that patients not take Ambien if they were going to drive or engage in other activities that relied on mental alertness. The FDA also updated the dosing recommendations because of worries about the potential of continued impairment the day after taking Ambien. They made further changes in 2019, requiring a boxed warning that warned of the potential risk of experiencing a serious injury while under the influence of Ambien.⁵
All medications come with the potential for misuse. Ambien carries a higher risk than initially thought to potential abuse, a build-up of tolerance, and possible psychological dependency. Some of the side effects of Ambien can include:⁶
- Aggressive behavior
- Abnormal thinking patterns
- Unusually outgoing behavior
- Seeing and hearing things that aren’t there
- Stomach pain
- Appetite changes
- Lack of engagement
- Loss of memory
- Increased depression
- Thoughts of self-harm, including suicide
One of the more alarming aspects of Ambien is some of the behaviors it appears to inspire. There have been cases of people taking Ambien who participated in activities like driving, phone calls, preparing food, and working on cars while still in a sleep state. They had no memory of the acts they committed once they completely woke up. It would be best if you informed your physician of any such experiences so they can make recommendations on getting you proper care.
Long-term risks associated with long-term Ambien use include:
- Sleep apnea
- Chronic sinus infections
- Acid reflux
- Higher tolerance level leading to taking larger doses
People taking Ambien for insomnia may find that it becomes worse when they attempt to stop using Ambien. That can be a sign that you are addicted to Ambien and require a deeper form of treatment to help free you from the habit.
What are the Signs of Possible Ambien Addiction?
You or someone you care about may have a problem with Ambien if you:
- Slur or distort your speech
- Have sudden bursts of energy
- Experience short-term memory loss
- Have episodes of amnesia
- Feel lethargic
- Have bouts of confusion
- Find yourself feeling nauseous without throwing up
- Make poor judgments
- Experience shaking in one or more of your limbs
- Frequently experiencing cravings for more Ambien
- Find yourself unable to stop taking Ambien despite wanting to quit
Another sign that you may have a problem with Ambien abuse is if you experience withdrawal symptoms when you miss a drug dose. Symptoms of Ambien withdrawal can include:
- Panic attacks
Taking alcohol with Ambien can increase your chances of having a serious health event. Some people end up with damage to their esophagus, seizures, and even fall into a coma.
What Treatments Are Available For Ambien Addiction?
Many people start experiencing Ambien withdrawal within 48 hours of cutting back on their Ambien use. At that point, you may benefit from entering a detox program if you have severe withdrawal symptoms from Ambien. A medical professional can watch over you and assist in safely weaning you off the drug.
Going through Ambien withdrawal without help could cause you to experience life-threatening complications that could lead to severe injury or death. A rehab facility that offers medically managed withdrawal is often the starting point for many people looking to overcome Ambien abuse.
Once you complete a detox program, you may wish to enroll in a more intensive rehab program. It’s best to speak with the team handling your care about the best options for helping you overcome your Ambien addiction and remain in recovery. They may recommend that you try one or more of the following treatment options.
An inpatient drug rehab allows clients to become residents and receive 24-hour care while recovering from addictions to Ambien or other substances. You typically receive an assigned room, have all your meals at the rehab center, and attend structured therapy sessions each day. Part of your inpatient rehab program may include other activities to enhance the benefits of more traditional therapy.
Receiving treatment at an inpatient drug rehab allows you to remove yourself from the environment that might have played a role in your Ambien addiction. Your only focus is on getting better and adjusting to a substance-free life.
Many outpatient rehab programs offer many of the benefits of an inpatient stay. Clients attend daily group or individual therapy sessions at a facility but do not stay overnight. That allows them to keep up with other work, school, or family responsibilities. Outpatient rehab may be less intense than the care offered during an inpatient stay. Many clients move on to outpatient treatment once they’ve completed a stay in an inpatient facility.
What Kinds of Therapy Can Help Me With Ambien Addiction?
Many clients dealing with any form of substance abuse benefit from a combination of treatment approaches. Some of the most common forms of therapy offered to clients taking part in drug rehab include:
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on helping clients change thinking patterns that can lead to negative outcomes.⁷ They learn strategies that show them how to focus on what is really happening versus the patient’s distorted perceptions. CBT also shows clients how to understand what motivates the behaviors of others. The sessions also focus on helping clients with:
- Learning problem-solving skills to use in different situations
- Building confidence in their individual abilities
- To face fears instead of avoiding them
- Working through potentially problematic interactions with other people
- Staying calm and learning body relaxation techniques
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behavioral therapy was initially developed to provide treatment for patients with a borderline personality disorder.⁸ Research has shown it to be beneficial to individuals dealing with substance abuse issues. The primary focus areas of DBT therapy include:
- Helping people regulate their emotions
- Teaching stress management
- Learning to deal with negative emotions
- Staying mindful and present
- Learning to communicate more effectively
Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)
Motivational enhancement therapy teaches people how to deal with any conflicted feelings they might have about entering rehab for an addiction to Ambien or other drugs. The goal is to provoke a more immediate change in a client’s thinking. Clients are encouraged to engage in discussions about their abuse of Ambien and making self-motivational statements about themselves. Future sessions often focus on implementing strategies for weaning themselves off Ambien while the therapist monitors changes in clients.
Group counseling sessions give clients the chance to receive support from peers when working on getting past an Ambien addiction. There can be more positive benefits for clients who take part in group sessions alongside individual therapy.
Family therapy sessions can assist people dealing with Ambien abuse deal with any fallout that can result from their resulting behaviors. Families get the chance to engage with clients and learn strategies that can improve the home living environment. The therapist helps everyone set goals for what they wish to achieve, while clients can involve themselves in planning the client’s treatment.
How Can I Help Myself Stay in Recovery?
There are no easy answers when it comes to overcoming substance abuse. An addiction to prescription drugs like Ambien may not seem as “serious” as one to harder drugs. However, things can quickly spiral out of control if you don’t get the kind of help you need.
Real recovery from Ambien addiction means learning to live without something you have come to depend on. The idea of working through the withdrawal symptoms and possibly enduring ongoing insomnia may seem daunting.
At Harmony Place, you can learn coping techniques to help you stay focused as you figure out how to live without Ambien in the short-term. Skills that can help you deal with Ambien cravings and struggles with sleep include:
- Staying away from caffeine and electronics before bedtime
- Making sure your room remains cool and dark during the night
- Sticking to a regular bedtime
- Learning meditation and relaxation techniques
- Participating in psychotherapy sessions like CBT or DBT
Harmony Place has an extensive Alumni program available. You may also want to look into joining a 12-step program or an alternative. They provide an atmosphere where you can share your struggles and successes with others on similar recovery paths.
Learn to Stop Your Ambien Abuse
If you or a loved one are struggling with a possible Ambien addiction, Harmony Place may be able to give you the tools needed to succeed. We offer various treatment programs that can show you how to help yourself live a life free of substance abuse.
Harmony Place takes a whole-body approach to treatment. We learn to understand what drives each client and then create individualized treatment plans most suited to helping them reach their goals. Find out more about the services offered by Harmony Place by calling (855) 652-9048.
2American Family Physician. Treatment Options for Insomnia.
4National Institute on Drug Abuse. What is the scope of prescription drug misuse?
7American Psychological Association. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
8Psychology Today. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.