Can Ambien (zolpidem) be abused?

An article by National Public Radio estimates that 60 million individuals in the United States are affected by insomnia every year, and Ambien is easily the most widely prescribed medication to treat such sleep issues. Forbes agrees, stating that in 2011, over 40 million prescriptions for Ambien were written. The drug is prescribed more than even Percocet or prescription ibuprofen, according to Marie Claire.

Ambien, which is the brand name for the drug zolpidem tartrate, is a sedative hypnotic used to treat insomnia. It is recommended only for short-term use, as it has potential for both abuse and addiction even if taken as prescribed. Ambien can also be dangerous, according to CBS, as it was linked to 19,487 emergency room visits in 2010.

Ambien works by activating an excess of GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain, which essentially slows down the brain. The Huffington Post describes the onset of Ambien as a quick one – it usually works within 20 minutes.

Other Common Drug Addictions

Issues with Ambien

Ambien has been known to cause numerous side effects, including:

  • Agitation
  • Amnesia
  • Daytime drowsiness, or feeling hungover the next morning
  • Delusions
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Sleepwalking

issues with ambien like hallucinationsAmbien has also been linked to individuals engaging in activities while still asleep, called parasomnia. Individuals may drive, eat, shop, or have sex while on the medication, and have no recollection of doing so later. The medication can also cause nightmares or night terrors. The Huffington Post gives numerous examples of individuals engaging in crimes with no recollection of the events. A study published by the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology reports that in a Taiwanese study, 13 individuals out of the 255 involved in the study experienced parasomnia.

In January 2013, the United States Food and Drug Administration required the manufacturers of Ambien to lower the recommended dosage amount, due to evidence that some individuals had high amounts of the medication in their bloodstreams the morning after they had taken it. For example, as reported in a study published by the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, the use of Ambien significantly impaired psychomotor and memory skills when taken four hours prior
to testing. This is especially true for women, who seem to metabolize
the active ingredient in Ambien more slowly than men do.

Ambien Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes drug abuse, in this case, as the use of Ambien in an inappropriate manner.

This includes using it for stress relief, to escape reality, or to induce pleasurable feelings.

Individuals who have been prescribed Ambien may take the drug more frequently than prescribed, in larger doses, or for a longer period of time that indicated by their physician. These activities are all classified as Ambien abuse.

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, individuals who abuse Ambien will often take doses higher than those taken for therapeutic reasons. Ambien can be used recreationally by individuals for a number of reasons, due to its euphoric effects. Some individuals may use it with another depressant, such as alcohol, to add to its effects, or with stimulants, such as cocaine, to lessen the unpleasant side effects of those drugs. Some individuals use Ambien as a “date rape drug” due to its amnesiac properties.

Individuals who use Ambien as prescribed are at risk for physical dependence.

In this case, the body becomes accustomed to the drug being in the system, and individuals have most likely developed a tolerance, needing to increase their dosage of Ambien in order to experience the desired effects. They also frequently experience withdrawal symptoms if they go even a short time without Ambien. Some of the potential withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional distress
  • Insomnia
  • Lightheadedness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors

If individuals use Ambien inappropriately, they are also at risk for becoming addicted to the medication, or becoming psychologically dependent. If they have become psychologically dependent, they will also experience the development of a tolerance and the presence of withdrawal symptoms. Other signs that individuals have become addicted to or psychologically dependent on Ambien include:

  • Inability to limit or stop Ambien use, even if they wish to
  • Failure to maintain responsibilities at home, work, and school
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while using Ambien, such as unsafe sex
  • Strain on interpersonal relationships due to use
  • Lack of self-care, including poor personal hygiene
  • Extreme cravings for Ambien
  • Doctor shopping, or visiting multiple physicians to obtain prescriptions for Ambien
  • Forging Ambien prescriptions
  • Stealing prescriptions for Ambien
  • Attempting to refill Ambien prescriptions early
  • Financial difficulties
  • Continuing to use Ambien, even if it has caused negative consequences
  • Continued use, even if it has created or exacerbated physical and/or mental illness

Without question, Ambien is a drug that can be abused, leading to serious physical, personal, and professional consequences. As with other substances of abuse, those struggling with Ambien abuse or addiction can get well via comprehensive treatment. Care begins with medical detox, progresses to therapy, and continues through aftercare, helping the person to find a firm foundation in recovery and in a balanced, healthy life.

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