Sleep problems are increasingly common in the US, and millions of Americans are taking prescription sleep aids to help them fall and stay asleep. Ambien is a commonly prescribed sleep medication, and can benefit many people who struggle with insomnia. However, taking Ambien is not without risk.

Symptoms of Ambien Abuse

Ambien is considered less addictive than other medications prescribed for sleep problems, like benzodiazepines. However, it’s still possible to become dependent on Ambien to sleep or function normally. Even though it’s a prescription medication, misusing Ambien is dangerous and can have serious consequences.

An Ambien dependence can be tied with various abuse or addiction symptoms. Ambien addiction can result in changes in mood, behavior and level of functioning. In some cases, the signs of Ambien addiction may only be noticeable to those who are in close contact, like friends or family.

Research suggests that Ambien addiction is fairly uncommon, but it is still possible to become physically or psychologically dependent on the drug. Knowing the signs of Ambien abuse can help to identify addiction in a loved one or in yourself.

Physical Symptoms

As a sedative, Ambien can alter aspects of behavior and coordination. Ambien works by increasing the activity of GABA, a neurochemical that increases feelings of sleepiness. When someone is taking too much Ambien (or taking it too frequently), they may appear tired, confused and drowsy. Other Ambien addiction signs include:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Poor coordination
  • Memory problems
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Withdrawal symptoms when stopping use
  • Change in appetite or weight

If someone exhibits these symptoms and they cannot be explained by another condition, that individual may have an Ambien addiction. People who are struggling with Ambien addiction might also demonstrate drug-seeking behaviors. This can include seeming anxious if they can’t take or don’t have access to Ambien, or ‘doctor shopping’ to fill multiple prescriptions.

Psychological Symptoms

Ambien addiction can also change the way that someone thinks, solves problems or makes decisions. Some Ambien addiction symptoms are noticeable through emotional or mental changes in a person. These signs can include:

  • Continuing to use Ambien even if they experience negative side effects
  • Risk-taking to get the drug
  • Using Ambien as a coping strategy for other problems
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Obsession with finding Ambien or making sure it’s available to them
  • Avoidance or secrecy

Someone who is abusing Ambien may also feel that they can justify its use. For example, they might believe that their use is an appropriate form of self-medication or that they can stop using it whenever they want.

Side Effects of Ambien Abuse

Ambien can be beneficial for people with insomnia, but its potential risks and side effects should not be taken lightly. There are various potential negative side effects of Ambien. These side effects can be present even when following a prescription, but the chances of experiencing a bad side effect increase if Ambien is misused.

When someone is addicted to Ambien, they are likely taking high doses more frequently than recommended. This can increase the odds of a bad reaction or an overdose. Some of the side effects of Ambien addiction can include:

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Doing activities without remembering, like driving or eating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Memory loss
  • Hallucinations

Although rare, there is evidence that extremely high doses of Ambien may have a stimulant effect and produce feelings of intense drug craving and high energy. Abusing Ambien can also increase the risks of dangerous drug interactions, particularly with other central nervous system depressants, like alcohol. Mixing substances can lead to difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, or overdose.

Although there are some reports that women are more likely to experience negative side effects of Ambien, research shows that there are no gender differences in the effects of Ambien. The appropriate use and dose of Ambien depends on the individual, and should always be determined by a doctor.

Long-Term Side Effects of Ambien Abuse

The effects of Ambien generally subside in about 12 hours, but there are some symptoms that can persist for longer with repeated use or abuse. Long-term use of Ambien can impact both mental and physical health, and can worsen some of the sleep problems it was used to address.

Some of the potential long-term side effects of Ambien are:

  • Muscle pain
  • Persistent headaches
  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Psychiatric problems like depression, anxiety or hallucinations

These side effects can impact levels of functioning and can disrupt a person’s ability to function normally at work, at home and in relationships. Long-term use of Ambien can also result in dependence, and people who are dependent on Ambien will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking it. Withdrawal can include unpleasant, flu-like symptoms that range from uncomfortable to dangerous.

Signs of Ambien Overdose

Taking too much Ambien at once or in a short window of time can overload the body and result in an overdose. As a sedative, Ambien slows down some important bodily functions, like heart rate and breathing. Taking too much can cause these to drop dangerously low, which can prevent the brain from getting the oxygen it needs. Ambien can also be particularly dangerous if combined with other central nervous system depressants.

The signs and symptoms of an Ambien overdose can include:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Hallucinating
  • Headache or blurry vision
  • Lack of balance
  • Pain or numbness in arms, legs, hands or feet
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Very slow breathing rate
  • Feeling ‘drugged’
  • Difficulty staying awake or remaining conscious

If one or multiple of these signs are present, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. An Ambien overdose requires medical attention to make sure that the drug is safely cleared from the system.

Ambien is generally considered a safer sleep-aid medication, and some people may underestimate the risks of taking more than prescribed or using it recreationally. Ambien abuse and addiction are serious conditions that require treatment and therapy to overcome.

If you or a loved one are struggling with Ambien addiction, The Orlando Recovery Center can help. Reach out today to discuss partial hospitalization or outpatient treatment options available to you to begin your recovery.

Sources

Harward, Jonathan L.; Clinard, Valerie B.; Jiroutek, Michael R.; et al. “Impact of a US Food and Drug Administrat[…]etrospective Cohort.” The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, March 5, 2015. Accessed November 9, 2019.

Chiaro, Giacomo; Castelnovo, Anna; Bianco, Giovanni; et al. “Severe chronic abuse of Zolpidem in refractory insomnia.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, July 15, 2019. Accessed November 9, 2019.

Chattopadhyay, Abhijna Chandan; Shukla, Lekhansh; Kandasamy, Arun; et al. “High-dose zolpidem dependence – Psycho[…]d literature review.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, December 2016. Accessed November 9, 2019.

Roehrs, Timothy A.; Roth, Thomas. “Gender differences in the efficacy and s[…]ic nightly Zolpidem.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2016. Accessed November 9, 2019.

Moore, Thomas J.; Mattison, Donald R. “Assessment of Patterns of Potentially Un[…]afe Use of Zolpidem.” JAMA Internal Medicine, September 2018. Accessed November 9, 2019.

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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.