When you’re in desperate need of good, deep sleep, you’ll try almost anything to make sure that happens. While there are numerous over-the-counter (OTC) remedies for occasional sleeplessness, many people talk with their doctors about stronger options, like Ambien, if the OTCs don’t achieve the desired effect.
Unfortunately, Ambien can be habit-forming if misused, and supervised treatment is required to break the cycle.
Facts About Ambien
Ambien and Ambien CR, manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis, are brand names for zolpidem tartrate.
- Ambien, an immediate release formula, is “a prescription medicine for the short-term treatment of adults who have trouble falling asleep.”
- Ambien CR, an extended-release formula, is “a prescription medicine for treatment of adults with trouble falling asleep and/or waking up often during the night.”
Both medications are designed to be prescribed for short-term recovery from sleeplessness. People might have temporary sleep disruption due to stress, work- or health-related issues, chronic pain, mental health conditions, grief, trauma, and other contributing factors.
Usually, a physician prescribes Ambien or Ambien CR for 10–15 days to provide a minimum of 7–9 hours of uninterrupted rest. This is often just enough of an aid to help reset an individual’s circadian rhythms and daily health, so they’ll eventually sleep fine on their own. Men and women often receive different dosage amounts.
Side Effects and Other Problems With Ambien
Ambien and Ambien CR are in a category of sleeping pills known as “sedative-hypnotics“. They work with neurotransmitters—primarily GABA—to calm the nervous system and brain activity to induce deep sleep. It’s not likely to be prescribed to people with a personal or family history of:
- Alcohol or substance use disorder
- COPD and other respiratory complications
- Liver or kidney disease
- Sleep apnea
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
The manufacturer warns of “complex sleep behaviors” as a primary side effect of this drug, in which a person might not be fully awake after a sleep session prompted by the drug, and engage in the following behaviors:
- Sexual activity
- Preparing and eating food
- Having phone, text, and social media interactions
Not only is there a chance people won’t remember participating in these activities, but they might also actually harm themselves or others during one of these episodes.
Some people also experience extreme grogginess the day after taking the drug, which can also compromise their ability to perform daily tasks.
Other severe side effects of Ambien and Ambien CR include:
- Abnormal thoughts and behavior, such as “acting strangely,” agitation, aggressive behavior, confusion, depression, hallucinations, and suicide ideation and attempt
- Anxiety, depression, or worsening symptoms of existing mental health issues
- Memory loss and “lost time”
- Strong allergic reactions, such as respiratory trouble and swelling of the throat or tongue
Any experiences of complex sleep behaviors or side effects while taking Ambien or Ambien CR require immediate medical attention.
There are also reports of this sleep aid being used as an illicit drug, primarily by crushing tablets to snort or liquefy and then staying awake to experience its hallucinogenic effects. Some street names for Ambien/Ambien CR/zolpidem include A-minus, deathmoth, no-go’s, sleepeasy, tic-tacs, and zombie pills.
Treatment for Ambien Addiction at Twin Lakes
Someone who temporarily uses these sleep aids as directed for the prescribed amount of time shouldn’t develop a problem. However, although Ambien, Ambien CR, and other zolpidem sleep aids aren’t technically addictive like barbiturate products, people cultivate a dependency on them for various reasons:
- Misuse. If someone chooses to self-medicate with this sleep drug to reduce anxiety or experience hallucinogenic effects or takes more than prescribed or for longer than directed, they’ll likely become addicted.
- Brain chemistry alteration. Any substance that perpetually affects neurotransmitters in the reward center of the brain will ultimately create a behavioral shift, and Ambien and Ambien CR are no exception.
- Physical or psychological need. If an individual is dealing with chronic pain, or afraid they won’t sleep well without Ambien or Ambien CR because of struggling with insomnia before, this might manifest into compulsive use—a primary factor in substance addiction.
If someone has misused these sleep aids for an extended period, it’s dangerous to simply stop taking them without medical guidance.
The first step of professional treatment is a supervised detox program to help minimize Ambien’s withdrawal effects. The whole point of detoxification is to gradually reduce the impact of the drug and help an individual’s mind and body stabilize over a period of a few days or perhaps a couple of weeks.
But this isn’t anything to fear: we outline the entire process in our article, What Happens During Addiction Detox?
Comprehensive treatment will also delve into the reasons for sleep or behavioral issues that contributed to the misuse of Ambien or Ambien CR. Medical professionals might construct a treatment plan to address these conditions specifically.
More than 30 percent of people have regular insomnia, and 10 percent have chronic insomnia. This sleep disorder is often compounded by addiction, mental and emotional health conditions, and chronic pain. It’s critical to address these underlying factors if a person is going to be able to healthfully adjust their sleep habits without needing OTC or prescription aids.
Believe it or not, humans are the only mammals who deliberately deprive themselves of sleep. So, some individuals simply have poor “sleep hygiene” due to a variety of factors. In professional care, they’ll learn how to improve sleep habits and place a priority on these behaviors.
Reach out to a member of our admissions team to discuss options for your best care.