Ambien Withdrawal and Treatment
What is Ambien?
Ambien is a brand name formulation of the drug zolpidem, and is a prescription medication indicated for use in the management of sleep problems such as insomnia 1. Ambien and drugs like it are considered central nervous system (CNS) depressants because of their calming effects on the brain. Ambien typically causes drowsiness, making it an effective sleep aid 2. Some potential side effects include dizziness, shaking, unsteady balance, and odd dreams. Serious symptoms of overdose can include respiratory depression, slowed heart rate, and loss of consciousness.
Is Ambien Addictive?
Ambien can be addictive for some users despite being legally available with a prescription. Ambien addiction is characterized by compulsive and problematic use regardless of significant life impairment. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that prescription drugs are a growing problem, and that emergency room visits for Ambien problems have nearly doubled between 2004 and 2008 1.
Non-medical use of Ambien is often associated with alcoholism and illegal drug addictions, a combination which can be a dangerous or even deadly combination.7 The user may even take Ambien in an attempt to decrease the unwanted side effects caused by these other drugs.7 Although not specific to Ambien, in general, sedative-hypnotic users are more likely to suffer from a comorbid mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.7
While some users may be able to take the drug as prescribed on a short-term basis, others may develop fierce physiologic dependencies, and eventually become addicted – finding it difficult to quit without help. If you’ve become dependent on Ambien, there are options for you to seek help, including medically supervised detox.
Effects of Ambien
Those who abuse Ambien may have first received the medication via a prescription or, in other cases, have illicitly obtained the drug merely for recreational use. Regardless, the user may begin noticing unpleasant or even dangerous side effects along with the desired effects. These detrimental side effects are important to know and understand as many people may be under the impression that, as a prescription medication, Ambien is entirely safe to take. Below is a list of immediate effects of Ambien abuse:7,10
- Inappropriate sexual or aggressive behavior.
- Mood swings.
- Impaired judgment.
- Coordination problems.
- Unsteady gait.
- Slurred speech.
- Slow reflexes.
- Impaired memory and attention.
In the event of an overdose, a person may experience the following hazardous effects:10
- Respiratory depression.
- Respiratory failure.
If you suspect that someone has overdosed on Ambien or any other drug, it’s vital that you call 911 immediately and wait with the individual until medical personnel arrive.
Dangers of Long-Term Ambien Misuse
When you abuse Ambien over an extended period of time, it is more likely that you will develop an addiction, characterized by uncontrollable Ambien use, and other long-term consequences of use. These dangers of continued Ambien use include the following:7,10
- Tolerance: The need for more of the drug in order to get the same desired effect
- Dependence: The body’s adaptation to the presence of the drug, resulting in withdrawal symptoms with the cessation of or reduction in use
- Increased risk of overdose, which could result in coma or death
- Slowed pulse, decreased breathing rate, and reduced blood pressure
- Increased risk of injury from accidents
- Interpersonal difficulties, such as fights or arguments
- Poor performance at work or school
- Legal problems resulting from uninhibited behaviors
Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms
When a drug like Ambien is taken for a period of time and then abruptly stopped, an individual may experience withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal include 2, 3:
- Rebound insomnia, or more difficulty sleeping than experienced before taking the drug.
- Stomach and muscle pains.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Auditory or visual hallucinations.
In rare cases, acute withdrawal from Ambien may lead to convulsions or seizures. Though it presents a small risk, it stresses the potential importance of detoxing under medical supervision. It is common for people to have different experiences during withdrawal. Specific factors that may affect the presence or intensity of withdrawal include:
- Frequency of use.
- Duration of use.
- Physical health condition.
- Mental health issues.
Abrupt discontinuation of Ambien can produce withdrawal symptoms within a relatively short period of time. Clinical trials in the US showed the emergence of withdrawal symptoms within approximately 48 hours of last use 9.
Withdrawal symptoms may be effectively managed in a supervised detox facility. During medical detox, you’ll typically be tapered off Ambien in order to allow your body time to adjust to not having it anymore. This process of reducing your dosage over time reduces the severity of symptoms and lowers the risk of convulsions/seizures.
Prescription drugs may be used to manage some of the more significant physical and/or psychological symptoms and ensure your safety.
NOTE: Taking Ambien with other sleep medications or alcohol may increase the likelihood of becoming dependent on the drug and experiencing serious withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit 5. Mixing Ambien with other drugs can be dangerous. It is recommended that you discuss all drugs you are taking with your doctor. If you’re combining drugs — especially if you are a heavy alcohol user – it is extremely important to enter a supervised medical detox program, as very serious symptoms can easily arise during withdrawal.
Do I Need to Detox from Ambien?
You may be addicted to Ambien and need detox if you show two or more of the following signs 7:
- Taking the drug in larger amounts.
- Being unable to cut down on your own.
- Spending a long time acquiring, using or recovering from using Ambien.
- Craving the drug.
- Being unable to carry out obligations at work, school or home.
- Continuing to use despite problems with others caused by the drug.
- Giving up important activities or hobbies.
- Using Ambien in dangerous situations.
- Continuing to use the drug despite physical or mental problems.
- Tolerance, which includes a need for more of the drug to experience the desired effect, or experiencing a diminished effect with the same amount.
- Withdrawal symptoms.
One major danger of long-term Ambien use is a higher risk of accidents. One large study found that users were twice as likely to have car accidents when compared to non-Ambien users 8.
Unfortunately, little is known about how long-term Ambien use and addiction can affect mental health. Withdrawing from it can lead to anxiety, which may or may not persist after detox is complete 3. You should consult with your doctor if you use Ambien and have a history of mental health symptoms.
Supervised Detox for Ambien
Supervised detox centers evaluate clients, stabilize symptoms, and prepare clients for entering treatment 6. Detox is important when stopping Ambien because of the potential for dangerous and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms such as sleep problems and seizures 2, 3. Detoxing alone may put users at a serious health risk.
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Benefits of Ambien Detox
Detox programs aim to monitor and manage physical and mental symptoms and ease discomfort 6. Supervised detox programs offer the following benefits:
- A protective environment free of drugs and alcohol.
- 24/7 monitoring by medical professionals who specialize in treating addiction.
- Medications to treat withdrawal symptoms, if necessary.
- Close monitoring and possible treatment of mental health symptoms by mental health professionals.
- Many detox programs are a part of or transition directly into longer-term residential substance abuse recovery programs.
Treatment for Ambien Addiction
Many treatment programs are available to help with Ambien addiction. Some people seeking treatment choose to attend a detox program, then transition to a different treatment program, such as a drug rehab. Others choose to attend a treatment program that also provides supervised detox.
A rehab program that includes supervised detox allows you to receive both detox and addiction treatment at the same place. This continuity of care is a major benefit for many people — it provides an opportunity to develop relationships with staff members and other clients over a longer period of time. If you choose to attend a stand-alone detox program, you can request a referral to a rehab provider after your detox is complete.
Different levels of care, or intensities of treatment, include:
- Inpatient or residential programs that provide intensive treatment and allow you to stay at a facility for a period of time, which can range from days to months. They typically offer a combination of group, individual, and family therapy sessions.
- Outpatient programs differ from residential programs in that you attend therapy sessions for a few hours a day, then return home. They utilize similar substance abuse treatment approaches to those of inpatient or residential programs, including a combination of group, individual, and family therapy.
- Individual psychotherapy involves meeting one-on-one with a therapist for set number of sessions per week (usually one or two). Many clients who complete inpatient or outpatient programs choose this option to continue their treatment.
In addition to choosing a level of care, you may want to consider different types of approaches to treating addiction. You may find one or more of these approaches in a program 4:
- Twelve-step programs are based on the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is a spiritual approach to addiction recovery. Twelve-step programs help clients develop a relationship with a “higher” power (as defined by the recovering individual) and recognize their powerlessness over their addiction.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a well-studied treatment for addiction. It focuses on helping people recognize the events, thoughts, and emotions that can trigger a desire to use drugs. Other strategies include developing alternative coping skills, changing negative thoughts, and creating a relapse prevention plan to use during cravings.
- Motivational enhancement therapy (MET) addresses the patient’s uncertainty about quitting drugs. It recognizes that drugs have both positive and negative effects on people and works to increase clients’ motivation for quitting drugs by helping them understand the role that drugs play in their lives.
- Contingency management (CM) involves giving vouchers to clients for showing positive behaviors, such as negative drug tests, attending recovery meetings and therapy sessions, and completing homework assignments. Vouchers can then be redeemed for prizes or rewards. The goal of contingency management is to increase clients’ desire to stay sober by rewarding positive behaviors.
There are many options available for Ambien treatment. Considering what level of care and approach you need can help guide your decision. In addition, you may want to consult with your physician or mental health provider, who may be able to recommend a program.
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