Getting Sleep: Ambien Addiction

The National Sleep Foundation reports that 76 percent of Americans studied reported to getting enough sleep on at least a few nights per week. That leaves 24 percent of the population that are not getting enough sleep on a consistent basis.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls the lack of sleep a public health epidemic. Many turn to the use of sedatives and sleeping aids to help with sleep problems. Sleeping pill use has increased by 54 percent since 2004, according to an article written by Denise Gellene for the Los Angeles Times3, with more than 30 million people using sleeping pills to help them get to sleep. This use has its drawbacks, as drugs like Ambien carry with them the risk of abuse and addiction.

How Does Ambien Work?

Ambien, or zolpidem tartrate, is a prescription sedative used to treat insomnia, the ability to either fall asleep or to stay asleep. The active ingredient is an anesthetic agent that works on the brain in a similar fashion to other sedatives and central nervous system depressants.

Ambien works relatively quickly as it is immediately broken down in the gastrointestinal tract. Peak concentration levels are reached between an hour and a half and two hours, according to the prescribing information for Ambien4. However, Ambien CR (controlled-release) formula continues to work for a longer period to help users remain asleep once they have fallen asleep. These effects last for up to 6 hours.

What Side Effects Should be Expected While Using Ambien?

Side effects occur with Ambien just as with any other drug.  The side effects may be dangerous when using this drug and can occur the next day after the drug’s use. Some of the side effects of Ambien use include:

  • Serious allergic reaction
  • Abnormal thinking
  • Changes in behavior
  • Complex behaviors
  • Performing complex activities while sleeping, such as driving
  • Sleepwalking and sleep-eating
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Other side effects not listed

Reports show that many people engage in complex and risky behaviors such as driving and cooking while sleeping under the influence of Ambien, with no recollection of doing so after the fact. The risk of side effects is so high, that in January 2013 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lowered to recommended dose for the prescription . Taking Ambien also increases the risk of having withdrawal symptoms when discontinuing use of the medication. The longer the drug is taken, the higher the risk of withdrawal.

Withdrawal Symptoms from Discontinuation of Ambien

When taking Ambien longer than the recommended time-frame, there is a greater risk of symptoms stemming from withdrawal from the drug. These symptoms may include:

  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Nervousness
  • Depression
  • Cravings
  • Delirium
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions/seizures

Sudden withdrawal from Ambien can cause dangerous seizures and should only be considered under the advice and guidance of a physician though might be best handled in a detox treatment facility. Discontinuation of this medication should be done gradually, decreasing the dose over a period.

Ambien and the Risk of Abuse

People addicted to or who abuse alcohol or drugs should not take Ambien due to increased risk of addiction and abuse. However, anyone can abuse or become addicted to this sleeping medication. That is because it affects the brain in a similar manner as benzodiazepines, which are also addictive substances.  Side effects of Ambien include the following:

  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Amnesia
  • Trouble with coordination

Side effects of Ambien resemble those experienced while using recreational drugs. Larger doses increase the potential for addiction, especially when taken an extended period.

Can Ambien Cause Dependence?

Ambien is a federally controlled substance because it has the potential to be abused and has been shown to lead to dependence. That is why doctors should only prescribe Ambien for up to ten days before looking into other treatment options.

The risk of dependency increases over long-term use of this drug. The makers of Ambien report the incidence of dependence is less than 1 percent. Eric J. Olson, M.D., for Mayo Clinic5, states that it is unlikely that ambien will cause dependency. However, there is always a danger of becoming dependent on sleeping pills, and there is substantial evidence that Ambien may be habit-forming more than formerly believed.

Contraindications from Using Ambien

Ambien affects the performance of other medications or certain medical conditions with often deadly results. Ambien interacts with other central nervous system depressants, certain drugs that affect metabolism, and others. Ambien should not be used by those pregnant or nursing.  Studies show that Ambien should not be given to children as there is not adequate evidence to establish safety in that population. People with certain physical and mental conditions should avoid taking Ambien for sleep problems.

Rather than depend on a sleeping aid such as Ambien, it is best to address the issue directly that is interfering with sleep. Sleeping pills are best used only occasionally on an as-needed basis to prevent the problems associated with abuse, potential dependency, and withdrawal from the drug.