Ambien Addiction Treatment

Zolpidem is a popular medication to treat insomnia. The most recognizable brand name of zolpidem is Ambien. The medication is a sedative-hypnotic drug that affects neurotransmitters. It slows brain activity in order to help users fall asleep.

Since zolpidem’s introduction to the market, it has been considered a safer alternative to the sleep medications before it, including highly addictive benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

Although zolpidem is generally considered safe when taken as directed, its misuse and abuse may be more common than previously thought, resulting in side effects like memory loss, dependence, and addiction. Ambien has also been connected with dangerous side effects, such as parasomnias.

Treatment for zolpidem addiction may include therapy and medication-assisted treatment. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, but medical detox can make the process more comfortable.

What Is Zolpidem?

Zolpidem is a medication used to treat chronic and acute insomnia.

While Ambien is the most well-known brand name of zolpidem, the drug is also available as Edluar (a sublingual tablet, taken underneath the tongue), Zolpimist (an oral spray), Intermezzo (a fast-acting sublingual tablet), and Ambien CR, a two-layer extended-release tablet with one layer to help an individual get to sleep and another to help them stay asleep. Several companies make generic versions of zolpidem.

Zolpidem is classified as a sedative-hypnotic drug. These types of drugs work by depressing the central nervous system and slowing brain activity.

Approximately 85 percent of prescribed sleeping pills are forms of zolpidem, making zolpidem the most commonly prescribed medication for insomnia.. This means that almost 38 million adults in the U.S. are prescribed some form of zolpidem for a sleeping problem.

How Does Zolpidem Work?

Zolpidem works by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters act as chemical messengers; they carry, boost, and balance signals between neurons, or nerve cells, in the body. Special proteins, called receptors, are designed to bind to certain neurotransmitters in order to release a signal to the body, affecting thoughts and behavior.

Ambien binds to certain receptors in order to slow brain activity. It is believed that the effects of zolpidem are mostly linked to GABA receptors, which primarily inhibit the activity of neurons. This slows and halts activity in certain parts of the brain.

This process is believed to cause lower activity levels in the parts of the brain responsible for processing thoughts. Ultimately, it helps individuals to slow their thoughts in order to fall asleep more easily.

One area of the brain that may be affected by zolpidem is the hippocampus, which plays an important role in the formation of memory. In mice studies, Ambien has been shown to reduce activity in this region, thereby promoting sleep.

Is Ambien Addictive or Habit-Forming?

Since its FDA approval, zolpidem has been considered a much safer alternative to older-generation sleeping medications, particularly barbiturates. Though they were once commonly prescribed for insomnia, barbiturates are highly addictive and dangerous. Patients can easily develop a tolerance to these drugs, resulting in dependence.

While zolpidem is considered a safe and effective drug for combating insomnia and sleep disorders, it can become addictive as well. Users can experience withdrawal when stopping the drug after periods of prolonged use.

Drug manufacturers insist that when used properly, withdrawal symptoms from zolpidem will only be experienced by 1 percent of users. But zolpidem can easily be misused or abused, with recreational use or an “extra dose” becoming normal in users lives. Since users often desperately want to sleep, they may double up on doses if sleep still eludes them with standard use.

Zolpidem abuse is most common among teenagers, young adults, and those with substance use problems. Ambien may commonly be combined with other substances of abuse, like alcohol. Combining substances in this manner compounds the effects of the drug and can rapidly lead to adverse reactions, like overdose.

Side Effects of Ambien

Common side effects of Ambien include the following:

  • REM sleep suppression (negatively impacting sleep quality)
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Back pain
  • Irregular heartbeat or breathing difficulties
  • Depression
  • Allergic reactions
  • Flu-like symptoms, sore throat, or sinus problems
  • Rash
  • Dry mouth

More rarely, serious side effects are experienced by those who use zolpidem. These include the following:

  • Serious depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Aggressive, out-of-character behavior
  • Memory loss
  • Performing unusual activities while asleep (sleepwalking, or talking, driving, cooking, or performing other activities while asleep)
  • Serious allergic reaction
  • Hallucinations
  • Withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing use

Anyone experiencing serious side effects from zolpidem should seek immediate medical care.

Potential Risks & Dangers of Zolpidem Abuse

Individuals who abuse zolpidem should be aware of the following risks and dangers:

  • Memory loss and bizarre behavior: Ambien has become notorious for causing memory loss and strange actions while asleep (as well as while in a sleepy-not-quite-asleep state). Makers of the drug have insisted that these side effects are nearly nonexistent in users who take the drug properly, and that sleep-related activities while on zolpidem are usually limited to relatively normal activities, such as sleepwalking and conversing while asleep.
  • Contradictions with other drugs: Before beginning zolpidem, individuals should discuss any other medications or herbal supplements they are taking with their doctor. Taking other medications that affect the brain along with zolpidem could be dangerous, leading to breathing problems or other life-threatening conditions.
  • Contradiction with alcohol: Because alcohol acts as a depressant and suppresses the central nervous system and respiratory system, it should not be taken with zolpidem. Doing so could result in slowed or stopped breathing.
  • Issues during pregnancy:Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use zolpidem.

Although there has not been enough research done in the area, there is some concern that long-term zolpidem abuse can lead to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Benzodiazepines, also once commonly prescribed to treat insomnia, have recently been linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as well.

Ambien Withdrawal

Zolpidem has long been considered a safe and generally less habit-forming-drug, particularly when compared to recent alternative drugs that have been used to treat sleeping disorders. For this reason, while zolpidem abuse and dependence are now appearing more widespread than once thought, there has been very limited research on zolpidem addiction and withdrawal.

Reports of withdrawal indicate that the severity of symptoms will likely depend on the individual’s background, as well as the length and intensity of their zolpidem use.

Withdrawal symptoms may include the following:

  • Restlessness
  • Tremors in the hands
  • Headaches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Aches and pains
  • Racing pulse or hyperventilation
  • Aches and pains
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Sleeplessness

Treatment for Ambien Addiction

Each individual’s experience with addiction is unique, and the treatment required for any substance use disorder, including one involving zolpidem or Ambien, will depend on the specific needs of the individual. Their background, behavioral patterns, personal history, relationship with addiction, and level of physical addiction or dependence on the drug will all play a part in designing a treatment plan to guide them through recovery.

These elements of addiction treatment have been proven effective:

  • Comprehensive therapy: Underlying issues — such as trauma, mental health problems, and unresolved thought patterns — are often at the root of why an individual is misusing or abusing zolpidem. Therapy can help to work through these issues and provide the person with new coping and life skills.While some people are wary of psychoanalyzing old events or thoughts, modern therapy is often more focused on solutions-based techniques that will help to navigate the path to recovery as well as to maintain sobriety in the real world. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, can help individuals to react to situations and stressors more effectively, and proactively change destructive thought patterns.Therapy comes in many forms. Many programs will use a combination of various types of therapy that work best for the individual.
  • Medication assistance: Depending on the severity of the withdrawal symptoms, medications may be used during the initial withdrawal period in order to make the experience more comfortable or safe. While there aren’t medications specifically used to address Ambien withdrawal, individual symptoms can be treated as needed. After withdrawal, non-habit-forming medication may be deemed necessary in order to treat underlying issues, like anxiety or depression.
  • Evidence-based treatment: NIDA recommends care that is based on research evidence. If a treatment doesn’t have research backing it, avoid it.
  • A long-term plan: There isn’t a quick fix for addiction. Recovery requires an ongoing aftercare plan after the initial phase of more intense treatment. Addiction treatment professionals can help you devise a full plan that supports your ongoing recovery for the long term.
  • Exercise and wellness practices: Regular exercise can positively impact your health and overall outlook. Through practices like yoga or meditation, you can learn helpful breathing and calming techniques that can help you cope with triggers to return to substance abuse.

Taking the First Step

Oftentimes, the first step on the journey to recovery is the hardest. But with a quality treatment plan and encouraging network of people, you can stop abusing Ambien and all other substances.

As you progress in recovery, you’ll build a healthy life that supports your sobriety. Though the first step can be hard, it is well worth taking.

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