We’ve all had that moment before. Lying in bed staring at the ceiling and hoping you can fall asleep. Some people might metaphorically count sheep while others might try another trick like drinking a warm glass of milk. In some cases, you might find yourself so desperate enough to get to sleep that you turn to a sleeping pill such as Ambien.
While for the most part taking a sleeping pill like Ambien on rare occasions won’t result in any lasting negative effects, taking it regularly can have some long-term negative effects. The long-term effects of Ambien can cause a variety of physical issues and can even lead to dependence and addiction if not monitored or treated properly.
What Is Ambien?
Ambien is the brand name for zolpidem tartrate, which is a sedative drug that is commonly prescribed to treat sleep-related issues such as insomnia.
Initially, Ambien was looked at as a safer alternative to benzos because it was believed that there was less risk of tolerance, dependence, and ultimately addiction. Studies over the years have shown that to not always be the case.
In addition to its potential for dependence and addiction, long-term use of Ambien also comes with potentially serious medical issues.
What Are Some of the Side Effects of Ambien?
Many people who take Ambien are so desperate for a good night’s sleep that they will do anything to get it. However, Ambien does come with some pretty significant short-term and long-term side effects if abused or taken regularly for an extended period of time.
Some common side effects associated with regular Ambien use include:
- Digestive issues
- Coordination issues
- Memory loss
- Lack of muscle control
- Dry mouth
- Muscle pain
- Suicidal thoughts
What Are Some of the Other Consequences of Long-Term Ambien Use?
In addition to the potential negative side effects associated with taking Ambien, using or abusing it for long periods of time can lead to serious issues such as dependence, addiction, and even overdose in some extreme cases.
As your brain gets more and more used to taking Ambien to help you sleep, it starts thinking that the only way it can get to sleep is if you take an Ambien. When this happens, you will start needing to take more and more in order to get and stay asleep.
Additionally, once you have grown dependent on Ambien you will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms when it is no longer in your system. Some common withdrawal symptoms include:
Typically, once you become dependent on a substance the next step is addiction. If once you have identified your dependency you try to stop taking Ambien but are unsuccessful, that might be a sign that you have become addicted to it.
Some other potential signs of addiction to Ambien include:
- Continuing to take it despite the negative consequences of doing so
- Taking it longer than medically prescribed
- Constantly craving it to trying it seek it out
- Abandoning activities or commitments in favor of taking the substance
In some extreme cases, people can overdose on Ambien. While the chances of an overdose are small when Ambien is taken on its own, the chances increase significantly when it is mixed with another drug or alcohol.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an Ambien-related overdose it is crucial to seek medical attention immediately. Some signs of an Ambien-related overdose include:
- Slowed breathing
- Slow heart rate
- Excessive drowsiness
Who Is More Likely To Suffer From Ambien Dependence and Addiction?
Roughly 30% of all adults have trouble falling or staying asleep. Approximately 10% suffer from a severe sleep disorder. Someone suffering from a sleep disorder is likely to be prescribed Ambien.
Studies have shown that women and adults over the age of 45 have a higher rate of Ambien abuse and addiction. In fact, more than ⅔ of all Ambien-related ER patients are women. Additionally, nearly 74% of all people that go to the ER as a result of Ambien use are over the age of 45.
Another demographic that is at a higher risk of Ambien addiction is teens. A 2015 survey of nearly 3,000 teenage students found that close to 10% of them had been prescribed a sleep aid, such as Ambien. Additionally, the study found that teens are nearly 10 times more likely to abuse sleep aids for recreational purposes.
How Is Ambien Abused Recreationally?
Like most medically-prescribed substances, Ambien is often taken and abused in ways other than directed. While medically, it is used as a sedative to help a person sleep, when taken recreationally it is actually used as a stimulant.
Taking Ambien recreationally produces feelings of pleasure and euphoria and produces a high. Many people ingest Ambien recreationally in unsafe ways as well such as crushing and snorting the pills.
When taken recreationally, Ambien is also regularly combined with other illicit drugs or alcohol, which not only creates stronger, more long-lasting side effects, but it also increases the risk of addiction.
How Can I Get Help For My Ambien Addiction?
If you or someone you know is suffering from an Ambien dependence or addiction, it is important to get help right away before the symptoms get worse. For those suffering from Ambien addiction, there are a variety of treatment options available.
The first step to getting clean and sober from any substance of abuse, including Ambien is to undergo detox. During the detox process, you will rid your body of Ambien as well as any other illicit substances you might have taken. This allows the brain and body to begin to recover and heal.
Withdrawal symptoms, which we touched on above, can begin as soon as 48 hours after the last dose of Ambien was taken. It is during that time that relapse is most likely to occur.
As a result, it is important to undergo the detox process under around-the-clock care and the supervision of trained medical professionals. They can help make the process more comfortable and even prescribe medications to help alleviate some of the more severe withdrawal symptoms.
Detoxing should be done at a local medical facility, a dedicated detox center, or a treatment center that also offers detox services such as Westwind Recovery®. Not only can self-detoxing increase the risk of a relapse, but it can also be dangerous and potentially life-threatening.
Once detox has been completed, the next step is to enter into a treatment program. Based on the severity of your addiction and your needs, your treatment professional will likely recommend either inpatient or outpatient treatment and create a custom treatment plan for you.
As the name implies, with inpatient treatment you will live at the facility for the duration of treatment. With outpatient treatment, you will come to the facility during the day to attend your various therapies and other sessions and then return home at the end of the day. Since you aren’t being constantly monitored with outpatient treatment, it is important that you have a supportive and sober environment to return home to every day.
Treatment will consist mostly of various types of therapies including both individual and group therapy. In addition, at Westwind Recovery® we offer a variety of alternative therapies as well including:
- Adventure therapy program
- Art therapy for addiction
- Music therapy program
- Virtual reality meditation therapy
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation
In addition to treatment and therapy, there are some things you can do at home to help fight cravings and continue your sobriety from Ambien.
Some home remedies include:
- Avoiding anything stimulating before bed such as caffeine, electronics, or exercise
- Creating and sticking to a regular sleep schedule
- Practicing meditation and other relaxation techniques before bed
- Keeping your bedroom cold and dark
Additionally, many people find comfort in support groups such as 12-step programs. It can be difficult at times to talk to someone about your struggles with Ambien in the past, especially if they haven’t gone through the same or a similar experience.
Support groups provide that safe and supportive space to talk about your problems with people who all know what you are going through because they have been through either the same thing or something similar and can relate.
Are You Suffering From the Long-Term Effects of Ambien?
While most people who take Ambien do so because they suffer from a severe sleep disorder and just want to finally get some sleep, taking it for too long can have some severe unintended consequences such as dependence or addiction.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an Ambien addiction, it’s important to get help before symptoms worsen and lead to major medical problems.
At Westwind Recovery®, we understand the significance of Ambien addiction. That’s why we offer a variety of treatment plans to fit you and your needs. For more information about our treatment plans and to learn how we can help you with your Ambien addiction, contact us today.
Dr. Deena is the Chief Clinical Officer of Westwind Recovery®, an award-winning outpatient treatment center in Los Angeles where she oversees the clinical and administrative program and treatment methods. Dr. Deena is a doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker since 1993. LCSW #20628. Originally from the East Coast, Dr. Deena has worked running treatment centers, worked as a therapist in psychiatric hospitals as well as school settings and currently has a thriving private practice in the LA area. Dr. Deena has appeared regularly on the Dr. Phil Show as an expert since 2003. She has also been featured on many other TV shows, podcasts and has contributed to written publications as well as podcasts.