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Can you become addicted to a medication that helps you sleep? Quite possibly. Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic drug prescribed for insomnia. While it is intended for short-term use, some people use it for long periods of time and in greater doses than prescribed, increasing the risk of dependence and addiction.
How Is Ambien an Addictive Drug?
Ambien works to activate the GABA neurotransmitter in the brain. This slows down the function of the central nervous system, including the brain, which helps a person to fall asleep. The quick-release form of the drug helps a person fall asleep, while an extended-release form helps a person remain asleep.
Also known as Zolpidem, Ambien is an FDA-approved sleep aid taken as an oral tablet. Those abusing the drug may crush and snort it. Ambien is sometimes referred to as zombie pills, no-gos, or A-minus.
This drug has the same type of effectiveness as benzodiazepines. However, it takes longer for someone to become addicted to Ambien than to benzos. Even so, Ambien addiction can be serious and, in some cases, lead to numerous health complications.
Initially, manufacturers of the drug stated it was a safer, less risky drug than benzos. Yet over time, it became clear that people could suffer from addiction as a result of using Ambien even for short periods of time. It is now a Schedule IV controlled substance in the U.S.
When used for reasons outside of sleep, Ambien can create an intense euphoric feeling. It can also cause hallucinations, though not as severely as other types of drugs.
Addiction & Dependence
For some people, Ambien addiction can begin in just two weeks. That may stem from using the drug according to a prescription or from using the drug beyond the recommendations of a doctor. A person may develop a dependence on Ambien quickly, often with symptoms such as:
- Intense headaches
- Trouble sleeping
- Significant cravings for the drug even when not trying to sleep
- Feeling ill when not using the drug
- Struggling with responsibilities and relationships
Many people with Ambien addiction spend a lot of time seeking out the drug. They isolate themselves from friends and family and may repeatedly attempt refill prescriptions before they should have run out of the drugs. If this is happening to you or a loved one, it is critical to seek help for Ambien addiction.
Ambien is less likely than other drugs to cause overdose, though it can occur. Overdose may happen as tolerance to the drug grows, leading to increased use of the drug. There are some high-risk side effects experienced by some individuals taking Ambien. If you notice these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, seek out help immediately:
- Aggressive behavior
- Intense anxiety
- Onset of depression
- Lack of coordination
- Intensifying nightmares
- Suicidal thoughts
Some people may find their insomnia worsening the longer they take Ambien. This does not mean you need more of the drug to sleep. It may mean that your addiction to the drug is worsening.
Avoiding Addiction to Ambien
As a prescription medication, Ambien benefits many people who struggle with sleep disruptions. Compared to other drugs like benzos and opioids, the risk for abusing Ambien is low. Still, for those who do not want to fall victim to Ambien dependence or addiction, here are some guidelines:
Use it only as directed. Read and understand the prescription provided by your doctor. Avoid using more of the drug even if you think you need to do so.
Limit the length of time you are using this drug. Generally, doctors prescribe it for only acute needs and only for one to two weeks at a time.
If you are using it for a longer term, dive deeper into why. Talk with your doctor. You may need to focus on the underlying problems related to insomnia or seek out different treatment.
You should only use medications issued to you by a doctor who has seen you in person. Use those medications only as recommended, but don’t stop taking them without talking to your doctor first.