Ambien (zolpidem tartrate) is a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) agonist, meaning that it activates neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for producing GABA, a chemical that effectively slows down the central nervous system and can result in relaxation and sleepiness.
Ambien is frequently prescribed for insomnia or sleeping difficulties and is found in 5mg and 10mg doses.
Concerning Ambien, the Mayo Clinic says that it’s unlikely to develop a dependence of Ambien and that medications such as Ambien are “much less likely to be habit-forming than some other drugs sometimes prescribed for sleep problems — for example, benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan) or temazepam (Restoril).”
This position appears to be in line with the general consensus. Ambien use, however, is not without its problems, and indeed, other sources believe that regular Ambien use CAN result in a psychological dependence and perhaps some level of tolerance, and users can gradually begin to require and use larger doses to achieve the same sedative effects.
Ambien Addiction: A Real-Life Case Study
Michelle is a 46-year-old female with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. She is prescribed Adderall, a stimulant, during the day, and finds it difficult to sleep at night. She has been using Ambien under a doctor’s guidance for several years to help with this problem.
Per Michelle 5 years ago: “I like taking Ambien because I know I’m going to fall right to sleep within a half hour and not lie there awake for hours.”
Two years ago, Michelle started going through a separation from her long-term husband and found herself, once again, unable to sleep. Unable to increase her dosage fearing she would run out of Ambien, she suffered through months of sleepless nights.
Today, she says it “still helps for the most part” but noted that “my doctor knocked it down to 5mg from 10mg, some new law about women over 45.”
Well, it’s not exactly a law, and after such a little research, this author covered the following:
In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it had informed manufacturers of products containing Zolpidem, such as Ambien, that they should decrease the recommended dosage. So the standard dosage of Ambien for women was reduced from 10mg to 5mg.
For men, however, the FDA simply recommended that doctors consider lowering the dosage to 5 mg. Also, the FDA noted that health care providers should inform patients that they may be at a higher risk of impaired alertness.
The reason for the change stemmed from clinical trials and driving simulation research. They found that some women did not perform certain tasks, such as driving, as well the morning after using Ambien.
Ambien Addiction: Adverse Effects
According to Health.com:
“Ambien is far less likely than some other prescription medications to provoke misuse and dependence, but it’s not entirely benign, either.”
Stephen Ross, MD, at the New York University School of Medicine:
“We’re now seeing more and more case reports – many case reports – of people becoming genuinely addicted.”
Ross went on to explain that a patient begins taking higher doses of Ambien to get the same sedative/sleep benefit, and that “he has treated people who have become so tolerant to the drug that they pop up to 10 or 20 pills – instead of the recommended one pill – per day.”
He also added that “in the process of treating their insomnia, some people realize they like the “high” or the anxiety-easing effects that Ambien gives them” and that the drug can, indeed, become habit-forming when taken too much/too often, and is more likely among those who are currently addicted to other substances.
Finally, Ambien can be especially dangerous when used recreationally (other than prescribed) especially if combined with other drugs, such as opioids, or alcohol.
Ambien Addiction: Official Side Effects
Common side effects of Ambien (zolpidem) include the following:
- Daytime drowsiness
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- “Drugged” feeling
- Loss of coordination,
- Stuffy nose or nasal irritation
- Dry mouth
- Sore throat
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Upset stomach
- Muscle pain
- Ataxia (balance problems)
- Visual changes
Rare, but more serious effects include the following:
- Memory loss
- Mental/mood/behavior changes (e.g. new or worsening depression, abnormal thoughts, suicide ideations, hallucinations, confusion, agitation, aggression or anxiety)
Treatment for Ambien Addiction
Ambien probably has a low likelihood for a chemical dependency but appears to, at least anecdotally, to have the potential for a psychological dependency, abuse, and the development of tolerance.
If you feel that you or a loved one are addicted to Ambien, you should seek help immediately. Addiction is very treatable, and evidence has shown that outcomes are improved when patients undergo long-term rehab (residential) and intensive outpatient treatment programs.
Our center offers comprehensive, evidence-based therapies that are administered by medical and mental health professionals with expertise in the area of addiction. We can give you the tools you need to regain the happy, healthy, and fulfilling life that you deserve.
You can reclaim the life you deserve and enjoy long-lasting wellness and sobriety! Contact us as soon as possible and find out how we can help!