It seems innocuous. You have a job that requires waking up at 6AM, but you like to stay up until 2AM every night. How will you get those z’s, and maximize that small window of sleeptime? Over half a million Americans, especially but not exclusively women, make the wrong choice; they reach for an Ambien. Part of a class of drugs referred to in medical literature as sedative-hypnotics, these non-benzodiazepine “z-drugs” have the same medical effectiveness as benzodizepines such as Xanax, but they are intended to minimize the hazardous and habit-forming properties of those drugs. However, they are designed for people with acute insomnia, and are relatively safe an effective as part of a physician’s treatment for a chronic condition.
However, when used casually as an aid to sleep, without a physician’s careful monitoring, Ambien can quickly lead to addiction. This in turn, can lead to a wide range of serious health and psychological issues, and may even result in death.
Addiction to this drug can occur in as little as two weeks. Many users are unaware that they have become addicted until they stop taking the drug and realize they cannot sleep without it. Withdrawal symptoms manifest themselves if an addicted person stops taking Ambien, and it is through these withdrawal symptoms that is an addiction becomes evident to the user. Signs of addiction include: isolating oneself from family and friends, engaging in dangerous situations without any memory of them later, repeatedly taking larger doses than prescribed or repeatedly taking small doses more frequently than prescribed, experiencing cravings for Ambien, refilling prescriptions unusually often, or acquiring the drug from an uncontrolled source, such as a friend.
Taking Ambien without a prescription or in any way not directed by a doctor is abuse. This includes just taking one pill or a partial pill as a sleep aid. This kind of abuse leads to a tolerance to Ambien, requiring larger doses to cause sleep. This strengthens the user’s dependence on the drug, ad causes an increase in the size and frequency of the user’s doses.
Ambien is designed to be taken immediately before bed, but some users take the drug hours before they sleep. This causes euphoria that reduces insecurity and self-conscious behavior. Ambien is a potent central nervous system depressant. This means Ambien can slow a user’s breathing or heart rate to the point of failure, causing death. Unusually slow respiration or pulse is a strong indication that the user is in trouble.
If you know somebody who is addicted to Ambien, you may have noticed some peculiar behavior. Ambien abusers frequently demonstrate symptoms such as blackouts, uninhibited sociability and talkativeness, strange behavior which the user cannot recall, sleepwalking or sleep activities, hypersexual behavior, impaired coordination and balance. Common side effects of the drug include mood swings, mental confusion, depression, muscle weakness, nausea and vomiting, unsteady gait, and even hallucinations. While the euphoric properties of abuse may be enjoyable, longterm use generally leads to a depressed, lethargic, and confused state of mind.
Ambien abusers typically do not believe that they have a problem, especially if the drug was initially prescribed by a physician. For this reason, intervention by family or friends is usually the most successful means of getting the user to seek treatment. Detoxing from Ambien can be hazardous in itself. Unsupervised withdrawal may lead to seizures, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. A supervised tapering off is the most common means of treating the addiction, combined with therapy to address the root psychological issues behind its abuse.
A couple of quotes from two Ambien abusers from Erowid.org:
“The next thing I remember is being in a small closed off room. All I saw was darkness. I saw one of my friends faces, staring in at me. It scared me. Then in the darkness I saw the face of my nurse, she asked me what I had taken. I tried to make out the words through my mumbling. I then remember walking outside my school into an ambulance. The workers in the ambulance didn’t think anything was too bad cuz I could walk, and I was sitting upright. So they were smiling. But no one had any idea what was going on in my head. It seemed like the word ‘suicide’ was surrounding me. I heard it, I saw it, it was in me”.
“I woke up this morning covered in blood everywhere, even on my face. I went to look in the mirror and discovered that after I had cut the back of my hand I had used the blood like paint and had finger-painted blood all over my body in different swirls and designs. I looked through my text history on my phone with my friend and had really scared him. I had asked him to wake up and come out and play and asked him what his deepest fantasies were and that there was a lot of blood. He stopped responding quickly, saying he was going to bed and he didn’t want to hear anymore because it didn’t sound like me.”