Ambien Addiction and Rehab: Abuse, Withdrawal and Recovery

Sleeping issues plague as many as 70 million people in our country according to the American Sleep Association. For many of them, Ambien presents a solution, but this drug can be very addictive. It is no secret that one of the biggest health problems people complain about in the U.S. is insomnia. But for far too many, the medications that can help people sleep better lead to a need for drug rehab to get off them.

ambien addiction information

Perhaps you are a person in your 20s or 30s and you have formed an Ambien addiction. Or, maybe you are a parent, and you are running into all kinds of obstacles getting your child to agree to go to drug treatment. Either way, it is so important to know the ins and outs of this drug, as well as what types of treatment will be most effective.

Abusing Ambien is something that can happen accidentally or on purpose to get high. Getting off it will lead to withdrawal, but with the right support, recovery is possible.

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What is Ambien and What Does it Treat?

Ambien’s generic name is zolpidem, and the drug is prescribed in both forms regularly. This drug is a sedative, but it may also be called a hypnotic. It works by impacting the chemicals in the brain that lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders. This drug falls into the benzodiazepine receptor agonist classification of prescription medications.

There are two forms of Ambien; an immediate-release form and an extended-release form, called Ambien CR. The immediate-release formulation is for those who have trouble falling asleep, but can stay asleep once they do. Ambien CR is for those who struggle with both falling asleep and staying asleep.

This drug is very effective, which is why it is so often prescribed. But, like other drugs, it can become addictive, and it is even often abused for recreational purposes.

Even though sleeping pills can be beneficial for people when they need them, there are risks with continual use. According to the American Family Physician, it is very easy to become dependent upon Ambien, but there are other dangers as well. For example:

  • Significant cognitive impairment, which may or may not resolve.
  • A high risk of motor vehicle accidents if the user drives.
  • A high risk of falls and fractures.
  • The risk of overdosing if the individual takes too much at one time.
  • Serious health issues (including death) if the drug is combined with other drugs or alcohol.

Most experts believe that drugs like Ambien should only be prescribed for a month, and no longer. The risks increase the longer a person takes them. We will talk in more detail about the long-term effects of this medication in just a moment.

There are several side effects that are common for Ambien users to experience. They include:

  • A feeling of being drugged.
  • Dizziness or vertigo.
  • Feeling drowsy during the day.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • A sore throat and dry mouth.
  • Nausea with or without vomiting.
  • An upset stomach with possible constipation or diarrhea.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Vision changes.
  • Painful headaches.
  • Bouts of confusion.

It is also quite common for people to experience a sense of euphoria once the drug begins to work. The onset is very quick; especially for someone who is taking the immediate-release formulation.

Some of these side effects may go away after a person has been using Ambien for a while. But others may persist and even get worse over time.


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Sleeping Pill Addiction and Abuse Statistics in the United States

The CDC has released a number of statistics regarding the use of prescription sleep aids in the United States. They state that:

  • About 4% of all adults in the United States aged 20 and older have used prescription sleeping pills in the last month.
  • More women (5%) use them than men (3.1%).
  • The percentage of people who use drugs like Ambien increases by education and age.
  • The use of sleeping pills is highest among people who sleep more than 9 hours a night, or less than 5 hours a night.
  • One in six people with a sleep disorder report using these medications.
  • One in eight people who claim to have trouble sleeping report using them.

Without a doubt, sleeping medications like Ambien can be useful when they are needed. But the reality is that people are staying on them for far too long. Too many doctors are willing to overlook the dangers of them in favor of what they see as the patient getting the desired result.

About Ambien Abuse

Most people do not think they are abusing Ambien, when in actuality, they are. Many abusers are those who simply stay on the drug for an extended period of time. In fact, the drug’s website states that it is intended, “…for the short-term treatment of adults who have trouble falling asleep.”

Of course, there are also those who obtain Ambien on the streets or from a friend or relative. Their intentions are to use the drug to get high and experience its euphoria. This is also classified as abuse.

People get addicted to sleeping pills in a number of different ways. As we mentioned earlier, it is possible to form an addiction to Ambien when a person has simply taken the drug too long.

Some people with prescriptions will increase their dosages over time, without consulting with their doctors first. They believe that it really is not a big deal because they are taking a prescription drug. But this is also called forming a tolerance, and it is often the first sign that a person has a drug problem.

Continuing to abuse a drug is the fastest route to addiction. It can happen at any time, whether it takes weeks, months or years. And once a person is addicted, it is very difficult to get off this drug.

Ambien can produce a really strong and euphoric high. But in order to experience it to the fullest, people have to fight through the compulsion to fall asleep after taking it. Once they do, they often explain feeling wobbly and goofy.

According to many recreational users, hallucinations can and do occur for some people who get high on Ambien. Some people describe it as “like being drunk, but more fun.” At higher doses, the drug acts more like a benzodiazepine. That is one reason why experts believe that there could be a risk of transitioning into benzos once someone gets addicted to Ambien.

Using Ambien recreationally is bound to lead to strange behaviors. Some Reddit users were eager to share their experiences, which included:

  • Urinating on their computers.
  • Starting a fire in their apartment.
  • Grinding down their teeth.
  • Experiencing the sensation of flying.
  • Experiencing memory loss.

Once people experience the Ambien high, they are very likely to try the drug again. Eventually, they may mix it with alcohol or other drugs to enhance the high, and this is also a form of abuse.

As a parent, how can you tell whether or not your child is abusing Ambien? There are certain signs that can make it apparent, but only if you know what to look for.

Some of the more common signs of Ambien abuse include:

  • Excessive drowsiness during the day.
  • Nausea and vomiting that have no other explanation.
  • Sleepwalking.
  • Problems with coordination.
  • Experiencing short-term memory loss.

Fortunately, if someone is abusing Ambien, but they are not yet addicted, they may be able to stop without serious consequences. But once their use has moved to being an addiction, they may need to consider professional treatment in order to stop successfully.

Also, it is really important to note that even Ambien abuse may need to be treated. People who use this drug recreationally are usually doing so because they are self-medicating away various symptoms. Counseling should be explored for these individuals because it could help them avoid becoming addicted in the future.

If a pattern of drug abuse is allowed to continue, it eventually will lead to addiction in most cases. This is because of the way that drugs change the way the brain works. Over time, it becomes harder and harder to stop. This is primarily because drugs like Ambien have a direct impact on the brain’s dopamine levels.

Dopamine is one of the chemicals in the brain that are responsible for a person’s happiness, security and sense of well-being. This chemical surges naturally several times a day, depending on a person’s activities. As humans, we tend to experience increased dopamine levels whenever we get good news, eat a good meal or spend time with a close friend.

Drugs like Ambien influence the brain’s dopamine levels, and it causes dramatic increases that can become addictive. That is what people are really experiencing when they say they have euphoria when they use the drug recreationally.

Over time, those higher dopamine levels become the brain’s new “normal.” It does not always take long before people find that unless they are using, they no longer feel happy, or even like their normal selves. That feeling alone is enough to drive people to continue to use Ambien to get high.

That is exactly how continuing to abuse Ambien can lead to an addiction. Unfortunately, so many people are unaware of the risks, and they get addicted without even realizing it is happening.

Mixing Ambien With Alcohol and Other Drugs

It should go without saying that mixing Ambien with other drugs and alcohol is never a good idea. Even so, people still continue to do it. Many are trying to increase the intensity of their high. But others combine drugs simply because they do not realize the dangers of it.

Drug interactions are very serious. It is so important for people to do their research prior to trying any of the following combinations.

Both Ambien and alcohol have intoxicating effects on their own. But when they are combined, the results can be very serious, and even dangerous.

Some of the most common effects people report include:

  • Sleepwalking
  • Problems with concentration
  • Impaired cognition
  • Feeling confused
  • Problems with judgment and making decisions
  • Difficulty with physical coordination

Those who decide to take this combination of drugs have a very high chance of ending up needing emergency treatment. Many people need to be placed in intensive care because the combination can be so deadly. It is also possible for people to suffer from overdoses after taking both Ambien and alcohol together.

The FDA has made it abundantly clear that anyone taking Ambien should avoid also taking opioid pain relievers. This combination carries serious risks, and can even be fatal, depending on the circumstances.

The following effects have been reported by those who combined these two drugs:

  • Slowed or difficult breathing
  • Heart rate fluctuations
  • Blood pressure fluctuations
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Becoming unresponsive
  • Death

The FDA has been careful to provide black box warnings for those who may be prescribed these two types of drugs together. While there may be some instances when doctors might prescribe them together, for the most part, it should be avoided.

Using them recreationally is certain to cause problems considering that both drugs will probably be used at higher dosages.

It is not unheard of for people to take Ambien and another benzodiazepine at the same time. Sometimes doctors will use sleeping pills to treat insomnia and anxiety, but there are some people who need additional medication. For these individuals, adding a drug like Xanax can be helpful. But that does not mean that there are no risks involved.

When people mix Ambien and benzos, the side effects of both types of drugs are likely to be enhanced. Because these medications have similar side effects, they tend to be amplified drastically when taken together.

It is very common for people to experience:

  • Bouts of confusion
  • Problems with concentration
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Impaired judgment

This mixture is especially dangerous for elderly people who tend to be more susceptible to side effects. Not to mention that these drugs are both depressants. That means that combining them increases the risk of serious breathing problems and possibly even overdosing.

Combining Ambien with cocaine is a perfect example of how people use the effects of one drug to combat the effects of another. As far as what each of these drugs does and how it acts in the body, they are polar opposites. That in itself can make this combination a dangerous one.

When these drugs are combined, two different types of signals are sent to the brain. This can cause a lot of confusion because the body is not sure how to respond. Anything can happen, including organs shutting down and even malfunctioning.

Mixing cocaine and Ambien should never be attempted by anyone. It increases the chance of becoming addicted to both drugs, and it could be a fatal combination as well. 

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What is Ambien Addiction?

Most people who use Ambien will do so for a short period of time, and they will stop it without repercussions. But there are also those who will become addicted to it. What does that mean, exactly?

When a person suffers from an Ambien addiction, it means that they have a psychological and physical need to keep using it. They have formed a habit of using it, and when they are without it, they may start to go through withdrawal.

Addicts will go to great lengths to get this drug into their possession. They may do any of the following:

  • Visit multiple doctors (doctor shopping) to get prescriptions for Ambien.
  • Purchase the drug on the street.
  • Steal money in order to pay for it.
  • Buy it online illegally.
  • Take it or obtain it from a friend or family member.

A person who is addicted to Ambien will feel compelled to use it. They will have to take it regularly, and not taking it simply is not an option in their minds. It is what they think about almost constantly, and the drug becomes a pillar they build their lives around.

Once a person becomes addicted to Ambien, they may not necessarily know that they are addicted. It can also be hard for parents to identify an addiction in their children if they do not know what to look for.

Some of the more common signs of a sleeping pill addiction include:

  • Steadily increasing how much of the drug they are taking.
  • Becoming isolated and avoiding interactions with others.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the person has not used the drug in a while.
  • Failing to fulfill their responsibilities.
  • Spending a lot of time either obtaining, using or recovering from their Ambien use.

In short, an addict’s life revolves around their drug of choice completely.

How Does Using Ambien Affect the Mind and Body?

Drugs like Ambien typically affect both the mind and the body. But these effects can change, depending on how long the individual has been using it.

When people use Ambien short-term, they often equate its effects to feeling hungover. Some of the short-term effects of this drug are desirable, and they are why people start taking it in the first place. They include:

  • Intense feelings of euphoria.
  • Sensations of being very relaxed.
  • Painful headaches.
  • Memory loss or amnesia.
  • Nausea or other stomach issues.
  • Excessive and persistent feelings of drowsiness and sedation.

When a person has been using Ambien for a longer period of time, they put themselves at risk for serious issues as a result. As we mentioned earlier, this drug should never be used for a significant amount of time.

Some of the long-term effects of Ambien use include:

  • Struggling with digestive problems.
  • Persistent fatigue that does not go away.
  • Chronic headaches.
  • Problems with muscle control.
  • Anxiety and even panic attacks.
  • Nightmares.
  • Severe depression, which may even lead to suicidal thoughts.

What is perhaps most interesting is the fact that another long-term effect of taking Ambien is often insomnia. After a while, this drug can cause the exact issue it is meant to treat.

What to Expect When Quitting Ambien

It is our hope that at some point, all Ambien addicts come to the realization that it is time to quit. But at the same time, it is important to know what happens when they do.

Quitting Ambien is not something that should be done abruptly, in most cases. This is especially true when a person has become addicted to it.

Withdrawal is the body’s response to no longer being exposed to a particular drug. While most doctors would consider Ambien to be relatively non-addictive, when it is taken for longer than it should be, or in higher doses, it is. Stopping it will cause withdrawal symptoms.

The most common Ambien withdrawal symptoms that people experience include:

  • Hand tremors
  • Excessive sweating
  • A racing heart rate
  • Body aches and pains
  • Feeling restless
  • Headaches
  • Hyperventilating
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety and/or panic attacks
  • Nausea and vomiting

Ambien withdrawal can be dangerous in some instances. For example, a person who experiences nausea and vomiting can become dehydrated, which is a potentially life threatening condition. But the biggest concern should really be in relapsing and overdosing.

A lot of people will try to get off Ambien on their own, without any type of professional treatment. When they do, they are taking a big risk. In many of these cases, the people will end up relapsing. They will go back to taking the same amount of Ambien they were previously using to get some relief from withdrawal. But that amount is too much for them because tolerance levels can change so quickly after quitting this drug. The result is an overdose, which can be a fatal condition unless proper medical help is obtained right away.

Recovering From an Ambien Addiction: The Options

Once a person has decided to stop using Ambien, they have many different options, as far as how to do it. Most of the following are not methods that we recommend.

Quitting cold turkey is the most common way of stopping the use of Ambien, but that does not make it safe. This is what people typically do once they learn they are addicted, and they have been taking the drug via doctor’s prescription. They will simply stop using it.

What they do not realize is that this is going to throw them directly into withdrawal. Without any type of treatment to minimize the severity of their symptoms, they are very likely to relapse.

Going cold turkey rarely works. People need peer and professional support in most cases, if they want to recover from an addiction to Ambien successfully.

Doing a self-taper may seem like the more “responsible” way to get off Ambien. But again, it comes with a lot of caveats.

People often attempt to wean themselves off Ambien at home. They may skip a dose here and there, or cut their pills in half. But these methods do not always work the way people hope because there may still be significant withdrawal symptoms.

Tapering off Ambien can easily lead to a relapse. People tend to taper too quickly, or not quickly enough, and both can be problematic and – ultimately – lead to a failed quit attempt.

Drug detox kits may appear to be the solution for the most severe drug problems. People who are addicted to sleeping pills may gravitate toward them because they do not require any type of formal treatment. But the question is, do they work?

Some people may have success with them, but they put themselves at risk in the process. Drug detox kits often contain products like vitamins and minerals, various supplements and even detoxing drinks. The companies that sell them all claim that they work, but they are not FDA approved. That means that no formal testing has been done to indicate that they work.

The fact is that, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a disease. Treating an addiction to Ambien professionally means addressing both the physical and psychological parts of the disease. This is exactly what professional addiction treatment does.

It is important for people to heal from the physical component of addiction through detox. Once they do that, they will be ready to work on the psychological component through rehab.

Drug Detox and Rehab for Ambien Addiction

Most people are reluctant to agree to getting treatment for their Ambien addictions. But that is usually because they do not understand what that entails. We would like to make it easier for anyone who is considering reaching out for help by explaining what they are in detail.

Please note that both detox and rehab are essential for someone who is addicted to Ambien. Avoiding one or another will result in an incomplete recovery at best, and will most likely mean relapsing.

What is Drug Detox?

Drug detox means going through a specific type of treatment that will address withdrawal symptoms once a drug is stopped. It can help to eliminate many symptoms, and some will just be made more manageable until the withdrawal period is over.

Detoxing has many advantages. It can help people have a better chance at being successful in their recoveries long-term. It can also help them avoid possible complications that can often arise when a person goes through withdrawal.

While there are many types of detox programs, inpatient medical detox is generally the most highly recommended. This is especially true for someone who is recovering from a powerful prescription drug like Ambien.

In an inpatient program, the patient is monitored heavily as they recover. If they experience any complications, they can be addressed immediately by the medical staff. This can eliminate the need for any type of emergency intervention, and it makes the recovery process much safer.

Medical detox allows the patient to take medications to help with their symptoms. For example, they may take an antidepressant if they experience depression or anxiety. If the doctor considers them at risk for seizures, they may be prescribed an anticonvulsant.

Most people will find their withdrawal from Ambien lasts about two weeks. The symptoms tend to peak in their severity between 3 and 5 days following the last dose of the drug. After that, symptoms should start to improve slowly as time goes on.

Of course, this is all subjective, and it is dependent upon several different factors, such as:

  • How long the person took the drug.
  • How strong their dose was.
  • The type of Ambien the person was taking.
  • Whether or not additional drugs or alcohol were taken.
  • Various personal factors like gender, height weight and history of substance abuse.

Drug Rehabilitation Programs for Ambien Addiction

Going to drug rehab is very important following the detoxification process. This is because people need to take the time to explore the reasons behind the addiction. This is something that is done through therapy.

Once the reason for the addiction is determined, that is when real healing begins to take place in the person’s life. Rehab is a place where they can relearn what it is like to live without being dependent upon substances.

Types of Rehab Centers

There are several different types of rehabilitation facilities people can choose from. They include:

  • Inpatient programsInpatient rehab typically lasts about 28 days, and that includes time for detoxing.
  • Outpatient rehab – Outpatient programs usually involve regular counseling with a therapist who specializes in treating addictions.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment – These are outpatient programs that involve spending more time with staff. They are often held in the evening for several hours at a time. But that allow people to continue to live at home while they get treatment.
  • Long-term rehab – Inpatient treatment is not always enough for someone who needs help for an addiction. Long-term rehab, or residential treatment means staying at a facility for a longer period of time to get the needed recovery help.
  • Day treatment – These programs are similar to IOPs, but appointments are held during the day. This may also be referred to as partial hospitalization.

Common Methods of Treatment

During rehab, there are several different types of treatment that people usually experience. But keep in mind that every patient deserves their own, personalized treatment plan. That way, their unique needs are being met, and there is a better chance of them being successful.

This involves working with an addiction treatment therapist in a one-on-one environment. Individual therapy can be very healing because the therapist takes the time to get to know the person and what they need. Together, they can work on identifying what led to the substance abuse problem with Ambien.

Group therapy is also important because it helps to get various perspectives during recovery. This type of treatment demonstrates the truth that addicts are not alone in their struggles. It is very effective to learn that others are also facing the same challenges.

Families often need a lot of healing when a family member has battled an addiction. Relationships can quickly get damaged, and that is why family therapy is so important. With the right support, so many changes can take place and those relationships can be restored.

Many people who abuse or are addicted to Ambien suffer from co-occurring disorders like anxiety or depression. What they do not realize is that their drug use was nothing more than a way to self-medicate.

Dual diagnosis treatment ensures that both the addiction and the co-occurring disorder are treated at the same time. This type of treatment has a very good chance of helping the patient be successful in recovery long-term.

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The Ambien Addiction Recovery Program at Northpoint Recovery

At Northpoint Recovery, we understand that professional treatment is not always the best option for everyone seeking help for Ambien addiction. But for the majority of people, it offers them everything they need to be successful.

Our program consists of drug detox, which helps the patient to get through the withdrawal period. This is often the most difficult part, and that is why inpatient detoxification is so critical. It also consists of an inpatient drug rehab program to address the reasons behind the addiction. Our staff members make sure to help every person put together a relapse prevention plan. That helps them learn what their triggers are and they can make a plan for the best ways to avoid them.

Afterwards, we are very careful to caution our patients that their recovery is not over. Aftercare planning is also a part of the healing process. This looks different for everyone, of course. Some patients are ready to go from inpatient care directly into outpatient rehab, or even just therapy. Others may need to transition into an IOP to provide them with additional support as they recover. Everyone is different, which is why it is so important to personalize all aftercare referrals.

Do you have questions about Ambien addiction or treatment? We are here to help you get the answers you need. Contact us to learn more.