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When exercise and warm milk don’t do the trick, many of us ask our doctor for a way to help us sleep. Ambien, the leading sleep aid, sells millions of pills each year. But after so many uses, the powerful pill can make us dependent. The problem can quickly escalate into one that demands treatment.

  • Drug Name Ambien
  • Addiction Liability Low
  • Scientific Name Zolpidem
  • Street Names No-go Pills, A-minus, Zombie Pills
  • How It's Used Swallowed, Snorted
  • Side Effects Nausea, Confusion, Forgetfulness, Coordination Loss, Weakness, Daytime Drowsiness
  • Psychological Dependence Moderate
  • Physical Dependence Moderate

Ambien Addiction

As we get older, the once-simplistic task of falling asleep can become a chore. Many of us deal with insomnia, that dreaded, endless tossing and turning; some of us more than others. The medication Ambien – brand name for the drug zolpidem – seemed to fix all that. One 5mg pill of Ambien can send even the most stubborn sleepers into a deep slumber.

Prescriptions of the drug go out by the tens of millions. Doctors typically encourage a pill for “occasional sleeplessness,” and will usually not refill a prescription within 30 days. In spite of this – and the addiction warning on the side of the bottle – Ambien use often gets out of control. You may begin a relationship with the drug innocently enough, as a solution to finally get some rest. Before long, your brain can begin to expect the medication and forget how you ever slept without it.

Falling asleep is as mental as it is physical. This is where it can be hard to distinguish whether you really need a pill to fall asleep or you think you need a pill to fall asleep.

Dr. Carl Bazil, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center

Some people who develop a serious Ambien habit may justify it as a favorable alternative to continually being tired. They can overlook the dangers of medicating over a long period of time.

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It’s possible to balance the drug with living a functional and healthy life. But if you or someone you know seems to be overdoing it, understand the extreme risks at hand. Thousands of deaths each year are tied to Ambien – whether from excessive use, combining it with other substances, or a fatal accident while under the drug’s impairing effects.

I told myself it was better to have a mild drug in my system and to sleep than to be “sober” and spend my days exhausted and depleted.

Laurie Sandell, a recovered Ambien addict

Scary Signs and Recurring Symptoms

Forming an addiction to Ambien usually entails an increased use of the medication, far past the doctor’s recommendation. You will go from taking it to help you sleep once a week, to twice a week, to eventually every night. When the single dose no longer cuts it, you may up your dosage to two, three, or four pills instead of one. You may also start taking it earlier and earlier in the day, and becoming less concerned with the things you combine it with.

Ambien can also have severe effects on an individual’s short-term memory, making simple tasks like locating your phone or remembering conversations from earlier in the day difficult. Habitual Ambien users will frequently forget about events or tasks that occurred during their day and will often “blackout” as a result of their Ambien use.

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94% increase increase in ER visits from 2006 to 2010 due to Ambien use.

Source: 2014 Drug Abuse Warning Network Report

Countless reports exist of Ambien’s scary effects on short-term memory and awareness. People taking the drug regularly may experience advanced forms of sleepwalking: This involves anything from driving, to cooking, to shopping, to making phone calls – none of which they may remember when they wake up.

One morning I wandered into the kitchen to make coffee and discovered a pot of soup over an open flame on the stove, I had no idea how it got there. I felt terrified by the yawning absence of memory – and the knowledge that that very evening, I would take Ambien again.

Laurie Sandell, a recovered Ambien addict

If you notice a friend or family exhibiting behavior like this, and continuing to take Ambien, it may be time to find them help. They may exhibit a number of withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not available. These can include:

Ambien’s Side Effects and Risks

Ambien can place users in harm’s way, and create a number of risks — not the least of which is death. They can also endanger others if they get behind the wheel of a car while Ambien is in their system. Users also report engaging in sexual situations without remembering details.

Regular use of the drug also increases the risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart attack, by 50 percent.

Excessive use of Ambien leads to thousands of emergency room visits each year, including many that end in death. Even those who only use the medication sporadically are three times more likely to die than non-users, according to report. In more than half of these ER visits, alcohol or some other drug was also involved; doctors strongly advise against drinking while using Ambien.

While on Ambien, you may encounter any number of common side effects. These can include:

As an addict’s tolerance increases, their dosage typically does as well, leading to an increased risk of severe side effects and overdose. Spotting a prescription addiction in its early stages presents the best odds of a smooth recovery. Get help right away if you or someone you know is displaying any side effects and shows signs of a dependency.

Help and Treatment

Ambien addicts unable to get clean on their own can enter a rehab program at a drug addiction rehab center. Away from the temptation to take pills, and in the company of good people dealing with similar issues, many addicts find that rehab can have an immense positive impact on their life. A productive stay in treatment can help you prevent a substance abuse problem from consuming your life. It can also help you identify other problems that are getting in your way.

“That first week in rehab, I was up for days, staggering through activities. And I can promise you that had I been home — sleepless and miserable — I definitely would have taken Ambien again,” Sandell said. “Since that wasn’t an option, I attended lots of group therapy, read recovery literature and stuck to the rehab center’s boot camp-like routine. I learned about the concept of cross-addiction — when you give up one dependency, another can take its place — and decided I needed to quit drinking, too.”

A week into my stay in rehab, I had my first great night’s sleep without (the) drug. After that night I had no trouble falling asleep.

Laurie Sandell, a recovered Ambien addict

Attending 12-step meetings can also be a beneficial supplement in following through on your sobriety. Many addictions end up being a lifelong struggle, so surrounding yourself with positive influences and friends who are also in recovery can be extremely helpful in your journey to stay clean.

Natural Alternatives

Before starting Ambien, consider all of the natural options to aid your sleeping. If you already take sleeping pills and are trying to stop, you may consider these alternatives. Regular exercise, proper diet, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and sugar can all contribute to a good night’s sleep. Yoga, meditation, and other adjustments to your lifestyle may also help you find the peace of mind you need to sleep. Talk with your doctor and ask for their best recommendation toward a naturally improved sleep.

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