Ambien (generic name: zolpidem) is a sedative-hypnotic drug that slows down the brain’s essential functions. People who are addicted may take huge doses of Ambien every day, and they may find it hard to stop. Therapies such as medically supervised detox, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, lifestyle adjustment therapy, and 12-Step support group work can provide relief from persistent addiction.
An inability to fall asleep has plagued everyone at some point in life, for any number of reasons.
The idea of simply taking a pill to ensure a solid eight hours of sleep may seem too good to be true, but in 1992, the United States Food & Drug Administration approved Ambien, the brand name for the drug zolpidem, to treat insomnia. This miracle pill comes with a price, as Ambien has become infamous for its side effects and potential for addiction. However, treatment options exist to ensure that Ambien addiction can be effectively addressed.
Effective as they are, sedative-hypnotics like Ambien can cause patients to develop physical and psychological dependence issues. This should not arise if the Ambien is used according to a doctor’s prescription, but if the drug is consumed regularly over a long period of time, people may develop a tolerance (where they have to take increasingly large doses for the same effect). This compels them to take more Ambien in order to feel the commensurate effects, thereby deepening the dependence.
If regular Ambien users try to suddenly stop taking the doses to which their bodies have become accustomed, withdrawal can ensue. These individuals are unable to physiologically cope with the abrupt loss of the drug, and they experience painful withdrawal symptoms (such as agitation, anxiety, craving more Ambien, depression, and seizures, among others) that make them seek comfort in the form of more Ambien.
Eventually, Ambien becomes the main focus of their entire lives. They may find and make excuses to take Ambien; they may forge prescriptions to get more; they may hide evidence of their consumption from their friends and family; and Ambien may become the only way they get any sleep or feel any sense of calm. At this point, these people are in the throes of Ambien addiction.
If people are abusing Ambien, they will react and behave in distinct ways that concerned friends and family members should take note of. They may experience:
Even as the Huffington Post calls Ambien the number one prescription sleep aid, it warns of the “abnormal thinking”and “strange behavior”that are mentioned in the fine print on every bottle.
A person does not need to be misusing or abusing Ambien to experience some of the disturbing and troubling side effects of taking the drug.
An attorney who represented Ambien patients in a class action lawsuit against the drug manufacturer Sanofi spoke of other cases of people acting in bizarre ways: eating buttered cigarettes and eggs with the shells intact, for example, referring to the patients involved as “Ambien zombies.” Today.com reports of one woman racking up a credit card bill of almost $3,000 while under the influence of Ambien.Since insomnia affects women slightly more than men (and there is some speculation that pharmaceutical companies target women in their marketing and advertising more than they do men), it’s not a huge surprise that women are prescribed Ambien (or seek prescriptions) more than men. More than two-thirds of women experience sleep issues, and women account for 64 percent of Ambien prescriptions. Ambien is big business: It generated $2 billion in sales for Sanofi, and the generic version of Ambien (zolpidem) was prescribed 39 million times in 2011.
An article in Marie Claire also warns that around 60 percent of people taking medication continue to drink, even when the medication is known to react poorly with alcohol. This practice is “incredibly dangerous,”according to a toxicologist. Ambien on its own can cause strange behavior, but alcohol amplifies the hypnotic effect of the drug and triggers people into getting out of bed and doing whatever their unconscious minds are thinking of doing.
Treating an Ambien addiction requires a great deal of caution. Even though zolpidem itself is relatively safe and instances of addiction are uncommon, individuals can have risk factors that make them susceptible to substance abuse or co-occurring disorders. These people are in the most danger of developing an unhealthy dependence on Ambien to fall asleep or simply to make it through the day.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine estimates that there are more than 80 different sleep disorders, and that a dependence on Ambien is the result of a patient having unresolved issues related to the sleep disorder.
Treating just the Ambien addiction is incomplete until the co-occurring sleep disorder is also resolved.
If one discontinues Ambien intake without a treatment plan, withdrawal symptoms that can include seizures may occur, according to the Journal of the Association of Physicians in India. One way around withdrawal symptoms is to use the drug quetiapine to help wean the client off Ambien.
The American Journal on Addictions relates the story of a 52-year-old patient who, after a lifelong history of substance use disorders, developed an addiction to zolpidem. After gabapentin and trazodone were tried without success, his doctors tried quetiapine, which reduced his craving for zolpidem. The authors of the article note that, following the conclusion of his drug therapy for his addiction, the patient “[continued] to receive e-mail and telephone solicitation to buy zolpidem” from pharmacies up to five times a week.
As Medscape reminds us, full treatment of an Ambien addiction requires psychological and social perspectives, in addition to chemical and biological approaches. Once clients have been successfully weaned off Ambien, they should work with a therapist on addressing the underlying psychological issues that led them to addiction. Such issues go far beyond simply needing Ambien to sleep; as stated above, there are often hidden or buried mental health questions to answer or other substance abuse disorders at play.
Simply tapering off zolpidem does not bring those concerns to light, but an addiction therapist knows how to guide the client to a point of confronting those concerns so they can be dealt with in positive and healthy ways.
To ensure long-term recovery from Ambien addiction, a treatment program will not stop at detox but will give also provide tools for structuring a life that does not require drugs to feel a sense of balance.
A woman telling her story to Today magazine wrote that, as part of her treatment program, she went to sleep at the same time every day, did yoga five times a week, attended 12-Step meetings, did not date anyone for a year, and learned meditation and prayer as a way of restoring (and improving) her mental outlook. A number of studies (published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice , Neurotherapeutics , and American Family Physician , among others) have looked at ways people can fall asleep without the use of medication, even if such people have sleep disorders. While this is obviously good to know for the general population, it is especially pertinent for those who are learning how they can feel rested and relaxed without having to take Ambien.
For example, lifestyle practices, such as drinking caffeine, exercising at night, and watching television in bed, can cut down on the number of hours of sleep a person gets. Instead, caffeine should be consumed and exercise done earlier in the day. The 60 minutes prior to a fixed bedtime should be spent doing something less stimulating. While not strictly exercise, some forms of yoga are touted to promote sleep and relaxation, and certain forms can be practiced in just a few minutes.
Aromatherapy has been specifically cited as an alternative to Ambien to ease clients into a mood of relaxation and tranquility, such that a good night’s sleep naturally follows. There is a growing body of research that suggests scents such as vanilla and chamomile are effective in boosting sleep, even in clients with anxiety and fractured sleep patterns, per Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Other nonpharmacological therapies include drinking certain kinds of tea, taking supplements, listening to particular forms of music, and even acupuncture.
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