Ambien can be abused

Ambien – zolpidem – is a medication with important medicinal value as a sleep-inducing drug. However, people will often abuse Ambien to achieve an euphoric high and/or to alter perception and sensations. Some people may abuse Ambien to fuel existing dependence. And still others take Ambien to the point of causing themselves harm.

So, what are the signs of “Ambien Abuse”? What are some of the risks of using Ambien over time? And how can you reverse the pattern?

In this article, we cover the common signs and symptoms of Ambien use problems. We’ll also go over the adverse effects that result from such use. Then, we offer help options and treatment resources that can assist you on your journey to recovery. Finally, we invite your questions or feedback at the end.


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What is “Ambien Abuse”?

Q: How is Ambien abused?
A: Ambien abuse often entails using the drug outside of prescription parameters.

Basically, drug abuse = taking a drug:

  1. More frequently than prescribed.
  2. In higher doses than prescribed.
  3. In ways other than prescribed.

So, if you are:

  • combining Ambien with other drugs or alcohol to alter or enhance its effects
  • obtaining Ambien through illegal channels  the internet, doctor shopping, off the street, or by taking someone else’s prescription)
  • taking a higher dose than prescribed
  • taking Ambien more frequently than prescribed
  • taking it recreationally
  • taking it without a medical reason

…by definition, you are abusing Ambien.

Why do people abuse Ambien?

Ambien is a drug that directly changes the way the brain works. It alters the frontal cortex, amygdala, nucleus accumbens, hippocampus and ventral pallidum. These parts of the brain control concentration, memory, and impulses. While most therapeutic use of Ambien is recommended for periods of a few weeks or less, prolonged use of Ambien stimulates the reward center of the brain, and can result in Ambien dependence and abuse.

Still, some people can remain on therapeutic doses of Ambien without abusing the medication, while other seem to be more prone to misuse. Why is this? Well, there is a delicate interplay of individual factors that contribute to whether a person starts abusing their sleep medication, or not.

The most commonly cited factors for Ambien abuse include:

#1 GENETICS – Individuals who have a family history of substance abuse disorders (SUD), especially within the closest family circle (parents or closest relatives) face a 50% higher risk of abusing drugs such as Ambien, or other illicit and prescription drugs or alcohol.

#2 TRAUMA – Experiencing a traumatic event at a young age, including psychological trauma, abuse, loss of a loved one, high stress living environment, and/or dysfunctional family dynamics can increase a persons chances of abusing psychoactive substances.

 – Suffering from psychological diseases, especially mood disorders such as chronic anxiety and depression can be a contributing factor in developing a substance abuse problem.

 – Some people experience stronger reward sensations from Ambien. If you are one of those people whose brain is super sensitive to the way the drug makes you feel, you have a higher likelihood to continue taking the drug in an abusive manner.

 – This may sound strange, but statistics show that more than two thirds (up to 68%) of Ambien-related ER patients are women. Women do not metabolize Ambien (zolpidem) with the same efficiency as men. This results in plasma concentrations that are up to 50% higher than an equivalent dose/lbs for men.


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Ambien abuse signs

Knowing when a loved one is abusing Ambien can be difficult. But if you monitor them closely, you will likely be able to spot some of the signs of Ambien abuse. Likewise, you may be able to identify some of the following signs for yourself.

Either way, drug problems are treatable. Gone are the days when drug issues were seen as moral defects. Instead, experts treat drug dependence and abuse as medical conditions. So, if you notice any of the following signs of abuse, keep reading. We’ll talk about how Ambien problems are treated a little lower in the text.

NOTE HERE: Ambien works by dampening signals in the brain. As a result, many of the side effects of abuse are related to this slowing down of central nervous system activity. Noticeable issues of an Ambien problem may include some or all of the following.

Behavioral signs of abuse:

  • declining academic or work performance
  • engaging in activities during sleep (driving, eating, or having sex)
  • getting Ambien from more than one doctor (doctor shopping)
  • inability to control, reduce or stop Ambien use
  • panicking when Ambien supplies dry up
  • running out of pills before the prescription refill date
  • taking Ambien during the day
  • using Ambien for recreational purposes

Physical signs of abuse:

  • changes in appetite
  • difficulty waking up in the morning
  • displaying withdrawal symptoms when Ambien is not available
  • episodes of nausea, often followed by vomiting
  • GI tract problems
  • redness of the eyes
  • struggling to maintain balance

Psychological signs of abuse:

  • aggressiveness
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • depression
  • mood changes
  • restlessness
  • suffering from strange delusions or hallucinations
  • suicidal thoughts and/or attempts

Adverse side effects of Ambien abuse

Ambien abuse is a serious health problem. In addition to increasing the potential for serious physical and mental health side effects, abusing Ambien can also heighten depression in patients with pre-existing history of mental health problems. Ambien abuse can significantly increase suicidal tendencies.

Ambien overdose is also a very real risk for those who abuse the medication. Symptoms of overdose include:

  • Extreme sleepiness.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Slowed heartbeat.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Coma.

If you notice these symptoms in someone close to you who’s been taking Ambien, or suspect you might have OD-d on the medication… Call 911 ASAP. Or call the national Poison Control Center Helpline at 1-800-222-1222. Hotline experts do their best to provide emergency help in case of Ambien intoxication or overdose and will instruct you on what to do next.

Can Ambien abuse problem be treated?


In fact, Ambien abuse is a medical condition that can be managed medically and with success. The sooner you reach out for help – the better your chances at making a full recovery from the effects of the drug.

Q: So, how is Ambien abuse treated?
A: In 3 main stages!

STAGE 1: Medical assessment. This is the first necessary step of treating Ambien abuse. The process of assessment allows your doctor to evaluate your relationship with Ambien, assess your general health, the severity of the drug abuse problem, and outline the next therapeutic steps fit for your needs.

STAGE 2: Detoxification. The detox process from Ambien generally consists of two main stages:

2.1. Tapering – This is a process of cutting back Ambien by decreasing in smaller, gradual dosages to avoid any severe withdrawal symptoms. The exact rate of how much and how often you will decrease is highly individual. Your tapering schedule will be created with the help of your doctor and based on your daily dose and physical response.

2.2. Medical detox – This is the process of eliminating all traces of Ambien from your body under the watchful eye of detox clinic staff. Doctors and nurses will offer 24-hour supervision and support, and will help manage the onset of withdrawal symptoms after you come off the drug.

STAGE 3: Therapy. Psychotherapy and behavioral therapy can be done one-on-one, in a group, or involve the whole family. The main goals of therapy are to uncover and address your underlying reasons for Ambien abuse, teach you effective techniques for maintaining sobriety, and help you develop skills that help you build a life that doesn’t involve Ambien abuse, or any other drug or alcohol abuse, for that matter.

Professionals that can help

Where can you get help for Ambien abuse? The following list of professional mental health services can get you started toward healthier use of Ambien. You can find help for Ambien from:

  1. Ambien abuse helpline– When you need Free, confidential and anonymous help, CALL 1-877-471-1850 to assess and evaluate your or a loved one’s problem. Hotline staffers have been trained to understand drug abuse as a medical condition and will offer strategies and information about treatment services that can best help you. They will not judge or shame you.
  2. A pharmacist– Pharmacists can help you by suggesting a tapering schedule when you want to get off of Ambien. Additionally, a pharmacist at your local pharmacy can suggest a number of over-the-counter medications and remedies to help alleviate some of the flu-like Ambien withdrawal symptoms.
  3. Prescribing physician– Your supervising doctor can determine if you need Ambien for medical purposes. S/he can also help you in case of adverse effects or abuse of Ambien, and can refer your case to a reputable drug addiction treatment center.
  4. Drug Treatment Centers– Ambien addiction treatment facilities are equipped with recovery professionals and programs, and readily accept patients who are addicted to prescription medicines, including Ambien.
  5. Psychiatrists– These doctors specialize in mental health, and can help patients diagnosed with Ambien abuse or addiction determine the causes of their behavior and administer necessary treatment(s) for better coping.
  6. Specialists in addiction– These types of doctors are Certified Addiction Specialists (CAS) and can help people with chronic or recurrent Ambien addiction.
  7. Licensed clinical psychologists– These health professionals can help you recover from Ambien abuse. Psychologists can provide counseling and education to improve your sober life. They can also help you maintain sobriety in the long run.
  8. Licensed clinical social worker– These professionals are very efficient in helping people addicted to Ambien by providing assistance outside of a drug treatment facility, especially for children who live in households where drug abuse is present.

Got something to ask?

Do you have any questions about Ambien abuse and its treatment? Perhaps you have your own advice on getting over Ambien abuse that you want to share with others. If you do, just leave your comments and questions in the designated section below. We do our best to provide personal and prompt responses to all legitimate inquiries.

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from Addiction Blog