Sleep Awareness Week (March 13–19 in 2022) is always scheduled by the National Sleep Foundation to coincide with the first week of Daylight Saving Time—not least because, according to medical experts, that annual lost hour of sleep contributes to a surprising number of health and efficiency problems.
However, half of America’s adult population would be glad to experience sleep-related challenges only once or twice a year. These are the people with chronic insomnia or other sleep disorders, who are lucky to get a full sleep four nights out of seven. Over the long term, many of them develop hypertension, morbid obesity, diabetes, and other health problems from the accumulated effects of sleep deprivation.
Ambien Withdrawal and Dependence
One treatment for chronic insomnia is the prescription of medications to enable better sleep. Such a medication is Ambien (generic name zolpidem), a sedative-hypnotic drug that stimulates neurons to release gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) for increased drowsiness. Ambien takes effect rapidly and is metabolized quickly, meaning that it requires lower doses than many other “sleeping pills” and is less likely to become an overuse problem.
Ambien is not risk-free, however. While it’s unusual to develop full addiction in the sense of life’s becoming an obsession with the next dose, physical dependence can and does occur. If you’ve become dependent on Ambien, you will experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking it. These symptoms (which typically begin within 48 hours of the last dose) may include:
- Panic attacks
- Mood swings
- Muscle tremors
- Hot flushes or heavy perspiration
- Pounding heart
- Rapid breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
If a person is truly unfortunate, Ambien withdrawal may also trigger delirium or seizures.
Complete “detox” usually takes 1–2 weeks, with the most intense symptoms in the middle of the first week. For some people, periodic Ambien cravings and mood swings may continue for several months.
How to Avoid Ambien Dependence and Withdrawal
It’s worth emphasizing that Ambien is a temporary aid to achieving improved sleep habits, and was never intended as a substitute for healthy non-drug approaches such as stress management, a relaxing evening routine, and the right bedroom environment. The moment you start taking for granted that a nightly dose of Ambien is the key to real sleep, you’re flirting with trouble. Before you even accept a prescription, plan with your doctor’s help when and how to taper it off.
If you do take an Ambien prescription, follow directions carefully, and remember:
- Never crush or break a tablet. (Some people do this deliberately, especially with extended-release tablets, because they like the “high” a more intense dose produces. Besides serving no legitimate medical purpose, this multiplies the risk of dependence and severe withdrawal symptoms.)
- If your problem is secondary insomnia (directly symptomatic of a physical or mental illness, as opposed to primary insomnia which occurs apart from other health issues), get treatment for the underlying condition.
- Learn and practice healthy sleep habits. (Your doctor can advise you here; or resources are available at the National Sleep Foundation website.)
- When it’s time to stop taking your Ambien, taper off slowly. If you have withdrawal symptoms nonetheless, don’t panic—this doesn’t mean you’ve become addicted—but consult your doctor promptly.
- If you’ve already taken Ambien for too long or in overly large amounts; if you’ve combined it with other drugs against medical advice; or if your withdrawal symptoms show any sign of becoming severe—see a doctor immediately. Your dependence may have reached the point of needing medically supervised detox.
And remember: in the long run, the best treatment for insomnia (or any form of addiction) is managing stress and building self-confidence!
Professionally Supervised Detox for Addiction
If you already have a problem with dependence on Ambien or any other drug, you don’t have to—and shouldn’t—tough out withdrawal alone. Professional medical detox is the best way to not only get clean in a safe and comfortable environment, but to find the counseling and support you need to stay clean. Contact Beach House to learn about our treatment options, and how you can reclaim your life by getting free of addiction for good.
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