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April 4, 2019

How to Stop Taking Ambien

Insomnia and sleep deprivation are growing problems in America’s digital age. For many, the solution to their sleepless nights is Ambien. According to the health care database IMS, in 2011, the sleep aid was prescribed over 40 million times. The rising number of prescriptions has resulted in more frequent reports of misuse, leading to a myriad of physical, psychological, and social problems as well as increasing rates of addiction. Because the problem is only getting worse, it must be faced head-on. In order to do so, it is critical that you understand the full scope of the issue.

If you wish to break off an addiction to Ambien, attending a comprehensive, medically-supervised, drug detox program may be necessary if you wish to emerge safe and sober. However, before you take those steps, you should know the background of Ambien, the signs of addiction, Ambien withdrawal symptoms, and the particulars of rehab. All of this information is critical for helping you learn how to stop taking this potent sleep aid.   

What is Ambien?

Ambien is a sleep-inducing medication that helps adults with chronic insomnia fall asleep. Sold under the generic name zolpidem, it falls under the auspices of the sedative-hypnotic family of medications known colloquially as Z-drugs. The drug works by stimulating neurotransmitters in the brain, which results in a slowdown in both the central nervous system and in brain-wave activity. Many falsely assume it is intended to help people remain asleep when, in reality, it simply works to help them fall asleep faster.

Due to its side effects and the possibility of falling into a physical dependence, Ambien is generally prescribed in very low doses. It is intended for short-term use only. So, if you are still having sleep issues after weeks of regular use, it is critical that you seek an alternative sleep therapy. Taking Ambien for longer than prescribed can result in drug desensitization and addiction.

Side Effects

Ambien is effective at treating sleep problems, but it also carries the risk of serious side effects. These sleeping pills side effects can include:

  • Drowsiness or feeling hungover during the day
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired memory
  • Trouble concentrating on daily tasks like driving
  • Sleepwalking
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • If a person awakes earlier than 8 hours after taking Ambien, they can suffer from impaired motor control, loss of balance, slowed reaction time, and amnesia

Although it is not a common disorder, some long-term Ambien users develop a condition known as parasomnia. This disorder results in a variety of abnormal sleeping behaviors such as experiencing vivid nightmares or night terrors, engaging in driving, eating, committing crimes or having sex while in a semi-conscious dream state.

Doctors will frequently check up on their patients to see if any side effects or psychological changes arise over the course of Ambien use. If doctors or people close to the patient notice sudden behavioral changes, it could be an indication that the person has become addicted to Ambien.

Ambien Addiction

Ever since Ambien gained FDA approval in the early ‘90s, it has helped millions of people treat their insomnia. Sadly, a select minority have misused the drug and fallen victim to addiction. When Ambien is used regularly over long periods or in higher doses than recommended, the user naturally develops a reliance on the drug to sleep and feel normal.  In the absence of taking Ambien, withdrawal symptoms may occur, resulting in disruption to an individual’s work, social, and family life.

Signs that you or someone you know may have an Ambien addiction may include:

  • Failed attempts at quitting Ambien
  • Taking Ambien during times when sleep is not the goal
  • Feeling anxious when thinking about not having access to Ambien
  • Taking higher doses of Ambien than recommended

It is not recommended for people with a history of substance abuse or addiction to take Ambien since they are at higher risk of dependence. However, the sedative can be addictive to any user regardless of their previous experience with substances. One key reason explaining many users’ propensities to abuse the drug lies in the fact that Ambien, like alcohol, is incredibly effective at depressing strong or uncomfortable emotions.

Ambien Misuse

When used responsibly, certain medications are fantastic at providing emotional relief and quieting emotional anxieties. Antidepressants, for example, can be safe and effective for treating depression. Ambien, on the other hand, was not designed to help support you during times of emotional crisis. It should only be taken to help with falling asleep, and never be used for any of the following situations:

  • Inducing euphoric effects or a “high.” This runs counter to the expected relaxing effects of Ambien but can be a reaction for some people
  • Relaxing after a stressful day
  • Self-medicating, also known as chemical coping, for other disorders such as panic attacks or depression

If your insomnia is linked to uncontrollable distressing thoughts—for example, a loss of a loved one, stresses at work, or an unstable future—then it may be better to go to therapy in order to address these root issues rather than simply trying to numb yourself by sleeping through them.

Ambien Withdrawal

If individuals have been taking Ambien longer than prescribed or for recreational purposes, then they may suffer from withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop. Possible symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Convulsions
  • Cramping
  • Cravings
  • Delirium
  • Depression
  • Excessive sweating
  • Flushing
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Lightheadedness
  • Mood swings
  • Muscle aching
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rebound insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

These symptoms can range in intensity, depending on your genetics and the extent of your Ambien abuse. However, even if you feel like your typical symptoms are mild enough to manage on your own, you should still seek to undergo detox at an inpatient drug rehab facility. Symptoms can worsen unexpectedly, which is why it’s essential to have the right treatment from the start — left untreated, approximately 20% of people’s symptoms progress to severe conditions.

Ambien Withdrawal Timeline

Although it is impossible to predict precisely which symptoms a person will experience and how long withdrawal symptoms will last, we can speak generally. The onset of withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as 4 to 8 hours after stopping use. If the form of Ambien of the slow-release variety, then withdrawal symptoms may not arise until 7 to 10 days after the last dose. This, however, is generally not the case.

The first 3 to 5 days after quitting Ambien will usually be the hardest, seeing as symptoms are climaxing. Changes in vital signs—increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature—are the first symptoms of withdrawal. After that, a fine tremor of the hands or twitching of the tongue may develop.

As the symptoms progress, confusion, mild hallucinations, and in rare cases, seizures can start. Typically, symptoms lessen within 1-2 weeks, although some symptoms can periodically recur for months or even years.

Severity and duration of symptoms depend upon the following:

  • How long Ambien was taken — If Ambien was taken for a short period of time and as prescribed, minor withdrawal symptoms will occur. On the other hand, the longer someone uses Ambien, the higher the risk of developing severe withdrawal symptoms.
  • How high the dose was – When more Ambien is taken, the body’s response to it diminishes, meaning more Ambien is required to achieve the desired effects. This is referred to as building up a tolerance. The result is a greater change in physical and psychological patterns making withdrawal symptoms worse.
  • Other drugs taken with Ambien – Combining Ambien with other drugs or alcohol can compound its effects.
  • A person’s support system – If a person trying to quit Ambien does so alone, they may face more setbacks and take longer to recover.

Treating Ambien Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with Ambien addiction, you do not have to face this crucible alone. In fact, detoxing on your own is dangerous due to possible complications. As a result, doctors recommend that you undergo treatment at certified rehabilitation centers such as Beach House Recovery. These facilities provide many resources such as:

  • Medical professionals to guide you through the process and monitor your health.
  • Licensed physicians that can use medication-assisted treatment to ease withdrawal.
  • Therapists that teach coping skills, and can help work through underlying issues.
  • Support groups that provide ongoing motivational and emotional support throughout the process.

Tapered Doses

The best method for Ambien detox involves tapering your doses. Quitting a drug “cold turkey” takes a huge toll on the body, is usually unbearable, and often results in relapse. On the other hand, a gradual reduction in Ambien use will allow your brain to rebalance its chemical structure without experiencing a full “shock” to the system.  

Ambien doses should be reduced by around 10 percent each week, with 25 percent being the absolute maximum. Any greater reduction could cause severe withdrawal reactions. Again, medically-supervised detox is important, being that licensed medical professionals can ensure you are tapering correctly.

Alternatives to Ambien

While weaning off Ambien, it can be more difficult to fall asleep. Alternatives such as those listed below can help reduce the compulsion to turn back to Ambien. Common substitutes include:

  • Take melatonin – Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body to help regulate sleep cycles. In the supplemental form, it can be beneficial in signaling to your body when it is time to sleep. Even better, it carries a low risk of side effects.
  • Create a nighttime routine—Humans are creatures of habit, so when a bedtime routine is performed, it can prepare your mind and body for sleep. It is helpful to cut out caffeine and late-night snacks, avoid the blue-light of electronics an hour before bedtime, read, meditate, pray, or journal.

Medications to Help with Symptoms

Medically-assisted treatment (MAT) relieves intense cravings by prescribing medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms. MAT for Ambien could include the introduction of mood-stabilizing drugs or anti-seizure medication. It could also mean switching to a drug that provides similar effects but is less addictive. A physician will determine what MAT is best for you. However, the “tapering” method is what’s most commonly advised for Ambien addiction.

Therapy

There are two types of therapy thought to be the most effective in handling Ambien addiction:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – is based on the notion that thoughts play a huge role in determining emotions and behavior. Therefore, CBT teaches individuals how to have a healthy inner dialogue to help them understand why they are having cravings and how they can overcome those harmful habits. These skills are imperative when it comes to sustaining recovery.
  2. Talk therapy – is useful for working through psychological issues. Often, individuals who misuse substances have underlying mental health conditions. When these issues surface, it’s important to address them as well as the substance use disorder in a dual diagnosis treatment center.  

Support Groups

Ambien addiction can be taxing on an individual’s mental health. By joining support groups filled with others who have dealt with the same condition, you can find structure and accountability. There, you can speak about what you’re dealing with, gain valuable insight, and discuss with others that understand your situation.

Recovering from Ambien Addiction

Once detox and therapy are completed, the next challenge is relapse prevention. Aftercare is going to be necessary since the desire for Ambien might take a while to subside, especially if sleep problems persist. Ambien addiction treatment needs to focus on abstinence and the creation of a healthy sleep routine. Both issues need to be fixed, seeing as sobriety from Ambien can reintroduce insomnia.

The road to recovery is not easy, but it is manageable when you have a team of professionals determined to help you succeed. Whether you select an inpatient or outpatient program, you can dramatically improve your chances of successful recovery by choosing a reputable clinic. No matter how difficult it seems to stop using, there is always a way. Contact a treatment specialist today to find out how or Florida drug rehab center can help.

Sources:

  1. Tavernise, S. (2013, January 10). Drug Agency Recommends Lower Doses of Sleep Aids for Women. Retrieved from
  2. Weaver M. F. (2015). Prescription Sedative Misuse and Abuse. The Yale journal of biology and medicine88(3), 247-56.
  3. Informed Health Online [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Using medication: What can help when trying to stop taking sleeping pills and sedatives? 2010 Apr 20 [Updated 2017 Aug 10]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK361010/
  4. David J Greenblatt & Thomas Roth (2012) Zolpidem for insomnia, Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy, 13:6, 879-893, DOI: 10.1517/14656566.2012.667074

 

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