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Long Term Side Effects of Ambien

Long Term Side Effects of Ambien Resurgence Behavioral Health

The Risks of Using Ambien Long Term

Ambien is a brand name for the prescription drug Zolpidem. It is a widely used sleep medication, prescribed to millions of Americans, that has been available to the public for over 20 years. It was created to work the way benzodiazepines work in the brain, by targeting special receptor cells that respond to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an important neurotransmitter that affects sleep cycles, emotional responses, and levels of consciousness.

Ambien is a hypnotic drug that should only be taken for a short amount of time, as prescribed, and should not be used as a recreational drug. The maximum time it is meant to be prescribed is 6 weeks but is recommended for much shorter periods of time if possible. It works by calming the nerves and brain activity, making it easier for the patient to fall asleep. Over time, its serious side effects and issues have come to light, including physical and cognitive side effects.

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Is Ambien Addictive?

Although formulated to be the less-addictive alternative to benzodiazepines like Valium or Ativan, Ambien meets many criteria that indicate a substance can create a chemical dependence, causing users to behave in specific ways like:

  • Gaining tolerance – needing higher doses to get the same effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal – uncomfortable physical and psychological effects when the drug use is discontinued
  • Compulsive use – having a preoccupation with taking the drug, even when it has negative consequences
  • Manipulative or unethical behavior – stealing, forging prescriptions, faking symptoms or other drug-seeking behaviors to be able to get access to more Ambien

Generally speaking, Ambien may be considered addictive, especially in users who do not take it as prescribed (for example, crushing and snorting pills/tablets), those who mix it with other drugs or alcohol, or those who take larger-than-normal doses. It may produce a “hypnotic high” or even act as a stimulant in high doses that can cause even those without strong addictive predilections to crave more of the drug or begin to abuse it. Others find that it is impossible to sleep without taking Ambien and will continue to use it beyond the recommended six-week timeframe.

For these reasons, Ambien is usually prescribed at the lowest possible dose, and patients are closely monitored for signs of psychological changes and to ensure they still have the need to use the medication.

Physical Side Effects of Ambien

Ambien is a prescription medication that, when used as prescribed, for a short period of time, should have minimal health effects on patients. There are risks involved in taking this medication, especially if you use it long-term, including problems with cardiovascular health, respiratory processes, digestive health, and sensory systems. Some of the most common physical side effects to using Ambien include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Slowed breathing rates and sedation
  • Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite/dry mouth
  • Impaired vision
  • Skin rashes
  • Muscle cramps and abnormal body movements
  • Insomnia/nightmares/sleep issues
  • Persistent fatigue/drowsiness
  • Dizziness/lack of muscle control
  • Aggression
  • Feelings of withdrawal between doses

Allergic reactions, with hives, shortness of breath, and swelling in the face, lips, mouth, and/or tongue may also occur in some individuals. These effects can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.

Mental Side Effects of Ambien

Ambien also has cognitive side effects. Because it affects the brain chemically by binding with GABA neurotransmitter receptor cells to influence sleep, the long term side effects of Ambien may include:

  • Loss of memory and/or confusion
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Place/time disorientation
  • Loss of pleasure and emotional affect
  • Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts
  • Sleep disturbances and nightmares

Taking Ambien when it is not prescribed to you can also intensify the adverse side effects like excessive sedation, confusion, and slow response times, with a lack of motor coordination and a delay in reflex reactions. You may also experience dizziness, hallucinations, impaired judgment, and aggression. Clumsiness can result in falls and other accidental injuries.

Some other side effects of Ambien abuse include the fact that this medication can remain in the system through the morning after use, especially at higher doses, and may cause impairment. This especially affects women, and users are cautioned to avoid driving or using heavy equipment until they are certain all the Ambien is out of their system. People who abuse Ambien for a long period of time will also begin to experience social problems like bankruptcy/money trouble, unemployment, and family/relationship problems.

Sleepwalking on Ambien and Other Activities

Occasionally, people who take Ambien as a sleep aid will experience sleepwalking and other behaviors, like:

  • Sleep eating/night eating disorder – not only does this activity wreak havoc on diets and weight loss programs, but it can also be dangerous if the patient chokes, overeats dangerous amounts, or injures themselves trying to cook on the stove or use sharp cutlery
  • Driving – the patient will get out of bed, into their vehicle and begin driving as they would when they are awake but will not remember the incident and may not even be aware it happened unless pulled over for intoxicated driving
  • Having sex – this activity is most seen in patients with live-in partners but can also occur when the patient sleepwalks out of the house and initiates sexual contact with people outside the home. It may put the patient at risk for STIs or place them in dangerous situations.
  • Holding conversations with people – although not dangerous in and of itself, it is disturbing to patients to find out they have held entire conversations unconsciously.
  • Leaving the home and walking around the neighborhood – this activity can put the patient at risk of being hit by a car, or any number of risky or embarrassing scenarios, and they may not remember what happened when they wake up the next morning.

These episodes of parasomnia, also known as “Ambien blackouts”, happen completely out of the user’s control, while they are asleep, and they are unaware of what they are doing. Sometimes these actions can be controlled by reducing the dosage.

ambien withdrawal symptoms

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Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms

The withdrawal symptoms that occur when you stop taking Ambien to vary, depending on factors like how long you have been using it, how much you were taking, whether it was used in combination with other substances, and whether you were using it as prescribed or recreationally. Symptoms can range from mild to intense, and can even become dangerous, especially if you attempt to quit cold turkey after a long period of use.

  • Anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, and irritability
  • Flushing and sweating
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Delirium
  • Tremors
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, cramps, and vomiting
  • Uncontrollable crying and depression
  • Rebound insomnia
  • Cravings for Ambien
  • Seizures

The safest and most effective means of detoxing from Ambien is a slow taper off the medication, combined with a Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) program. There is not a specific medication that helps treat Ambien addiction, but some doctors may prescribe psychiatric medications, anti-seizure medications, and other helpful prescriptions to help you get through your detox as comfortably and safely as possible.

At Resurgence, we offer a prescription drug rehab program that can help you stop using Ambien for good. Through a targeted medical detox, followed by an integrated, 30- to a 90-day inpatient rehabilitation program that is customized to your specific needs, goals, and budget, we will help you get to the underlying causes of your addiction, treat physical symptoms, and help you to rebuild your health, your relationships, and your life.

Withdrawal generally lasts for 1-2 weeks, with the worst of the symptoms peaking between day 3 and day 5. Some psychological symptoms like anxiety, panic, depression, and insomnia can last for weeks or even months after Ambien rehab is complete, so an outpatient and aftercare program is recommended for those recovering from an Ambien addiction.

Our outpatient programs include:

  • The Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), in which you live outside the facility but commute back for full days of therapy, groups and other programming and appointments.
  • The Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is a flexible outpatient rehab that works around your busy schedule, with group and individual therapy, counselling, and one-on-one psychiatric and medical appointments arranged to fit around your work, school, or other life obligations. There is a virtual IOP available at some of our locations, so you can check in with therapists and counsellors online.
  • Our aftercare program can last a lifetime if you wish. Once you are fully integrated back into your life, you can still remain connected with our peer/alumni groups and contact us any time to schedule sessions with counsellors or therapists. We will also keep you connected to medical and psychiatric care, so you won’t have to worry about prescription renewals or meeting new doctors and explaining your medical history over again.

Common Questions About Ambien Use

  1. Is Ambien Safe for Long-term Use? – Ambien is generally prescribed for short-term use, usually for a period of 1 to 2 weeks. Long-term use can lead to dependence, tolerance, and other side effects.
  2. What Are the Side Effects of Ambien? – Common side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, and headache. In some cases, it might cause more severe reactions, such as memory loss, changes in mood, or allergic reactions.
  3. Can You Develop a Dependence on Ambien? – Yes, there’s a risk of both physical and psychological dependence, especially with long-term use. Always consult your doctor for advice on duration of use and potential dependency issues.

Contact Resurgence Behavioral Health today to find out more about Ambien detox, prescription drug rehab, and other resources we can provide, including outpatient and aftercare programs.

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