Ambien Symptoms and Warning Signs

People abusing Ambien may perform activities like cooking and driving in their sleep. Ambien abuse can also lead to changes in mood and problems at work or home.

Signs of Ambien Use

Woman passed outMany people taking Ambien don’t realize how quickly they can become dependent on the drug.

It may be difficult to recognize when someone is abusing Ambien because it may seem like they are just taking their medication as prescribed.

Continued Ambien use often results in tolerance, or needing a larger dose to feel the drug’s effects.

As someone’s tolerance increases, they may start taking more than one pill to fall asleep. They may also exhibit unusual behavior without having memory of their actions.

Some of the signs of Ambien abuse include:

  • Uninhibited sociability and talkativeness
  • Frequent blackouts
  • Strange behavior with no memory
  • Sleepwalking or sleep activities
  • Hypersexual behavior
  • Impaired coordination and balance
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Dangers of Ambien (Zolpidem)

Ambien is designed to calm the mind and body to induce sleep for people struggling with insomnia. In lower doses, Ambien is an effective medication. When taken at higher doses, however, it can produce a number of unpleasant side effects.

Doctors generally prescribe Ambien for two weeks at most. Beyond that time frame, it may not be as effective. People who continue to take Ambien may end up accidentally — or even intentionally — abusing the drug. Any dose of Ambien used outside of a doctor’s instructions is considered abuse.

Many Ambien users have reported strange and disturbing side effects from the drug. Some of these effects involve users going from a sleeping state to engaging in complicated activities without any recollection of their actions.

Sleep Activities on Ambien

  • Sleepwalking
  • Making and eating food
  • Having sex
  • Driving
  • Talking on the phone

I’d wake up to find in my bed cheese and crackers and a sharp knife on a plate (hey, at least I was classy). One morning I wandered into the kitchen to make coffee and discovered a pot of soup over an open flame on the stove. I had no idea how it got there.

- Former Ambien addict and writer Laurie Sandell, Glamour, 2008

Ambien inhibits natural brain activity, inducing drowsiness to the point of intense sedation and calmness. People who take Ambien and force themselves to stay awake are much more likely to perform unconscious actions and not remember them.

Other side effects of Ambien abuse might include:

  • Amnesia
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unsteady gait
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Mental confusion
  • Uncontrollable shaking

In January of 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered a reduction in the recommended dosage of Ambien for women — down from 10 mg to 5 mg, or 12.5 mg to 6.25 in extended-release formulas. This is because women metabolize Ambien slower than men.

There have been reports of acute intoxication (to the point of impairing focus and driving ability) eight hours after taking Ambien in 10-15 percent of women.

Another risk of Ambien abuse is overdose. Unintentionally overdosing on Ambien alone is unlikely but not impossible. Mixing the substance with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol can quickly turn fatal.

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Ambien Hallucinations

When people take Ambien and either its effects aren’t strong enough or they force themselves to stay awake, many have strange hallucinations. Hallucinations range from thinking someone is in the room with them to believing inanimate objects are moving or talking.

Adverse effects such as hallucinations and psychosis have been reported, particularly with [Ambien]. Increasing reports of bizarre and complex behavioral effects from z-drugs have prompted regulatory agencies to issue warnings and restrictions on prescribing, dispensing, and using z-drugs.

- Addiction specialist Dr. Michael F. Weaver, Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 2015
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    Recognizing an Addiction to Ambien

    Ambien was formulated to temporarily treat sleep disorders. If a friend or loved one is using Ambien for any other reason or without a doctor’s prescription, it may be cause for concern.

    Even people using Ambien appropriately may become addicted to it over time. Some users get so used to Ambien’s effects that they become unable to fall asleep without it. This is a strong indication that an addiction has formed.

    Other behaviors that may indicate an addiction to Ambien include:

    • Seeing more than one doctor for prescriptions
    • Spending a lot of time and/or money trying to acquire Ambien
    • Trying and failing to cut down on Ambien use
    • Continuing to use Ambien despite dangerous actions like sleep-driving
    • Frequent issues at work (e.g. absences, poor performance, etc.)

    Intervention and Next Steps

    Many Ambien users may not think they have a problem if a doctor prescribed the drug to them. If Ambien is becoming a problem in someone’s life, talking to them about their drug use can help them see the issue. Staging an intervention is a useful way to persuade an addicted person to get help.

    During an intervention, family and friends read prepared speeches with the goal of getting the addicted person treatment. It’s also important to outline consequences for the addicted person if they don’t agree to get help. Many former addicts say consequences given by their family was their deciding factor for getting treatment.

    It is often helpful to hire a professional interventionist, especially if your loved one is struggling with more than one addiction. Interventionists help ensure the intervention is both civil and productive.

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    Withdrawal and Treatment

    Ambien may seem like a harmless prescription to some, but the withdrawal symptoms from the drug can be dangerous. In cases of milder Ambien addiction, users might experience anxiety, nausea and vomiting, rebound insomnia and stomach cramps when stopping. In cases of severe addiction, dangerous withdrawal symptoms like seizures, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts are common.

    Quitting Ambien “cold turkey” increases the possibility of experiencing stronger withdrawal symptoms.

    The first step in treating an Ambien addiction is guiding the user through the withdrawal period. This detox period generally involves carefully reducing the user’s Ambien dose over time.

    Eventually Ambien users can stop taking the drug without dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Detox is coupled with therapy and support groups to help treat the psychological aspect of the addiction. If you need help finding treatment for a loved one, contact us now.

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