Chances are you or someone you know has an Ambien story to tell. This popular prescription sleep aid has become notorious for the unusual adverse effects it has on some people, including sleep-eating, sleep-driving, memory lapses, hallucinations, odd behaviors, and accidents.
One thing you don’t hear much about is the Ambien withdrawal experience once someone has become dependent on the drug. Dependence occurs with extended and consistent use of a substance. This can cause the brain to make modifications in its natural chemistry, such as GABA production in the case of the sedative-hypnotic category of drugs, as it becomes accustomed to the presence of Ambien in the bloodstream. Once a chemical dependency has developed, suddenly stopping the drug ‘cold turkey’ can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms.
Managing Ambien withdrawal safely will depend on a medical detox and withdrawal strategy that involves a tapering schedule. During the supervised detox process the individuals vital signs and symptoms will be closely monitored. This allows the detox professionals to provide the needed medical response to help minimize discomfort and any health risks.
Completing detox is not, however, enough to result in a lasting recovery from Ambien use. Unless the habitual thought and behavior patterns that led to the addiction are addressed and treated, relapse is highly likely. A comprehensive addiction recovery program helps break the disordered thought/behavior patterns and replace them with new, healthy ones. Treatment also introduces the individual to techniques that aid in relaxation that can be used in the evening to assist in gaining a better night’s sleep naturally.
Facts About Ambien
Ambien (zolpidem) has gained wide spread use as a fast-acting drug that helps individuals who struggle with insomnia. Ambien, also called a Z-drug, is found in the category of sedatives called hypnotics, which work by enhancing the effects of the brain chemical, GABA. It is available in two forms, an immediate release or an extended release formulation.
Ambien’s effects cause an almost immediate drugged feeling, with drowsiness, unsteadiness when standing or walking, therefore should be taken immediately before going to bed. The drug is usually prescribed for short periods, such as one to two weeks, as it is not intended to be a long-term solution for insomnia. Ambien is a Schedule IV controlled substance, a designation by the Drug Enforcement Administration that considers the drug to have a moderate risk of being abused or addictive.
Prolonged Ambien use can lead to psychological dependence, where the individual reaches for the medication reflexively every night in anticipation of a good night’s sleep. They may no longer believe they can obtain good quality sleep without the aid of Ambien. After continued use, the body develops a tolerance to the effects of the Ambien, which then causes the person to take higher doses to achieve the initial sedating effects.
Some individuals will intentionally abuse Ambien, which can make the drug more dangerous. One common form of Ambien abuse involves combining alcohol and Ambien to enhance the effects of the sedative. When Ambien is abused, such as taking higher doses than prescribed, combining the drug with alcohol, or crushing the drug and snorting it, highly adverse consequences may occur as an effect of the respiratory system becoming suppressed.
Signs of Ambien Dependence or Addiction
Even when Ambien is taken as prescribed for treatment of insomnia, when used for an extended period it can become habit forming. Some signs of Ambien abuse include:
- Next day drowsiness
- Taking Ambien during the day
- Doctor shopping to obtain prescriptions for the drug
- Using the drug recreationally, such as inhaling the drug or combining use with other substances
- Compulsive need to acquire Ambien
- Taking higher doses than recommended
- Concentration issues
- Memory problems
- Stealing Ambien from family or friends
- Unable to cut back on the Ambien
- Feel anxiety if there are none left in the bottle
- Experiencing mounting negative consequences, such as accidents, unexplained weight gain, or a DUI arrest
- When attempting to quit taking Ambien, experiencing withdrawal symptoms
Ambien Withdrawal Timeline
As with any substance detox and withdrawal, the severity of withdrawals expected from Ambien detox will depend on the length of time dependent on Ambien and the existence of any underlying complications. Some individuals will experience mild symptoms while others may have a severe reaction to the absence of the drug in their system.
Just as with benzodiazepines, Ambien detox should be overseen by a physician who will prescribe a tapering program. By incrementally reducing the amount of the drug exposure the body will gradually progress through the detox process and avoid serious withdrawal risks such as seizure.
Generally, Ambien detox lasts 1-2 weeks or longer, depending on the various factors that influence the timeline. The Ambien withdrawal timeline goes as follows:
Early phase: Days 1-2 are characterized by mental fog, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and headache.
Middle phase: Days 3-7 represent the peak phase of withdrawal, where symptoms intensify. These include severe rebound effects like insomnia, irritability, and anxiety, as well as intense cravings, nausea or vomiting, restlessness, sweating, hyperventilating, racing heart rate, and tremors.
Final phase: The final week or two will feature subsiding withdrawal symptoms, with some residual cravings and psychological effects lingering.
During the detox stages the medical detox team will assist the individual with medications for various symptoms such as headache and nausea, including possibly an antidepressant. There is no medication specifically designed for Ambien withdrawal relief.
Getting Help for Ambien Addiction
Treatment for Ambien addiction should be undertaken immediately following the detox. Without this therapeutic support the individual may succumb to cravings. Ambien recovery programs are available in outpatient or residential settings. The basic treatment elements will involve a multi-pronged approach that includes the following:
- Individual psychotherapy. Psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), mindfulness-based behavior therapy, contingency management, and motivational interviewing are core treatment strategies for addiction recovery. The individual will examine underlying emotional issues, thought distortions, feelings of ambivalence toward sobriety, and self-defeating attitudes that can perpetuate the Ambien addiction cycle.
- Group therapy. Small groups discuss topics pertaining to breaking addictive behavior patterns and other dysfunctions that interfere with abstinence. Group sessions encourage open and supportive communication, which can be a valuable source of peer support.
- Psychosocial skills. Individuals will learn new coping strategies for resisting relapsing back to Ambien use. They will be guided toward creating a detailed relapse prevention strategy, which becomes an invaluable tool for managing triggers to return to Ambien. Other skills taught revolve around emotion regulation and conflict resolution that helps reduce stressful thoughts at bedtime.
- 12-step groups. Recovery meetings, such as A.A., N.A., or SMART Recovery are protective in recovery as these social settings offer peer support.
- Recreational therapy. Restoring the mind-body connection through fitness and outdoor activity is an essential component of recovery. These activities might include hiking, cycling, taking vigorous walks, visits to the gym, swimming, and group sports.
6 Ways to Improve Sleep Quality Without Drugs
Insomnia is a distressing condition that robs someone of their ability to function at their best. Sleep deprivation leads to a host of health problems, including a higher risk of heart disease, weight gain, high blood pressure, accidents, mood disorders, and cognitive challenges. In Ambien addiction recovery it is essential that the individual gain some effective relaxation tools to put to use in their daily lives that improve sleep quality. These might include:
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness helps train the mind to ignore distressing thoughts by directing attention back to the present moment. Combined with placing attention on the sights, smells, and sounds being experienced in the now, mindfulness also teaches the person to focus on the breathing process.
- Aromatherapy. Using essential oils in a pre-bedtime routine can help relax the mind and body. The oils can be placed in a warm bath, used as a vapor through a diffuser, or simply rubbed between the palms or placed strategically on the body. Essential oils that assist in relaxation include lavender oil, chamomile, cedarwood oil, sandalwood, and valerian.
- Focused breathing techniques. Learning how to do breathing techniques can offer fast relaxation effects. There are several of these to try, from deep breathing, to meditative breath focusing, to pursed lip breathing and more. Try a variety of breathing techniques to find one that relaxes you before bedtime.
- Regular exercise. Both mental health professionals and physicians point to regular exercise as a way to improve sleep quality. Exercise helps induce relaxation by reducing the stress hormone levels and increasing serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine levels.
- Yoga. Learning to practice yoga is an excellent tool to use in the evenings when wanting to reach a calm, peaceful mindset. With so many yoga classes available online or through apps, you can experiment with the various types of yoga until you discover the one that helps your insomnia.
- Herbal supplements. In addition to the holistic actions, herbal supplements can also provide some help for individuals struggling with insomnia. The most popular supplement for assisting sleep is melatonin. Other herbal remedies include magnesium, valerian root, L-theanine, and Passionflower.
It is possible to recover from an Ambien addiction or dependency and then learn new, healthy ways to encourage a good night’s sleep.
LifeSync Malibu Provides Medically Supervised Ambien Detox and Withdrawal
LifeSync Malibu is an upscale holistic Southern California recovery center that includes onsite monitored medical detox and withdrawal for Ambien dependence. Following the detox portion of recovery, LifeSync Malibu offers a leading addiction recovery program that draws from evidence-based therapies and effective holistic healing practices. If you or a loved one is ready to discontinue Ambien use, contact LifeSync Malibu today at (866) 491-4426.