If you’ve ever had a tough time falling (and staying) asleep, you’re not alone. While we all would love to get a good eight hours every night, that’s not the case for many of us. Insomnia is a condition that affects up to half of all Americans. This widespread issue can strongly impact your physical and mental health. Many people who seek medical help for their sleeplessness are prescribed Ambien. Today, we’ll answer the question, “Is Ambien safe?” and will explore everything you need to know before taking sedatives.
What is Insomnia?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 32 and 35% of Californians struggle with “short sleep duration,” a general marker for sleep disorder. But what exactly is insomnia, and why is it so concerning?
This sleeplessness can take many forms. Insomnia can make it difficult to…
- Fall asleep,
- Stay asleep, or
- Wake up at your normal time.
People with this condition may find themselves lying awake all night, getting a bit of rest and then staying up, or waking up far too early and struggling to go back to bed. They probably still feel tired in the morning, which can impact their personal lives, physical health, and work performance.
It’s important to note that insomnia can be a normal response to trauma or stress. If someone has been involved in a car accident, for example, it’s not unusual for them to experience nightmares or short-term insomnia for a few days or weeks. To be considered long-term, a person must exhibit symptoms for a month or more.
Key insomnia symptoms include…
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up in the middle of the night
- Waking up far too early
- Not feeling rested
- Fatigue during the day
- Worrying about how much sleep they’re getting
- Increased accidents or errors as a result of insomnia
- Slowed reaction time (especially while driving)
When a person identifies with the symptoms listed above, they seek medical help. While insomnia is best treated by addressing the root cause – usually stress, poor sleep habits, late-night meals, mental illness, caffeine consumption, or other issues – many people want immediate relief. This is when prescriptions like Ambien enter the picture.
Is Ambien Like Xanax?
Ambien (generic name zolpidem) received FDA approval in the early 90s. When that happened, this drug was meant to serve as an improvement to benzodiazepines like Xanax. Because Ambien was meant to have a shorter half-life and act in a more targeted way, physicians were optimistic about its use. People still compare these drugs regularly. At the time, it was hoped that zolpidem would prevent the dependency caused by Xanax and other drugs. However, over the last 30 years, this quick-onset hypnotic has since become infamous for its array of serious side effects.
What are the Side Effects of Ambien?
When taken as directed, zolpidem acts as a sedative. It calms the activity of a person’s central nervous system, which helps them to fall asleep. However, this action can also cause significant problems in a person’s cardiovascular, digestive, and respiratory systems. Common physical side effects of Ambien include…
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid (or irregular) heartbeat
- Slowed reflex reactions
- Abdominal pain and muscle cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Impaired judgement
- Loss of coordination
- Double vision
- Rashes on the skin
- Pinpoint pupils
- Abnormal body movements
The cognitive effects of Ambien are also cause for concern. Like benzodiazepine sedatives, zolpidem acts on GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for patients to report certain mental side effects while under the influence of Ambien. These include…
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss
- Anhedonia (loss of pleasure in everyday life)
- Sleep disturbances
- Suicidal thoughts
- Flat affect (lack of emotion)
Ambien Blackouts: Zolpidem Side Effects
The most famous side effects associated with Ambien can only be described as bizarre. For example, those who took the drug exhibited sleepwalking, sleep driving, sleep eating, and sleep sex behaviors with enough frequency that the FDA required that women receive a halved dosage of drugs containing zolpidem. People also reported holding full conversations, leaving the house, or binge eating, all without remembering it in the morning. This is called an “Ambien blackout.”
For some, these side effects can be controlled by reducing one’s dosage. However, for others, the drug may need to be fully discontinued.
This drug was created as an alternative to addictive benzodiazepine sleeping medications. Unfortunately, in the decades since, abuse of zolpidem has risen dramatically.
First, research has found that continued use of Ambien can result in tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal. This dependency is one of the most severe side effects of Ambien; when this develops, a person may feel that they need Ambien in order to function normally. This is why doctors try to prescribe sleep aids for a limited amount of time. Those at highest risk of substance abuse and dependency are the ones who take the drug for more than a few weeks or those who take more than their doctor recommends.
The Risks of Abusing Sleep Aids
Why would someone take sleeping pills recreationally? While Ambien is described as a sedative, it can actually create a rush of energy or euphoria when abused in high doses. This has resulted in increasing abuse of this drug by those who are not prescribed it, or by those who ignore medical warnings.
Misusing Ambien can be very dangerous. Taking it in high doses results in extreme drowsiness, disorientation, confusion, and lack of bodily control. In spite of initial claims of a short half-life, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that Ambien can remain in someone’s system for up to 16 hours if consumed in large dosages. This creates a high risk of self-injury, car crashes, or other accidents.
People using Ambien recreationally also tend to take it in unsafe ways. They may crush the pills into a powder form before mixing it with drinks or snorting it. This makes it difficult to tell how much a person is taking, drastically increasing their risk of overdose, over-sedation, and addiction.
Some case studies have indicated that people who become addicted to Ambien may experience benzodiazepine-like withdrawal symptoms. This means that the risk of anxiety, tremors, nausea, insomnia, muscle cramps, and even seizures can be high.
Help for Ambien Addiction
Fortunately, treatment programs exist for people addicted to sedatives. Hemet Valley Recovery Center and Sage Retreat has created a safe environment in which to recover. When you enter our facility, you will have access to hospital-grade treatment in a home-like setting. Our medical staff supervise every step of care, from detoxification to inpatient programming. We can provide alternative sleeping solutions to address a person’s insomnia without relying on potentially addictive medications.
To learn more about Ambien addiction treatment at HVRC, please contact our admissions team.