Ambien Addiction and Rehabilitation

Last Edited: March 17, 2020
Claudia Rose
Clinically Reviewed
Edward Jamison, MS, CAP, ICADC, LADC
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

Dangers of Ambien Abuse

Ambien is a trade name for the generic Zolpidem Tartrate, which is a non-Benzodiazepine prescription sleep aid, typically used to treat disorders like insomnia. While the drug is commonly seen as a safe way to address short-term sleep disorders, Ambien is unfortunately known to be habit-forming and does lend itself to dependence and addiction.

Ambien, despite its utility when used as prescribed, is not as innocent as it may seem. As a highly addictive substance with strong government oversight, a few weeks of use is all it takes to start a dangerous addiction. Many users become hooked on the medication’s effectiveness, leading to thousands of cases of Ambien abuse each year.

For this reason, Ambien is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance. Due to the likelihood of abuse, Ambien is only suggested for short periods of time or occasional use. However, users in search of sleep may begin to exceed dosage suggestions, creating a vicious circle of use that leads to increased symptoms of insomnia, an inability to function and trouble handling normal day-to-day activities.

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Street Names for Ambien

While it is commonly prescribed for use by medical professionals, Ambien can be found on the street. Many regular Ambien abusers purchase this drug one pill at a time from illegal drug dealers when legal access is denied. Common street names for Ambien include: No-Gos, Zombie Pills, Sleepeasy, Tic-Tacs, A-minus.

Most of these names refer to the drug’s primary function: to put users to sleep for a prolonged period of time. Others, like Tic-Tacs and A-minus, reference the appearance of the pills, which are a similar shape and color to Tic-Tacs with an “A-” symbol on the front side.

Effects of Ambien

As a sleep aid, extreme fatigue is among the most significant effects of Ambien. Upon taking a dose, molecules bond to neurotransmitters in the brain that slow brain activity. When taking Ambien, it is hard to maintain consciousness, hold conversations and handle normal daily tasks. It can also provide hallucinogenic properties, leading to a pleasurable high feeling prior to falling asleep. Many Ambien users begin to crave this feeling, a contributing factor in ongoing abuse. Ambien, despite its introduction as a safer and less addictive alternative to Benzodiazepines, is extremely addictive. Increased tolerance can set in within two weeks, leaving users unable to function without adequate doses. Quickly, withdrawals will be experienced between doses or when a dose is missed.

Warning signs of Ambien abuse in a loved one

Due to its use as a sleep aid, it can often be hard to tell if a loved one is abusing Ambien. You may not be around when he or she is taking it when the abuse is first beginning. If a person has been prescribed a medication, it can be difficult to question whether he or she is taking the medication appropriately. Ambien abuse is a serious issue, though, and if you are suspicious that someone may have formed an addiction, you can look out for the signs.

If a friend displays strange or erratic behavior prior to falling asleep, she may be using prescription sleeping aids. Does she try to stay awake while on the drug, to experience the euphoric feeling or the hallucinogenic effects? This indicates substance abuse.

People who are hooked on Ambien experience reverse effects when they are not on the drug. If she cannot sleep without pills or is awake for days at a time following a dose or when skipping a dose, Ambien addiction could be a reality.

When people are addicted to a substance, using the drug becomes an obsession and a priority of their everyday lives. If your loved one struggles to focus on daily tasks at work or at school, this may indicate that Ambien abuse is interfering with normal functioning.

Factual Dangers: Ambien

Seeing signs of Ambien abuse in yourself or a loved one can be very hard to handle, especially for those who are unable to sleep, go to work or focus in school due to an Ambien addiction. Addiction to Ambien is a life-threatening condition that can cause your relationships and profession to deteriorate. The truths exposed in these videos can illustrate the reality of addiction to Ambien, including signs to watch for and risks facing those who use Ambien recreationally.

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Emergency room visits related to pain killer use rose 153% from 1995 to 2002, while admissions to drug treatment programs for individuals using Ambien rose 321% from 1995 to 2005

Deaths related to pain killer abuse rose 160% from 1994 to 2004.

Painkiller abusers get their drugs from friends or family members. Only about 4% get Ambien from illegal dealers or strangers, and about .1% obtain Ambien from the Internet.

True Stories of Sddiction: Devon Discovers Happiness in Recovery


Ambien Rehab Treatment

For those who get caught in a cycle of abuse, it may seem as though there is no way out. The nature of extended use is that users are unable to sleep without Ambien, but are also kept awake due to high amounts of medication within the body. Because of this, substance abusers often cannot find a way to break free from the addiction alone. Efforts to quit generally result in relapse, especially as discontinued use leads to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

A rehabilitation facility provides a safe, secure place to overcome addiction. Instead of trying to quit cold turkey alone, an inpatient rehab center keeps you safe in an environment overseen by medical professionals. Ambien rehabilitation often has a focus on sleep management, working actively to address rebound insomnia and other side effects to ensure patients receive a healthy amount of sleep while recovering.

Rehab programs have a lot to offer, providing access to doctors who can prescribe medications and counselors who can work with patients to help them learn to live without substance abuse. In many cases, rehab programs use group therapy as a way to help patients learn from one another, offering bonding, support and camaraderie as the process progresses. Rehabilitation can last weeks, months or more as those suffering from addiction work to find sustainable ways to get clean and stay clean.

Ambien Detox Treatment

Detoxification is generally the first step in rehabilitation. When patients are admitted, they are introduced to a safe, secure facility in which to work through the withdrawal process. This period of time is critical for recovery, allowing the body to bounce back from the brain-altering effects of drugs. Many drug users, especially those in denial of their problem, believe that they can quit using drugs at any time and that continued use is a choice. This is unfortunately almost never the case.

Truly ceasing Ambien use without a high risk of relapse involves professional assistance with oversight from licensed medical professionals who can use therapy and medication to mitigate the pain of withdrawing. Due to the intensity of Ambien, a weaning off method is often suggested for detox. Doctors will prescribe Ambien in increasingly lower doses to help the body acclimate to the lack. This adjusts brain chemistry slowly and over time, minimizing the side effects of ceasing use.

Withdrawal usually takes one to two weeks, but many doctors attempt to accelerate this process to facilitate faster recovery. In extreme cases, some physicians use Valium or other long-lasting Benzodiazepines to assist in the weaning process. As withdrawal symptoms of Ambien are similar to those of Benzos, this can break the Ambien habit quickly while still working through the weaning process.

Addiction to Ambien

Addiction is a serious disease that affects millions of Americans. While most commonly seen in relation to harder drugs, like Heroin or Cocaine, addiction can form after frequent use or abuse of any substance with pleasurable side effects. Those who develop addictions to controlled medications are not broken or bad; they are simply suffering from a very normal human condition that can affect virtually anyone.

For many Ambien users, the drug provides a solution to a serious, often debilitating problem: insomnia, characterized by trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Those suffering from insomnia will often go extended periods of time without sleeping an adequate amount. By the time insomnia becomes a problem serious enough to warrant medical care, most individuals will try any solution out of desperation.

For those with chronic insomnia, prescription sleep aids like Ambien can be a first line of defense. Many insomniacs take Ambien for weeks or months without realizing the signs of addiction. Medications prescribed to patients by doctors are often seen as safe due to the means of access, but this is not always true. Many prescription drugs are not safe for long-term use and it can be too late to break free alone by the time substance users see the red flags in their own habits. If you think an addiction to Ambien is standing in your way, contact us. Help is here.

Ambien Dependency

For some patients who are prescribed sleep aids for insomnia, casual use of Ambien may be no problem. It is often fully possible to take doses of Ambien for several weeks or on a sporadic basis as needed with no signs of addiction whatsoever. However, medications affect different people in different ways, and some patients cannot take Ambien for any period of time without succumbing to mental and physical addiction.

Those who are dependent on Ambien feel as though they cannot live normally without regular doses. After consistent use, users will begin to believe that sleep is only possible with medical interference. They may prove this to themselves by trying and failing to sleep without access to help. Ambien dependency is not solely mental. As this drug affects the brain chemistry in order to stimulate a slowing down of neurotransmitters to facilitate sleep, users are physically changing the way their bodies react through extended use. A tolerance can begin to build in as little as two weeks, requiring higher doses to yield the same effects.

This combination of mental and physical addiction can be very powerful. Many users believe wholeheartedly that Ambien is the only solution to their sleeping challenges and will go to extremes to access more pills once a prescription runs out or tolerance builds to a point that a prescription is not enough.

Intervention for Ambien Abuse

Insomnia is a not an often-discussed condition and many people see an occasional inability to sleep as a standard part of adult life. As such, when users begin an Ambien regimen, they frequently do not discuss the ins and outs of their treatment with others.

Anyone who seeks medical help for insomnia is at risk for developing an addiction to sleeping aids. Due to the popularity of these kinds of drugs, many patients are not aware of the risks and do not realize that taking Ambien and other similar medications can create dependency in such a short window of time. This can lead to addiction over the course of a few weeks after beginning use, a pace so rapid many users do not notice the signs themselves until it’s too late.

If a family member who began using Ambien now seems groggy, disoriented, nauseous or irrational, they may be experiencing the early stages of dependency. In this time period, open, honest discussion is critically important. Invite others who have witnessed this problematic behavior and host a sit-down with your troubled loved one. Explain that you have seen some concerning activities and would like to discuss Ambien use. If your friend or family member seems angry or gets very defensive, this is okay: many people have trouble facing uncomfortable truths. In addition to speaking about your personal concerns, come prepared with information related to the challenges in Ambien addiction, including paperwork and materials for rehabilitation centers with Ambien-specific treatment programs. – Learn More

Recovery from Ambien Abuse

While the high that can come from regular doses of Ambien is often minorly pleasurable, the side effects of continued use are not. Many users are unable to sleep an appropriate amount, find themselves awake at all hours of the night and are frequently too tired to properly handle regular day-to-day tasks, like staying productive at work. While other substances may provide more euphoria that users enjoy immensely, Ambien dependency is quite miserable, even without withdrawal side effects.

Due to the stress and fatigue associated with dependency, many Ambien users are motivated to quit once the dangers of addiction have been adequately demonstrated. However, the road to recovery can be long and stressful, and breaking any addiction is never easy. This is especially true for those who have moved past taking Ambien to sleep and instead take pills specifically for the hallucinogenic high that can come with higher doses.

Users must dedicate themselves wholly to getting clean without shortcuts or compromises. This includes attending a rehabilitation program, meeting with doctors and counselors, attending 12-step programs and staying committed to a healthy lifestyle, even years after use has been ceased. Aftercare is a large portion of recovery and may be required for years after successful completion of detox and rehabilitation. Luckily, the recovery community is often very supportive and there is a robust network of support and therapy opportunities for people who are recovering from substance abuse.

Dangers of Ambien Overdose

As a controlled substance only legally accessible through a doctor, most patients who take Ambien responsibly are at minimal risk of overdose. In fact, this increased safety is actually at the root of Ambien’s popularity. The medication was introduced as a safer alternative to Benzodiazepines, which have a much higher incidence of overdose. However, Ambien is not fully safe and users, especially those who use recreationally without a prescription, are at risk of overdose when taking high quantities of Ambien.

Ambien overdose generally only occurs in extremely high doses, often far in excess of what a doctor would ever prescribe. However, those with an aggressive dependency may secure Ambien from multiple doctors or purchase it illegally online or on the street, providing access to substantial amounts that may be enough to trigger an overdose. Many Ambien users are not aware of the risks and thus do not notice signs until it is too late. Common symptoms of overdose include drowsiness and fatigue, clumsiness or lack of balance, pinpoint pupils, slurred speech, delusions, slowed breathing or heartrate and loss of consciousness. While uncommon, critical Ambien abuse can slow breathing and heart rate to the point of unsustainability, causing death.

A user suffering Ambien overdose should never be left alone to “sleep it off” or wait for effects to wear off. Instead, call 911 immediately to seek urgent medical care by trained professionals. Without intervention, abusers may be at risk for brain damage or death. – Learn More

Ambien Use, Abuse and Dependency

As a prescription medication made available by a doctor, many users believe that Ambien is completely safe. In small doses, it can be, but prolonged use of Ambien can be extremely problematic.

Ambien is a non-Benzodiazepine sedative, also known as a hypnotic. When ingested, it functions as a gamma-Aminobutyric acid agonist, which means that it blocks activity in the GABA receptors in the brain. The GABA system, which is used to control communication throughout the brain, has ties to mood and stress response, helping individuals to feel calm, secure and content. In blocking these receptors, sedative drugs can slow down the central nervous system, causing sleepiness and relaxation.

For most eventual abusers of Ambien, use begins through a normal and legal prescription provided by a doctor. Users take Ambien as prescribed, usually for seven to 10 days, and enjoy the restful sleep and pleasurable sensations involved with use to the point that they begin to seek out an additional supply beyond the medically-recommended duration. These users may feel as though sleep is impossible without Ambien, or that there are no side effects of long-term use.

A smaller subset of users begin using Ambien recreationally, through suggestions from friends or at a party where other are using it. Recreational Ambien is not generally taken orally as is prescribed; instead, users crush and snort pills to stimulate a quick high. This process can trigger hallucinations and a pleasant high-like feeling similar to that of other hypnotic drugs. These users are at greater risk for overdose.

Like all drugs that affect the chemistry of the brain, continued Ambien use can lead to an increasing tolerance. As this occurs, users who once slept well with Ambien will require increasingly higher doses to receive the same effects. Increased dosages can also lead to an enhanced risk for dangerous side effects and dependency, and is often the first sign of a serious problem. When tolerance grows too high to accommodate what a doctor can or will prescribe, some users will begin seeking out Ambien illegally, purchasing pills on the black market or at internet pharmacies. This kind of behavior is highly problematic and is strongly indicative of abuse.

Some of the warning signs of Ambien abuse mimic those of other addictions, including an extreme and unusual need for privacy, lying and sneaking around and a refusal to discuss plans or activities with loved ones. Ambien abusers believe that they need Ambien to continue to function, but are often aware of the stigma that comes with admitting a reliance on drugs. Accordingly, many users will go to great lengths to hide their use from others. This can lead to defensive behavior, aggression and fights with loved ones.

When consumed under a doctor’s watchful eye, Ambien’s risks can be monitored. Unfortunately, most abusers do not clear their use with a medical professional, leading to a rise in the chances for both short and long-term side effects. Users may also take inappropriate doses that can make consequences like anxiety, depression, rebound insomnia and overdose more likely.

Ambien abusers who develop a dependence to the drug will not be able to cease use alone. Some believe that they can quit at any point but are simply choosing not to, but this is generally not the case. Instead, efforts to cease use will lead to painful withdrawal symptoms that are likely to result in relapse and continued abuse.

Withdrawal refers to the physical and mental effects that are triggered when a person has developed a physical dependency and access to the drug is removed. Doctors can minimize these effects by helping patients wean off of drugs at the conclusion of a prescribed regimen, but this is not an option for drug abusers who do not have the self-control or education to manage their own weaning process.

All drugs that cause chemical changes in the brain are likely to trigger strong withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit use and Ambien is no different. Abusers who are dependent on Ambien to function will often experience unpleasant side effects like high blood pressure, anxiety, irritation, mood swings, uncontrollable crying, fever, sweating, shaking, nausea and vomiting, nervousness, panic attacks and rebound insomnia.

Ambien withdrawal lasts an average of two weeks. Symptoms begin within the first four to eight hours – the drug’s half-life – and are most extreme in the first one to two days. During this period, users may feel confused or moody and often exhibit signs of memory loss. Sleep may be challenging throughout this time. Withdrawal peaks around the fifth day without using the drug. Over the subsequent week to two weeks, symptoms will fade and users will feel normal once more.

Due to the challenges of the withdrawal process, most abusers are not able to detox alone. If you or a loved one is suffering with an Ambien dependency, professional assistance can help map a way out of this dangerous cycle. – Learn More[

Short-Term Ambien Effects

As a sleep aid, Ambien has many strange short-term effects, especially for users who force themselves to stay awake after taking doses of the drug. The manufacturer warns patients explicitly about the potential for amnesia as well as an increased chance of performing activities while largely unconscious. When this occurs, users may find themselves completing standard tasks, like cooking or cleaning, without any memory of doing so. Other common activities frequently seen by those under the influence of Ambien include eating meals, sleepwalking, sexual activity, driving and running errands and talking on the phone. While some of these tasks are largely harmless, driving and cooking can be extremely hazardous to someone under the influence of a drug and may pose risks to overall health.

Other short-term behavioral effects can accompany regular Ambien usage, especially when dosages exceed the doctor recommendations. These symptoms include uninhibited behavior, extreme talkativeness, blackouts and altered memory, irregular sleep habits such as sleep talking and walking, hypersexual behavior and loss of coordination or balance. Physical signs can also develop throughout both suggested use and abuse, like hallucinations, muscle weakness, mood swings, shaking and tremors, nausea and vomiting.

Patients should speak to a medical doctor about these side effects. Unfortunately, this is less available to recreational users leading to an increased risk of dangerous behavior, long-term effects and even overdose.

Long-Term Ambien Effects

Taking Ambien long-term is extremely discouraged. Most doctors only write prescriptions for 7 to 10 days, or provide enough doses to temper occasional chronic insomnia. However, many substance abusers disregard the warnings related to use and attempt to secure large quantities of Ambien either illegally or through numerous doctor prescriptions.

As Ambien use is not intended for a long period, effects can be very serious. While the impact to the body varies with all users, common consequences of extended use include confusion, headaches, trouble concentrating, dizziness, drowsiness, lack of muscle control, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, irritation, depression and suicidal ideations, insomnia and nightmares, as well as unemployment, bankruptcy and family problems. Insomnia is one the most serious side effects of Ambien.

Despite serving as a sleep aid, prolonged use can cause insomnia, leading to a serious cycle of taking Ambien to fight insomnia while subsequently causing increasing sleep issues. In some cases, Ambien can work well one night and trigger residual insomnia for the next several nights, a situation that often leads to increased doses. Depression can also stem from prolonged Ambien abuse. Some long-term users find themselves feeling sad, apathetic or otherwise uninterested in life. This pattern doesn’t generally cease when Ambien use is terminated, leading to a progression to SSRIs and other medications used to change mood. In some cases, depression may be so severe that it drives suicide attempts.

True Stories of Addiction: It’s What They Need

Your loved one feels isolated and alone in their fight against their addiction. Give them the backup that they need. Holding an intervention for a loved one not only brings their problem to the surface, but shows them that people still care about them. They might be in denial with other people, but most people who have a substance abuse problem are not in denial with themselves. Deep down inside, they know they need help. If you show them that they have support if they decide to get that help, they will be more willing to go to rehab. Let them know that you are not giving up on them.

Inpatient Ambien Rehab

Inpatient rehabilitation in a licensed, certified facility is the most popular choice for those who are new to recovering from addiction. These facilities are designed to help patients focus on nothing but recovery, providing a safe and supportive environment dedicated to seeking sobriety. This kind of atmosphere essentially takes patients away from triggers, allowing them to start over in a way that poses no risk of relapse. Access to drugs is strictly forbidden, unless recommended by a doctor.

Most inpatient facilities are set up similar to a hospital environment. Patients are limited to the facility and are not permitted to leave while undergoing a course of treatment. All standard amenities are provided, including a private or semi-private room, sleeping accommodations, meals and leisure activities. Rehab centers are staffed with addiction professionals, including doctors, nurses, physician assistants, therapists and counselors to support patients during their stay. Duration of care is specific to each patient, but can range from several weeks to several months.

Detoxing come first, which is included in some inpatient programs and must happen before entering other inpatient facilities. In rehab, patients are somewhat cut off from the outside world so that focus is limited exclusively to achieving sobriety. During this time, recovering abusers will meet with therapists in support groups and one-on-one sessions in order to come to terms with addiction while preparing for reentry into society. – Learn More

Outpatient Ambien Rehab

Outpatient treatment can come in several forms depending on the severity of addiction and patient progress toward recovery. Ambien outpatient therapy often comes after the successful completion of inpatient rehab. For some, though, outpatient treatment is the first step.

For patients who cannot or do not want to live in a rehab center, recovery can begin in an outpatient setting. In these instances, detox is managed through regular appointments, often daily, in which doctors can help individuals to successfully wean off Ambien. In addition, patients will spend time in rehab multiple times a week to attend 12-step sessions, speak with counselors and share in support groups with other recovering addicts. Those with severe addictions may enter an outpatient program after finishing inpatient care. This can be an effective way for people in recovery to transition back into society while learning how to live without abusing substances.

Unlike inpatient, which requires leaving the demands of daily life, outpatient rehab can be maintained in conjunction with normal responsibilities. Patients can continue to go to work and school while attending meetings in the evenings and on weekends. This provides a convenient way to approach care, helping sufferers to move past dependency while still maintaining a regular life. Despite the convenience, outpatient treatment isn’t right for everyone. Rehabilitation should be based on the best chance of success, even if that means taking time off work to attend an inpatient center. – Learn More