How to treat Ambien addiction

Think you or a loved on may be addicted to Ambien? Possible treatments for Ambien addiction include behavioral and phamaceutical interventions. More here on the most well-known treatments for Ambien addiction.

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Can’t sleep without Ambien?

You’re not alone.

In fact, problems with Ambien dependence can occur after a few weeks, or so, of regular dosing.

So how can you treat possible Ambien addiction? And how do you know the difference between Ambien dependence or addiction? We review here. At the end, we invite your questions about Ambien problems. We try to respond to all real-life questions with a personal reply.

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Ambien & the Brain

Ambien (zolpidem) is a non-benzodiazepine sleep medication. It has a different chemical structure than benzodiazepines, but acts on some of the same brain receptors. While Ambien is thought to have fewer side effects and less risk of dependence than benzodiazepines, addiction to Ambien is possible.

In fact, Ambien works in the brain as a psychoactive drug. It is a sedative hypnotic drug. In addition to sleepiness, Ambien can produce both unwanted side effects and disturbances in central nervous system activity. What’s really going on?

Simply, Ambien works by slowing activity in the brain. The depressant qualities of Ambien result in drowsiness. Zolpidem works by enhancing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a naturally occurring chemical in the brain. GABA  sends messages between cells and is called a “neurotransmitter”. GABA works by slowing down brain activity. It ultimately produces a drowsy or calming effect…but can be habit forming.

Dependence and tolerance

Ambien is used to treat short term insomnia, and should only be prescribed for about 1-2 weeks at a time..maximum 4 weeks. Why? Because Ambien has a high potential for physical dependence. Additionally, your Ambien tolerance can increase after about four (4) weeks of continual use. Both of these conditions occur after regular, daily use of Ambien…but they don’t necessarily indicate addiction. Let’s take a look at these two conditions more closely.

Physical dependence occurs as the body adapts to chemicals in a psychoactive drug – in this case, zolpidem. After a period of daily dosing, the brain has to adapt to the drug so that it can maintain balance, or homeostasis. When dosing abruptly ends or significantly decreasing,  blood levels of the drug also decrease, thereby provoking a “rebound” in the brain. Sedative/hypnotics like Ambien have produced withdrawal signs and symptoms that range from:

  • abdominal and muscle cramps
  • insomnia
  • mild dysphoria
  • sweating
  • tremors
  • vomiting

… and even convulsions.

Tolerance is a also a state of adaptation. When you become Ambien-tolerant, daily dosing results in a diminution of one or more of the drug effects over time. Tolerance usually develop at different rates for different effects. So, an increase in tolerance for Ambien means that you’ll need higher doses of zolpidem over time in order to get the initial therapeutic effect: drowsiness.

Am I addicted to Ambien?

Addiction to any chemical or psychoactive drug can be defined as:

“…ongoing use of mood-altering substances to meet psychological needs, regardless of the negative consequences.”

Some possible symptoms and signs of Ambien addiction include the following:

  • Continued use of Ambien, in spite of negative consequences to social, work or personal life.
  • Non-medical use of Ambien over time.
  • Taking Ambien to get high.
  • Taking Ambien when drinking or using other drugs.
  • The inability to quit Ambien even though you want to.
  • Increasing amounts of time spent in obtaining Ambien or needing time to recover from Ambien use.
  • Sleeping binges.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family because of Ambien use.

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Treating Ambien addiction

If you feel that you are addicted to Ambien, there are several options that can support your decision to quit. But you must be ready to treat addiction in order to increase your likelihood of success. So, STEP #1 is admitting that you have a problem.

STEP #2 is getting the right help. There are several factors that contribute and play a role in addiction. These factors can include genetic, social, and environmental factors. So, when you seek addiction treatment, it’s important that a program be customized to meet your unique needs.

Matching people with the right treatment is an important step in moving forward. Not one approach will fit for everyone seeking to treat addiction. Generally effective treatments combined together are more successful than treating Ambien addiction with one modality on its own. The generally recommended way to treat Ambien addiction include medications and behavioral treatments.

1. Medications for Ambien addiction treatment

Sometimes physicians or psychiatrists will prescribes medications to help treat co-occuring mental health disorders which accompany Ambien addiction or to address Ambien withdrawal.  What is Ambien withdrawal syndrome? A set of symptoms that occur when you drastically reduce or stop doses of zolpidem.  Medications used in psychiatry that are not euphorigenic or significantly psychoactive include but are not limited to:

  • amino acids
  • anticholinergics
  • anticonvulsants
  • antidepressants
  • antihistamines
  • antipsychotics
  • azapirones
  • beta-blockers
  • lithium
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors

Other times, psychoactive medications that MDs prescribe to treat Ambien addiction may include stimulants, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and other sedative-hypnotics. However, with the pharmacological treatment there is potential to subvert one addiction for another. You need to be careful with medications.

2. Behavioral treatments for Ambien addiction

Behavioral treatments for any kind of drug addiction help people get to the root cause of why they take drugs. These types of treatments also help modify attitudes and behaviors related to drug abuse. Therapies can also teach life skills to handle stressful circumstances or help people identify environmental cues that may trigger intense craving for drugs and prompt another cycle of compulsive abuse. Finally, behavioral treatments for drug addiction provide incentives for abstinence. Behavioral treatments for Ambien include:

  • Community reinforcement approach
  • Congitive behavioral therapy
  • Contingency management interventions
  • Motivational enhancement therapy
  • Motivational incentives
  • Talk therapy (individual or group)
  • Support groups

Ambien addiction treatment options

There are several resources out there that can help you treat Ambien addiction. One or all can be beneficial to this process. Below are several options and sources for finding help for Ambien addiction. Please feel free to list additional sources at the end of the article in the comments section.

Ambien addiction treatment center: Sometimes treatment centers for addiction are known as rehab. These treatment facilities are designed to address varies types of addiction and may be substance specific. In fact, some addiction rehabs are specifically designed to treat addiction to sleeping medication.Treatment centers monitor not only the physical withdrawal period, but also address the psychological aspects of treating addition. While addiction treatment center are helpful, not everyone can afford treatment centers and may not be covered by insurance. To find an Ambien addiction treatment center, call 1-800-662-HELP or search the addiction treatment directory at SAMHSA.

Ambien detox clinic: Detox centers are impatient programs which monitor the progress of physical withdrawal from Ambien. The first priority is to get rid of the drug from your body so that you can begin the work needed to avoid relapse. For people struggling with Ambien addiction, detox centers are a place to aid recovery and they attempt to reduce the physical effects of withdrawal symptoms. They might administer medication to mitigate withdrawal symptoms. This is usually the first step to treating Ambien addiction.

Mental health professionals specializing in Ambien addiction treatment: There are often underling psychological problems that contribute to addiction. Psychologists who specialize in addiction can help listen to you during talk therapy sessions and provide you with the behavioral management tools listed above to aid addiction recovery. Psychologists or pschiatrists can help you diagnose co-occuring mental health issues. Psychiatrists can also prescribe medications which treat mental health disorders to make recovery from addiction more likely.

Ambien addiction support groups: Unfortunately, abuse of prescribed hypnotics like Ambien are on the rise with it an increasing need and rise of support groups. While it may be hard to find a substance specific support group there are a number of general drug addiction support groups out there that can help give you the emotional support you need. A good place to start if you are feeling overwhelmed is to call a local drug or alcohol hotline, hospital, mental health clinic, or rehab center and ask for a reference.

Licensed clinical social workers: These people are social workers who are trained in psychotherapy. Licensed clinical social workers help people with a variety of mental illnesses and psychological upsets that contribute to addiction. They help people reintegrate into day to day life teaching the tools and coping mechanisms needed to avoid Ambien relapse. Social workers can also connect you with additional job or community support that you may need.

Your physician: If you have been abusing Ambien, do not fear your physician. Doctors can provide the non-judgmentalhelp you need quickly. Medical doctors have an extensive knowledge of the type of professionals you may be seeking and can also help treat the physical aspects of addition. Your physician may help you taper Ambien dosage so that you lessen the severity of your withdrawal symptoms.

A trusted religious or spiritual leader: Many spiritual and religious leaders can help provide emotional guidance through Ambien addiction. They can be supplemental therapists to get you through Ambien addiction. Many spiritual organizations also offer their own support groups for addiction and help to put you in contact with a helpful community memberthat will continue to care for you as you move away from other forms of treatments.

How to treat Ambien addiction questions

Do you still have questions about treating Ambien addiction? Please share your questions and experiences with treating Ambien addiction. We’ll try to respond to your questions personally.

References Sources: The FDA Drug Label for Ambien
SAMHSA: Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons With Co-Occurring Disorders: Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 42.
Montana Government Archives: Understanding the Disease of addiction
NIDA: Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment
NIDA Research Report Series: Prescription Drugs, Abuse and Addiction
National Institute of Drug Abuse: Prescription Drug Facts: Depressants
NIDA Prescription Drug Abuse Congressional Testimony
FDA: Ambien Safety Guide
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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