Sleep is vital for human health. As people sleep, their bodies heal from minor injuries that have taken place during the day, and their brains compress information learned in the wakeful hours. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says that there is no ideal amount of sleep for all adults, as sleep needs can vary by a large number of factors including age and stress level, but it’s clear that people who do not get enough sleep suffer a wide variety of health effects as a result. In fact, some studies cited by the NSF suggest that getting too little sleep could lead to premature death. It’s a serious problem, and as a result, people who cannot sleep often visit their doctors for help. People with sleep problems sometimes need medications in order to help them fall asleep quickly and stay asleep for longer periods of time. Sometimes, doctors prescribe Ambien for these patients.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that Ambien should only be used for about two weeks. After that time, the medication isn’t as effective, and it can become addictive. While addictions to Ambien remain relatively uncommon, these addictions can be severe, and hard to overcome without help. With therapy and hard work, however, people can recover from these addictions and move forward with a healthier life.
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Changing Brain Chemistry
Ambien, also known by the generic name zolpidem, is a sedative-hypnotic drug that works on neurotransmitters in the brain. The specific chemical Ambien impacts is known as gamma-amniobutyric acid (GABA). When Ambien is present, the brain produces a smaller amount of GABA, and as a result, the brain is simply less responsive to outside stimulation. The person feels profoundly tired and sedated, and this makes sleep come quickly.
In 2012, in a study of benzodiazepines that also impact GABA, researchers in Switzerland demonstrated that a reduction in GABA also caused an increase in the production of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is considered a key ingredient in addiction, as people who experience surges in dopamine tend to feel a rush of euphoria. Drugs that tap into the brain’s reward system like this are often considered very addictive, and this may explain why some people who use Ambien develop addictions to the drug. The euphoria they feel when they take the drug is hard to forget, and the chemical changes caused by inhibited GABA production and increased dopamine production may be difficult to overcome without help.
While many people can take Ambien just as it is prescribed and never develop any sort of addiction issue, those who do develop addictions tend to follow a similar path. According to a review of research published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, these users begin by taking 10 mg of the drug once daily, and within a period of weeks, they increase the dose dramatically. They then begin taking the drug during the daytime. Of those studied, 62 percent fulfilled the criteria for dependence on Ambien, meaning they simply couldn’t control their intake of the drug.
Researchers felt that Ambien would not be addictive because the drug is so strong and effective. As researchers discovered in a study published in the journal Addiction, very high doses of the drug produced such extreme sedation in some people that they physically could not continue to take the drug. Many drug users go on binges in which they take high doses of drugs on a repeated basis, in order to keep the symptoms of euphoria alive for hours at a time. Those who abuse Ambien, researchers say, tend to fall asleep during a binge, so they simply can’t keep taking it.
While this may be true for some people, the study in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that some people who take Ambien do not feel sedated.
- Able to cope with problems
Risk Factors for Addiction
In order to determine why some people develop addictions and others do not, researchers have done multiple studies in which they provide the drug to people who have never taken it before, and then they determine how much the people liked the drug and were willing to take it again. Through these studies, researchers hope to determine how inherently rewarding the drug is, when placed in the human body. In one such study, published in the European Journal of Pharmacology, researchers found that women with no drug abuse history tended to provide low scores on the drug’s likability, and they were also unwilling to take the drug again. These studies might be skewed, as research suggests that addictions to Ambien tend to develop over time, through long exposure to the drug, but it’s also possible that people without a long history of addiction are, in general, at a low risk for addictions to Ambien.
In a separate study, also published in the journal Addiction, researchers found a link between addictions to Ambien and addictions to other drugs or alcohol. People who have these histories may have primed their brains for addiction, making them particularly susceptible to the siren song of Ambien. Researchers also found that those with a history of mental illness were also at risk for an Ambien addiction, although it’s unclear what mental illnesses could do that would cause an addiction to this particular drug to take hold. More research should be done, in order to firm up that link.
Ambien can be an incredibly powerful drug that can help people get the sleep they need. But it can also be a drug that causes persistent changes in the brain that can lead to addiction. Those who are addicted might be tempted to abruptly stop taking the drug, but doing so can be dangerous. As the brain attempts to adjust to the lack of Ambien, the person might experience complications such as:
- Uncontrollable crying
- Panic attacks
Some people develop life-threatening seizures when they attempt to stop taking Ambien. For this reason, it’s best for addicted people to enter formal treatment programs for addiction. Here, they can receive medical assistance while their bodies adjust. We provide this help at Axis, and we specialize in providing therapeutic programs that begin when detoxification is complete. In these programs, we help patients understand the addiction process, and learn how to control their urges to use drugs and alcohol. If you’d like to know more, and enroll in our programs, please call now.