A summary of prescription drug abuse by the National Institute on Drug Abuse includes abuse of sedatives and tranquilizers, drugs that are normally used to treat anxiety and other nervous system disorders as well as sleep disorders.
Ambien is listed among these medications. It is potentially abused because individuals see it as being less addictive and therefore less dangerous than other substances.
Nevertheless, there are a number of side effects that come along with using Ambien, and some of these side effects can pose a serious risk to a person’s health. Abusing this drug can increase a person’s chance of developing these side effects and risks, including the serious risks of addiction and overdose.
Ambien , also known as the generic medication zolpidem, is consistently one of the most prescribed drugs in the US, and it is the most prescribed sleep aid, as determined by a variety of analyses. This drug is also sometimes abused by individuals looking to get high. Ambien is known to provide a type of euphoric feeling, characterized by a pleasant, extreme sense of wellbeing and happiness, sometimes referred to as “a rush.” In addition, people who stay awake after using Ambien can sometimes experience a psychedelic or hallucinogenic effect.
Individuals who abuse zolpidem for these reasons may not be aware that there are also other, less pleasant side effects of using the drug to get high – side effects that can have some serious consequences if the abuse continues, including the risk of addiction.
Short-Term Side Effects of Ambien
According to RxList, some of the more immediate side effects of abusing Ambien include:
- Fatigue, weakness, and dizziness
- Drowsiness the morning after use
- Stuffy nose or nasal irritation
- Dry mouth and sore throat
- Nausea or vomiting
These side effects are more likely to occur if the person is abusing the drug, such as by taking it and staying awake to feel the euphoric or hallucinogenic effects of the drug. These effects often lead the person to want to use the drug more often while awake to continue these pleasurable experiences and feelings. Sometimes, people will also abuse the drug by taking higher doses than prescribed, attempting to increase the euphoric or hallucinogenic feelings. These behaviors can lead to more severe and long-term physical and mental side effects and corresponding health risks.
Long-Term and Serious Side Effects of Ambien Abuse
Abusing zolpidem on a long-term basis can result in severe side effects that otherwise would only occur rarely. The continued physical and neurochemical reactions to use of the drug can, over time, result in long-term damage to the body and brain.
As described by Healthline, these more serious side effects of Ambien abuse can include:
- Trouble breathing, including shortness of breath
- Decreased blood oxygen (hypoxia)
- Changes in heart rhythm, including irregular heartbeat
- Dizziness and loss of coordination
- Memory loss
- Depression, including the potential for suicidal thoughts
- Participation in activities while asleep, including sex, increasing venereal disease risk
- Hallucinations or dissociation (a feeling that the person is no longer connected to the body)
When Ambien was originally produced, it was thought that it would be less addictive than other sedative drugs, like benzodiazepines, which were also found to have major health risks, including addiction. However, research from the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology indicates that Ambien also has abuse potential and addiction risks based on its ability to produce euphoric, pleasurable experiences, which occur through the brain’s GABA system. GABA is one of the neurochemicals that is implicated in addictive behaviors.
Stopping Ambien Use
An individual struggling with Ambien abuse can avoid or minimize these risks and consequences by quitting use of the drug. However, stopping Ambien abuse abruptly can be risky, resulting in some uncomfortable and even severe withdrawal symptoms that make it difficult for the person to avoid relapsing to abuse. Getting help to stop Ambien abuse is a path more likely to result in recovery and abstinence from Ambien use.
Reputable, research-based treatment can provide medical support for detox that avoids the most uncomfortable and severe withdrawal symptoms. Oftentimes, tapering programs are used to reduce the amount of Ambien slowly over time, enabling the body to get used to the loss of the drug more easily. In addition, behavioral therapy and other complementary treatments can help the person learn skills and tools to avoid triggers, reduce cravings, and stay sober, leading to long-term recovery.