Imagine awakening one day and finding nearly the whole world has died in its sleep. This is a worst case scenario often submitted by parties concerned with the rising abuse of sleep aids like Ambien. The scenario is a bit dramatic, but new statistics pertaining to Ambien abuse pose some cause for concern.
Tonight, upwards of nine million people will use Ambien to help them fall asleep. Far gone are the days of sleepless nights endured in any city across the nation. This number is from a federal health study recently published online. It reflects a growing reliance upon over-the-counter and prescription pills to help people fall asleep and stay that way.
This is a young drug, yet its popularity and little publicized addictiveness and side effects have made it a widespread favorite in a very short time. Until the mid-2000s, a French pharmaceutical corporation held the exclusive patent for Ambien. The drug was first introduced in the U.S. in 1993. In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration enabled the production of a series of generic drugs similar to it.
Like many pharmaceuticals, Ambien is but a brand name for a medication that serves a particular function in the body. That medication is commonly known as Zolpidem.
The family of Zolpidem based drugs includes:
To reduce confusion, the name Ambien is used hereafter in all instances pertaining to the Zolpidem family.
Ambien’s power rests in its effectiveness at altering brain chemistry. It is not merely a sedative and is more frequently referred to as a chemical hypnotic. The medication binds to parts of the brain responsible for receiving and processing GABA, an amino acid that essentially helps the brain/body relax and transition effortlessly into sleep with the further assistance of melatonin.
In the body, successful GABA production is contingent upon a delicate series of biochemical equations, all relating to diet and activity. Stress, daily physical/mental overexertion, worry, caffeine, nicotine and weight gain can severely affect GABA production and GABA receptivity in the brain.
The drug enables neuro receptors to uptake the maximum amount of existing GABA in the brain. The results are swift, with sleep typically occurring within 15 minutes. People using it for over extended periods of time report an immunity to its effects within months. This is the case with most drugs, whether stimulants or depressants.
In the case of Ambien, GABA receptors in the brain are quickly desensitized and the drug ceases to engender the same effects it did when subjects first ingested it. Also, Ambien has a half life of three hours, meaning the body metabolizes half the dose amount of the drug and eliminates it from the bloodstream in approximately 180 minutes.
If one who is sensitive to external factors remains near to stimuli within the first three hours of Ambien ingestion, then sleep may not approach at all. Other factors such as having caffeine too soon before Ambien or smoking at bedtime further serve to blunt Ambien’s effects.
As stated in the related literature on Ambien, it is a temporary solution to insomnia, not a pill one should pop every single night after a busy, long day or when one experiences the slightest difficulty falling asleep owing to stress or jet lag.
Herein lies a problem central to the rising percentages of abuse. A general, collective naivete about the drug has resulted in doctors prescribing it liberally and patients likewise ingesting it.
According to various health and lifestyle websites, if mere relaxation and sleep at the end of a hard day is the goal, one would do better to try:
Because the side effects of high doses over long periods don’t always outwardly manifest on a day-to-day basis, it’s easy for users to assume there is no danger. Users who develop immunity to Ambien often raise their doses hoping to continue experiencing the effects they desire. But studies indicate 15mg are no more effective than the standard 10mg dose, so users may feel compelled to raise doses higher still.
Grand mal seizures have been recorded occurring in people during their withdrawal from prolonged exposure to high doses of Ambien. Among the elderly, disorientation and falls have been reported. Among the young, anxiety and nervousness consistent with hyperactivity and chemical dependency have also been reported. Many cases of sleepwalking/sleep-activity and/or diminished short-term memory have also been documented.
A notable recent example concerns a U.S. congressman pulled over for driving erratically in Westchester County, NY, some years back. Later, authorities discovered Ambien in the congressman’s blood, and the politician complained of having no memory of even waking and getting into his car. Other similar stories have surfaced attesting to the frequency with which subjects have driven while impaired by Ambien and then couldn’t recall when/how they boarded their own vehicle.
These statistics tie into other numbers gathered by local authorities, numbers indicating the increasing presence of Ambien in drunk drivers’ bloodstreams. Other alarming statistics hold that Ambien is the new date rape drug, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
There are the effects of chemical dependency to consider as well, or how the brain soon fails to produce/absorb its own GABA after having been aided by a synthetic compound for a certain amount of time. Ambien also poses dangers to the liver and the excretory system over time and is best cycled, taken with lots of water, or avoided entirely.
Recreational Ambien users have lauded the drug for its power to increase euphoria, hallucinations, and reduce anxiety but have also confessed Ambien’s powers decrease greatly over time. These are similar to the aftereffects of meth, which targets the brain’s pleasure center/dopamine production. When the addict stops taking meth, they find their brains have also long since stopped producing dopamine or cannot churn out nearly enough to induce future pleasure about anything. In this manner, the havoc brought on by meth is irreversible. The addict’s brain is forever altered.
Fact: No evidence gathered thus far suggests the drug is nearly as destructive to the brain as meth. However, if prolonged abuse of the drug reduces one’s ability to fall asleep naturally, then the ill impact upon one’s quality of life due to chronic sleep deprivation means Ambien addiction/withdrawal should be treated sensitively.
Seizures are the most extreme side effect attributed to Ambien withdrawal, but a myriad assortment of other inconveniences have also been noted.
This is Ambien’s cycle: It tends to leave even legitimate users with symptoms worse than the symptoms these same users sought to eradicate in the first place.
Users take more Ambien, and the cycle continues. Because of the dangers associated with stopping Ambien ingestion abruptly or even gradually over a period, those looking to wean themselves off Ambien would be wise to seek professional help. Weaning is the better plan of action, but the nature of addiction prevents users from consciously, mindfully reducing their own dose little by little over time.
This is why inpatient treatment is preferable. Since Ambien withdrawal poses the risk of seizures, having a dedicated and knowledgeable staff to oversee one’s recovery is of the utmost and possibly lifesaving. Following are some other benefits of inpatient treatment:
Anyone can end their dependency on Ambien. Those who take it because they suffer from insomnia should know they have options, more natural ways to relax and fall asleep. Individuals who have abused Ambien for any reasons are not beyond help.
Inpatient treatment provides access to therapy, life management techniques, and the confirmation there is a happy, fulfilling, Ambien-free life beyond addiction.
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