Ambien, a brand name of the drug zolpidem tartrate, is prescribed to patients who suffer from insomnia. I used to be one of those patients, and for two and a half years I found myself unable to sleep without it. The signs were visible to myself and my family and, later, also to my team at work.
Ambien Use Signs and the Potential for Ambien Abuse
Ambien works by suppressing the central nervous system (CNS), so it acts as a tranquilizer and sedative which slows down brain activity. The drug is very potent; so it’s both very effective for treating insomnia but also poses a very real danger of the patient developing a dependency on the drug.
After six months of taking the recommended dose of 10mg, I asked my doctor to up the dose. And after another six months, we upped the dose again. And again.
If you find yourself becoming dependent on the drug or you’re showing multiple signs of use you should seriously speak to your doctor about making real changes in your life and ask him how to do this. When using Ambien for an extended period, it’s almost impossible not to develop multiple signs of use – and if you’re not already completely dependent on the drug to fall asleep at night, it will eventually develop into a full-blown dependency.
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Ambien Use Signs and Symptoms
The prevalence of side-effects is very common amongst patients, though most signs and symptoms of Ambien use don’t show up at first. I experienced all of the below symptoms during the prescribed 10mg level of use, but they became progressively worse with doses exceeding 10mg.
The drug doesn’t clear the system immediately, and patients tend to feel ‘slow’ or groggy the next day; this is especially true if you didn’t get a full 8 hours of sleep. Your morning routine takes longer, and you could find yourself having trouble completing work assignments in time or getting to all the things you’d usually do in the week.
Ambien makes it more difficult to wake up in the mornings. Now I’ve never been one of those bright and sunny morning people, but at the recommended dose of 10mg, I had trouble getting out of bed. It’s quite possible to sleep right through an alarm that would usually be very annoying and previously never failed to get me on my feet.
The tranquilizing effect, coupled with the time it takes to clear the system, means you may find it harder to concentrate during your hours of peak efficiency. My day is usually busiest from 9 AM through 12 AM and feeling the mental ‘slowness’ Ambien use signs cause a definite impact on my ability to effectively deal with clients, team members, and challenging projects. I also found that brainstorming and creativity were lowered.
Probably the most concerning of Ambien use signs and symptoms – at regular doses – is that it becomes difficult to remember small details; where did I put my keys? Did I remember to…?
At doses exceeding the recommended 10mg, it had developed into actual day-time memory loss.
I took my very first tablet of Ambien while talking to a friend on the phone as I was getting into bed. Later that week I saw him again, and he asked about something we spoke about while on the phone. I had no idea what he was talking about. Our conversation was late at night, and I didn’t pay this too much attention.
This phenomenon occurred again and again for the entire time I was on the drug; I found my memories of those nights clouded, if not completely absent. Sometimes I would find texts and conversations on my call log and have no recollection of it.
Some patients report driving their cars or making a sandwich while under the influence of the drug and then not remembering the next day, or having very faint recollections of it. I would not recommend these activities. A caring, understanding spouse helps. And don’t take Ambien until you’re already in bed.
Impaired Motor Control
Many patients encounter slurred speech or dropping a cup of coffee after taking Ambien, or in rare cases the next morning. You may feel off-balance, and your performance in the sport could suffer.
The sense of peacefulness Ambien causes is not entirely unpleasant. Your muscles relax, your heart rate lowers, you breathe more slowly. If you’ve had a busy day your mind isn’t racing like it did before. These symptoms are all effects of the CNS-depressant and brain-slowing workings of the drug.
All of which are necessary to get you to fall asleep. But this opens the door for a psychological addiction to the drug. Be warned.
The manufacturer’s leaflet that comes with the box of Ambien lists some signs and side effects. Some of these I encountered, many of these I didn’t encounter, but all of which are worth considering when deciding whether you want to use, continue using or if you think of speaking to a family member about the use of Ambien.
- Skin rashes
- Pharyngitis (a sore throat)
- Serious anaphylactic and anaphylactoid reactions (severe allergic reactions)
- Pain of the lower back
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling dizzy
- Feeling ‘drugged’
- Changes and abnormalities in thoughts and behavior (like sleep-driving)
- Drug-induced depression
- Suicidal tendencies in patients with pre-existing depression
- Physical withdrawal
- Unusual dreams
- Worsening of insomnia
- Chest pain
- Heightened sensitivity in debilitated and elderly patients
- Intensified CNS-depressant effect when taking alcohol
- Overdose has been fatal in some cases
This is not an exhaustive list of side effects, read the manufacturer’s product information (listed by the FDA) for complete information.
The signs and symptoms of Ambien use can be taxing on your personal relationships and work commitments. Carefully weigh up your long-term options here: if one or more of these signs are showing in your life, am I going to keep taking Ambien or can I make the kind of changes where I don’t need to take the drug?
It took me some time – and a deliberate, focused effort – to eliminate my need to use Ambien. Like many patients, my use had eventually escalated into a dependency. The one I couldn’t hide from those close to me.