Zolpidem – better known by the brand name Ambien, one of various trade names for the drug – is a sedative and hypnotic of the non-benzodiazepine class prescribed for the short-term treatment of insomnia. Usually found in tablet form but also available as an oral spray, zolpidem’s pleasurable tranquilising “high” means that alongside its medical use it is also used (and abused) recreationally. Unfortunately, along with having a number of negative and potentially dangerous side effects – including drowsiness and impaired motor skills which have been a factor in numerous fatal accidents – zolpidem is also strongly addictive, with dependence developing in some people within only a few weeks. In the UK zolpidem – sometimes referred to as a “Z-drug” – is a class C controlled drug, available by prescription only, although many people abusing the drug procure it online, where it represents a significant proportion of the country’s booming illicit sleeping pill market.
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As a hypnotic, zolpidem can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep by at least 15 minutes; however, most recreational users do not take the drug for its intended purpose and often consume zolpidem pills at all hours of the day, to produce dreamlike, slightly euphoric effects which can last for several hours (indeed, driving the morning after taking zolpidem is not recommended as its effects will still linger.
Zolpidem is associated with a range of side effects, including headaches; dizziness; drowsiness; and diarrhoea. A significant proportion of users report sleepwalking, night eating syndrome, and/or performing other tasks whilst being asleep, and a smaller (though still significant – around 3% of users) proportion are statistically likely to suffer a broken bone as a result of a fall whilst intoxicated. Zolpidem use can also result in overdose, which can cause coma or even death.
Zolpidem has been a factor in a number of scandals in recent years, with some notable celebrities blaming the effects of the drug for controversial social media statements; while the veracity and honesty of these accusations cannot be confirmed, it is clear that zolpidem can cause cognitive impairment and negatively affect decision-making.
In small quantities zolpidem use may be difficult to detect; from relatively small doses upwards, however, a degree of intoxication tends to manifest, which becomes more obvious as dosages increase. Users are likely to display uncoordinated movements and slurred speech, along with a degree of cognitive impairment, and inability to focus, and drowsiness which may lapse into sleep at inappropriate junctures.
Over the long term, zolpidem abuse can result in symptoms including chest pain; heart palpitations; nightmares; amnesia; abdominal pain; constipation; sinusitis; sore throat; dry mouth; lethargy; back pain; flu-like symptoms; dizziness; and depression – which can result both from the direct effects of the drug upon brain chemistry, and from the impact of addiction upon the addict’s life prospects, self-esteem, and general outlook.
Zolpidem addiction can seriously inhibit a person’s ability to function at the levels necessary to maintain steady employment – addicts are likely to miss days of work on a regular basis, to be frequently late, and to make basic errors in computation and/or display a clumsiness incompatible with manual work. This can have catastrophic impacts upon an addict’s financial well-being, which can be exacerbated by the cost of procuring the drug on the black market. As with any addiction, it can also be cataclysmic for personal relationships, including with partners or spouses and with children and other family members – which can have a deleterious effect upon the addict’s well-being, which can in turn feed into the spiral of substance abuse and addiction.
Zolpidem addiction can create a degree of physical dependence on the part of the user which can result in the manifestation of serious withdrawal symptoms if and when the addict ceases taking the drugs. The precise nature and severity of the symptoms will vary considerably from one user to another depending on various factors including the dosages consumed; the frequency of consumption; the length of the addiction; and the physiology of the addict, among others.
The withdrawal symptoms associated with nonbenzodiazepines can resemble those caused by benzodiazepines themselves, which can be extremely dangerous (alongside alcohol they are the only drug the withdrawal from which itself can kill). As a result, withdrawal is a perilous process and should never be attempted without the assistance of a medical professional: various “at home detox” kits are available on the internet but doctors strongly advise against this method, for the aforementioned reason.
Many zolpidem addicts benefit from residential rehabilitation (“rehab”), in part because the first phase of rehab is invariably a medically assisted detox, with doctors on hand to ensure the safety of the addict and to minimise where possible the worse effects of withdrawal symptoms.
As noted above withdrawal can vary significantly from one user to another due to the factors mentioned. As a result, a “one size fits all” timeline for withdrawal is effectively impossible. Nevertheless, as a rough guide, if you are addicted to zolpidem, you may expect to experience withdrawal symptoms in something like the following manner:
After two weeks your symptoms should have disappeared. If they persist – in particular depression – you may be suffering from post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) which may last months or even years and will probably require therapy to counter its effects.
Over the last few decades as sleeping pill addiction has become an increasingly prominent problem, a great many different approaches to treatment have been developed. Some of these are not endorsed by the medical profession – indeed, as noted above, some options exist which can be extremely dangerous for the addict – while others may not be appropriate for every user. It is vital that you consult your GP if you are suffering from a sleeping pill addiction before embarking on any course of treatment.
In general, there is a consensus that rehab is the most effective approach to addiction treatment and the one most likely to result in permanent recovery. The combination of medically assisted detox and on-site therapy in a secluded relaxed environment represents a holistic approach to treatment which no other option can replicate. A number of support groups including Narcotics Anonymous (NA) have been established worldwide providing help for recovering addicts, and attendance at such groups should form part of your long-term recovery plan; however, support groups such as NA do not themselves comprise treatment for your addiction, but are more a supplement to your recovery.
Some of the advantages to rehab include:
If you are struggling with addiction to zolpidem, you are by no means alone: unfortunately, many thousands of Britons are dependent on sleeping pills. However, one silver lining to this greatly problematic cloud is that there is now a great level of expertise in dealing with this condition, and if you are ready to take the first key step and reach out for help, that expertise can be at your disposal.
Addiction is a terrible illness and places a huge strain on the addict and on those around, and overcoming addiction can genuinely mean the difference between life and death. In order to avoid becoming another tragic statistic, and to get back on the path towards a happy, healthy, successful life, get in touch with one of our addiction specialists today and take that first step on the road to recovery.
Call us today on 0203 553 9263 and start your journey to recovery!