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Unfortunately, the answers from experts are less than clear. They often say the same thing: “Ambien is not generally addictive, but…” Then they go on for many paragraphs explaining what “but” means.
Briefly, it means that Ambien has not been determined to be addictive when used as prescribed. Ambien is a Schedule IV drug. As such, it is a controlled drug but not one regarded as having a high risk potential when used as prescribed. When not used as prescribed, it presents another issue.
One of Ambien’s chief virtues is that it acts quickly, and as a time-released medication, it continues to act for seven to eight hours. Doctors advise patients that, before taking Ambien, they should be certain that they have time for a full night’s sleep. In addition, Ambien should be taken for only a short while, no longer than a few weeks, just long enough for the body to acquire the pattern of falling asleep without help. In order for that to happen, the drug should be used regularly, on a nightly basis without skipping nights. Finally, of course, it should be used only in the prescribed dosage.
How Ambien Is Abused
Patients who run into trouble with Ambien and develop a dependence on it invariably violate these rules in one way or another. Sometimes they fail to allow enough time to sleep, forcing themselves awake before the effects have worn off and even taking stimulants to counteract the medication. Others take the drug too long, securing prescriptions from more than one physician. They may skip doses, depriving their bodies of the ability to fall into a pattern. These behaviors lead to increasing tolerance, which in turn leads to higher doses and, ultimately, to drug dependence and addiction.
Normal Side Effects
Even when used as directed, aside from the more usual side effects of dizziness, drowsiness, agitation and the like, Ambien can have some unusual side effects. Amnesia is one of the most common. Persons taking Ambien report they have sometimes lost the memory of what happened while the drug was in effect. Others even report a condition known as anterograde amnesia, which is an ongoing degradation of memory occurring after the drug effect has worn off. In a few cases, subjects on Ambien have gotten out of bed and walked about, prepared and eaten food, had sex, and even driven vehicles, all more or less unconsciously.
Classified pharmacologically as a hypnotic, Ambien can also function as a mild hallucinogen. There are numerous accounts in the literature of people experiencing hallucinations while under the drug’s influence.
Among the most extreme reports of hallucinations are the following:
While on Ambien, a subject reported having a long conversation with George Washington.
One subject saw her son with four heads.
A woman saw her husband’s face melt; later she was “attacked” by a burglar who may not have been real.
Another woman took her dogs for a walk and mistook one of them for a baby deer.
While most of these accounts are harmless and even humorous, those involving sleepwalking — even sleep-driving — suggest side effects that are potentially very dangerous. It is important to note that, while many people reporting such side effects insist they have not misused the drug, this level of response is most often elicited by combining Ambien with other substances, primarily alcohol.
Ambien Addiction Case Histories
In the cases of newer medications like Ambien, it is often just as effective to look at the anecdotal evidence provided by those who took the drug as it is to pay attention to the findings of scientific research. Because Ambien is not considered to be one of the top offenders when it comes to prescription drug addiction, those dollars earmarked for prescription drug dependence research generally focus elsewhere. This makes the stories of those who have used the medications with ill effect that much more important to hear. The following are a couple of those stories.
Christine Egan is a writer and editor who told her story in the Huffington Post, in an article entitledI Was an Ambien Junkie and Didn’t Know It. Ms. Egan was prescribed Ambien for routine insomnia at the starting dose of 10 mg. She liked the effect and doubled up, returning to her doctor with a contrived story of having accidentally dropped her bottle in the toilet. Successfully obtaining more, she continued her double doses and was soon calling her doctor for another prescription.This time, the doctor balked, and her source suddenly dried up. The only options were to go doctor shopping or to quit. Christine was a lucky one. She quit and stayed sober.
The story of Junior Seau is one of the most famous and most tragic in Ambien addiction lore. Seau had played football for the University of Southern California and starred on three different teams in the NFL, in a career that lasted 20 years. He had a fun-loving disposition and was much loved by fans.At some point, while he was still playing, Seau began to be plagued by insomnia. He obtained a prescription for Ambien and began a habit that continued until his death.
Junior Seau committed suicide on May 2, 2012, by shooting himself in the chest.
A postmortem exam showed only one drug in his system: Ambien.
He had apparently been taking Ambien, continuously and often with alcohol, for the last seven years. Friends and relatives reported that, contrary to prescription guidelines, Seau often took the medicine in the middle of the night and rose from bed a short while later, after sleeping as little as three hours. Taking the drug that way prevents it from inducing in the body the intended pattern of sleeping without drugs. Instead, it leads to increasing tolerance — as does combining it with alcohol — and tolerance often leads to addiction.
That might be what happened to Seau. Not much is known about Junior Seau’s Ambien addiction, except that he used the drug a lot and in a lot of the wrong ways. Its possible role in his suicide isn’t clear, though the drug, like many psychoactive drugs, can cause suicidal thoughts.
Junior Seau did not leave a suicide note. He did, however, leave a scrap of paper on which he had written some lines from a song by a friend, Nashville songwriter Jamie Paulin. The song is entitled “Who I Ain’t.” The gist of the song? The person expresses regret for poor choices made in his younger days that hurt those around him and hopes that when his time comes that God will forgive because He recognizes him for his true self rather than his deeds.
Does Someone in Your Family Need the Assistance of an Ambien Rehab Program?
Even the safest of drugs, when misused and combined with other drugs and alcohol, can become dangerous and even deadly. If you or someone you love has a problem with Ambien or any prescription drug, call us at the number provided. We are here to help you stage an intervention that can motivate your loved one to choose a drug treatment program that can help.