It’s estimated that one in every four people develops insomnia annually — 25% of the population. While many recover without intervention, some will seek a way to beat the cycle of sleep deprivation. If you have problems sleeping and use Ambien, a common sleep aid, you could be putting yourself at risk of an overdose.
What Is Ambien and How Is It Used?
Ambien (zolpidem) is one of the most commonly prescribed sleep drugs in the United States. Similar to more potent sedatives like benzodiazepines, Ambien works by helping individuals fall asleep. Both are classified as Schedule IV Controlled Substances by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Ambien stimulates the release of a neurotransmitter known as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA helps to block the release of other neurotransmitters that lead to insomnia. When enough GABA is circulating, it leads to a “let-down,” where anxiety is reduced, feelings of hyperactivity are eliminated, and calmness or sedation ultimately occurs.
Typically prescribed for short-term relief of insomnia and restless sleep patterns, Ambian helps people fall and stay asleep. In most cases, a short course helps to “reset” sleep habits and, ideally, can be tapered off over a few weeks.
Is Ambien Addictive?
If not taken as directed, a tolerance to the drug can be built rapidly, requiring higher doses to achieve the sense of calm and sedation or euphoria that prescription and recreational users typically seek. Unfortunately, the higher the dose, the greater the chances of experiencing an overdose.
Withdrawal syndrome has also been noted in high-dose users. This can require medical supervision, as withdrawal symptoms can include minor symptoms like headaches and nausea but also dangerous or even fatal effects such as seizures.
If you’re worried that you or someone you care about is addicted to Ambien, we can help. Reach out to one of Olympus’s addiction specialists to learn more about Ambien dependency and recovery. Call 888-727-9324 today!
What Is Ambien and How Is It Used?
As with any medication, Ambien does have side effects. Most people using Ambien experience at least a few side effects.
The common side effects associated with Ambien include:
- Lack of balance or coordination
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty walking
- Shaking or tremors
- Blurred vision
- Pain or ringing in the ears
- GI issues, including nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea
- Cramps and muscle pains
- Tingling, numbness, or burning in extremities
- Sleepwalking or performing other tasks while unconscious (known as parasomnias)
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of an Ambien Overdose?
Ambien overdose has become an increasingly common problem seen in hospital emergency rooms worldwide. Because it’s a physical depressant, it may cause an overdose that can be serious or fatal if not caught and treated immediately. In many cases, the overdoses seen in emergency departments are due to a combination of Ambien with alcohol, narcotics, or stimulants.
The following signs and symptoms are often seen with Ambien overdoses:
- A marked loss of reflexes and physical coordination, including walking
- Pronounced lethargy (like someone who was drugged or consumed excess alcohol) that can escalate to unconsciousness and coma
- Issues with judgment, reasoning, and mental function
- Severely slurred speech and inability to find words or form sentences
- An increase in blackouts, hallucinations, and delusions
- Seizures, particularly when combined with other drugs such as alcohol, narcotics, or stimulants
- Significant reductions in respiratory and heart rate and blood pressure
What To Do if You Suspect an Ambien Overdose
Ambien is a central nervous system suppressant. This means an overdose can cause respiratory failure and lead to brain damage in a relatively short period of time. If someone is taking Ambien and any of the above signs or symptoms of an overdose are noticed, it’s vital to act quickly.
The following steps are the proper way to address a suspected Ambien overdose:
- Call 911. The dispatcher will not only send EMS (emergency medical services) but can also walk you through the next steps.
- Don’t offer food, beverages, or medications. Avoid giving any of these unless explicitly instructed by EMS.
- Remain calm. Many people panic when having a medical emergency. Creating a quiet environment by dimming lights, eliminating noise (such as televisions or music), and setting a comfortable temperature helps keep stressed individuals calmer.
- Turn the person on their side. If the individual is unconscious and vomits, they risk aspiration if lying on their back. Gently roll them onto their side, but don’t prop their head up.
- Perform CPR. If the person has stopped breathing and you’re trained, begin administering CPR. If you’re unsure how to give CPR, the dispatcher can instruct you until the first responders arrive.
Medications Used To Treat an Ambien Overdose
Once it has been established that an Ambien overdose caused a person’s symptoms, medications and treatments can help lessen the effects of the drug. Depending on the extent and severity of the overdose, treatment may begin when EMS arrives or carried out at the hospital.
Flumazenil is usually the first line of defense against an Ambien overdose. Classified as a GABA receptor antagonist, it makes it impossible for Ambien to bind to receptors. It works in much the same way as naloxone (also known as Narcan), an antidote to narcotics such as heroin. Interestingly, flumazenil is also used in treatment for the overdose of benzodiazepines.
Activated charcoal is another option doctors turn to when treating an Ambien overdose. Activated charcoal adsorbs and neutralizes drugs and other substances in the GI tract, making it impossible for them to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Other medications may also treat nausea and withdrawal symptoms as needed.
Supportive Care for Ambien Overdose
In addition to administering medications, other treatments are used to help support the patient while recovering.
An IV can be placed to make giving fluids and medications easier. IV fluids are essential for maintaining proper hydration. This is particularly important for someone who has overdosed, as their body works very hard to remove toxins and heal. IV fluids often contain electrolytes and, if the person is unable to eat, nutrients, as well.
If the Ambien overdose has impeded breathing, intubation may be necessary to help them breathe properly. This is performed by passing an endotracheal tube down the throat and into the trachea. A ventilator may or may not be necessary.
In many instances, drug addiction treatment is recommended to help address both the psychological and physical impacts prolonged Ambien use has had on a person.
Long-Term Effects of an Ambien Overdose
The long-term effects of an Ambien overdose haven’t been fully explored and discovered yet. Despite this, there’s evidence that physical dependence on the drug can cause individuals to become more susceptible to mental health crises, including suicide. Physical effects may be long-lasting, as well.
Neurological symptoms have been noted even after recovery from an overdose. Those who suffered an overdose that rendered them unconscious or affected their respiratory or cardiac health may find they have continuing problems with lung and heart function.
Preventing Future Overdoses
After recovering from a drug overdose, one of the biggest concerns is preventing it from happening again. In many cases, an Ambien overdose occurs when the prescribed amount is no longer effective in helping with sleep. It’s tempting to take additional pills to increase the effects, but this can lead to disaster. Long-term use exacerbates the tolerance, so using Ambien only for the length of time recommended by a doctor will help prevent this problem.
If the current dosage is no longer working, it’s essential to consult the prescribing doctor. They can decide if it’s safe to raise the dosage or prescribe a different medication. Another way to help prevent overdose is to dispose of unused medicines. Many pharmacies, facilities, and community programs offer medication disposal services free of charge.
Don’t let Ambien for sleepless nights turn into your worst nightmare. If you have questions or need assistance, let the experts at Olympus Recovery help. Give us a call anytime, day or night, at 888-727-9324.