Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in the United States, and one of the common prescription medications doctors recommend to patients is a sedative-hypnotic called Ambien. It can be very helpful in alleviating symptoms of insomnia, but has a high potential for abuse.
Approximately 30% of adults have short-term insomnia, and around 10% of adults have chronic insomnia.
What Is Ambien?
Ambien is the brand name of the drug zolpidem tartrate, or zolpidem. It produces a powerful sedative effect by activating GABA, a neurotransmitter that causes the brain’s central nervous system to slow down.
Traditionally, Ambien is taken orally. It is a small and oblong tablet. Ambien is not for children and should only be used by those over 18 years old. Ambien can lead to dependence or abuse. That is why it is a federally controlled substance that is categorized as Schedule IV. This means that it does not have a high potential for recreational use. However, many people do abuse the drug because of the euphoric or hallucinatory effects that it produces. Some people will crush the pill and snort it to increase its potency.
Ambien is effective in treating short-term insomnia. There are two forms of Ambien. There is a quick-release formula that helps a person immediately fall asleep as well as an extended-release formula that helps a person stay asleep. The short- and long-acting Ambien formulas take around 90 minutes to hit their maximum concentration. For this reason, both formulas are taken well before bedtime.
Ambien Abuse in the United States
Ambien is a non-benzodiazepine “Z drug.” It is as effective as benzodiazepines, but it does not have the same level of habit-forming properties as benzodiazepines. Although it is harder to get addicted to Ambien than to get addicted to benzodiazepines, Ambien is still an addictive substance. It has the same potential to be abused as benzos.
Ambien dependency is based on tolerance. Users need a higher amount of the drug to feel the same effect. If they stop taking the drug or if they reduce their dosage, withdrawal symptoms appear.
Tolerance can quickly escalate to full-blown substance use disorder. Users will experience impaired control over its use, a compulsion to use, and a drive to continue to use the drug despite the harm that it causes. Many people do not know that they depend on Ambien until they stop taking the drug and realize they can no longer sleep without it.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2018, approximately:
- 46,000 adolescents from 12 to 17 misused prescription sedatives and tranquilizers
- 1.7 million individuals between 18 and 25 misused sedatives and tranquilizers
- 4.3 million adults over 25 abused sedatives and tranquilizers
- 741,000 Americans over 12 abused Ambien
How Long Does Ambien Stay in Your System?
Several factors determine how long Ambien is detectable in your system. However, on average, it is detectable for:
- 12.5 hours in the blood
- 24 hours in the saliva
- Up to 72 hours in the urine
- Up to 90 days in the hair
The half-life of Ambien, which is the point where the medication’s potency has reached 50%, is approximately two and a half hours for healthy male adults. It takes around five half-lives for the drug to be expunged from the body. With Ambien, this calculates to around 12.5 hours for healthy male adults.
Types of Drug Screenings for Ambien
Ambien does not typically show up on basic drug screenings. However, it is detectable with other tests.
Urine testing can be used to detect Ambien for up to three days after its use. Typically, urine testing is the most popular way of testing for the presence of Ambien.
Blood testing is rarely used to detect Ambien as it exits the bloodstream too quickly to be detected. However, blood testing may be used on hospitalized patients or if Ambien use is detected in a driver. With just a 1.5-inch sample of hair, Hair testing can show Ambien use during the last 90 days. Saliva testing can detect Ambien after one hour. A major breakdown product of Ambien is ZPCA. This has a half-life of around five hours in the saliva. Since it takes five half-lives for a product to entirely clear from the body, ZPCA is detectable in the saliva for about one day after use.
What Determines How Long Ambien Stays in the System?
Age plays a vital role. Younger people process food and medications quicker than older adults because their overall metabolism is higher. Eating food does not affect how quickly Ambien clears from the body; in fact, patients should ingest Ambien on an empty stomach. If you have a full stomach, it will take longer for the drug to take effect.
Liver function is key in determining the rate at which your body will metabolize Ambien. Your liver breaks down substances in your body. If your liver is not working properly, the half-life of Ambien can be close to 10 hours.
Dosage levels impact how long Ambien will remain in your system. If you take a higher dose of the drug, it will take your body longer to clear the drug instead of someone who took a lower dosage. Frequent Ambien users and those who take Ambien over a long period of time may have trace amounts of the drug in their system for longer than someone who just took one dose. The more a person takes a drug, the more likely it is that the drug will accumulate in their body. The more of the drug the body needs to metabolize, the longer the removal process takes. Taking other medications, like St. John’s Wort, can speed up how quickly the body processes Ambien. Also, certain drugs, like ketoconazole, can slow down your body’s ability to remove Ambien.
Why Some People Misuse Ambien
If a person takes Ambien without a prescription or takes the drug in a way that a doctor did not prescribe, it is misusing the drug. Even using an extra pill to get a little extra help sleeping is abusing the drug. The danger comes because it is easy to build a tolerance to Ambien. The higher the tolerance, the higher the dose needed to fall asleep. This creates a snowball effect that can quickly get out of control without medical guidance.
Ambien is designed to be taken right before going to bed. However, some people take the drug hours before they go to sleep as a method of abuse.
What Does Dependence Look like?
A person may have withdrawal symptoms when they stop using Ambien. This does not necessarily indicate a substance use disorder. Withdrawal symptoms are the body’s reaction to a physiological dependence on Ambien.
Symptoms of Ambien withdrawal include:
- Uncontrollable crying
- Flushing of the skin
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach cramps
A person who is dependent on Ambien may need medical assistance to stop taking the drug safely. Granite Recovery Centers can help you break free from your dependence on a substance and get back to living the quality of life you deserve.
It is rare for a person to become addicted to only Ambien. It is more common for Ambien abuse to be included in a larger pattern of substance misuse.
Signs of Ambien misuse or addiction could include:
- Taking the drug for longer or at higher doses than prescribed
- The inability to stop Ambien use
- Spending a lot of time and energy trying to acquire Ambien or to recover from Ambien use
- Its use impacts your personal, professional, or academic obligations
- An overwhelming need to use Ambien
- Using the drug, although you know that it is negatively impacting interpersonal relationships
- Giving up on hobbies and other activities you once enjoyed to use the drug
- Continued use of Ambien even though you know it is causing physical and psychological health problems
- The need to increase sedative use to achieve the desired results, also known as tolerance
- Experiencing withdrawal when not using the sedative or when you drastically reduce its dose, also known as dependence
If you are experiencing some of the above-mentioned signs or you detect them in someone you love, it may be time for you to reach out to us at Granite Recovery Centers. We can help you with your journey to recovery and be your guide every step of the way.
Detox and Rehab for Substance Use Disorder
Help may be necessary for those who misuse Ambien or use Ambien while using other substances like alcohol. Individuals with polysubstance dependence may have serious symptoms and require medical detox before starting inpatient or outpatient addiction therapy. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.
One cannot treat substance use disorders with just detox; more is necessary than just overcoming physical dependence. At our Granite Recovery Centers, we can help you learn the skills needed to work through issues that may have led to substance use.
For many people, their misuse of Ambien began with insomnia. There are a lot of causes for insomnia, including anxiety and depression. Insomnia can spring from lifestyle changes, emotional disturbances, and many other issues. Therefore, it is important to work with trained professionals to understand the contributing factors behind insomnia, address those factors, and then create an appropriate treatment plan. Success in overcoming substance use disorder increases drastically when we address the underlying causes of the problem and not just the surface issue.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapies, and individual therapy can help address the emotional issues leading to insomnia. These therapies can help address the circumstances that could lead to substance use disorder.
Transforming Your Life and Regaining Control
Granite Recovery Centers have been improving the lives of adults who struggle with substance use disorder. We are successful because we offer our clients a unique blend of evidence-based clinical psychotherapies with a proven 12-step curriculum. We offer the complete gamut of care, including medical detox, primary residential therapy, sober living, medication-assisted treatment, and continued intensive outpatient counseling.
The success of what we do is evident in the growing number of people we have been able to help get their lives back. Many of our clients have been struggling with substance use disorder for several years. They have tried to break free on their own and have been unsuccessful.
They benefited from the support, training, and care of the community at Granite Recovery Centers. From the moment you walk in the door, our staff greets you with compassion, understanding, and dignity. This same level of dignity continues throughout the detox process and the accompanying recovery treatment.
Ambien addiction does not have to control your life. We can help you on your journey to recovery.