Ambien is a drug that was developed to help people sleep without causing the side effects that barbiturates may cause. This medication works to promote sleep by slowing down activity in the brain, according to MedlinePlus. It is classified as a sedative-hypnotic.  Recreational use of this drug may cause someone to develop a tolerance to or even a dependence on Ambien.

How to Determine if You Have a Tolerance to Ambien

When people abuse Ambien, they usually take the pills orally or crush them up and snort them. When taking the drug orally, it can take about 30 minutes for the effects to start. Because of this, someone might choose to snort it so that the effects can occur sooner.

Ambien, which comes in an extended-release version and an immediate-release version, acts on the central nervous system. Once someone takes Ambien, it promotes GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) receptor activity. The extra activity affecting these receptors works to stop or slow the neuron activity that can cause a person to experience insomnia, according to Brandon Peters, M.D.

Side effects can occur with both prescribed and recreational use. They include:

  • Tiredness or drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling drugged
  • Trouble maintaining balance or unsteady walking
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Heartburn or nausea
  • Stomach tenderness or pain
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a body part
  • Abnormal dream
  • Dry throat or mouth
  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Gas
  • Appetite changes
  • Extremity burning, tingling, numbness, or pain
  • Tongue burning, redness, or tingling when someone uses a sublingual tablet
  • Eye redness
  • Back, neck, or joint pain
  • Pain, itching, or ringing in the ears
  • Muscle cramps or aches
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding

Since Ambien is a drug that promotes sleep, it is not one people immediately think about when it comes to getting high. However, people report that recreational Ambien use can cause decreased anxiety, perceptual changes, hallucinations, mild euphoria, and visual distortions. These effects are similar to those experienced with hallucinogenic street drugs such as ecstasy and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide).

Ambien tolerance may develop when someone takes this medicine at higher doses than prescribed or when they use it long term. As tolerance builds, the person may need to gradually increase their dose to feel the same effects they are used to. Tolerance might also make it seem like the drug is not as effective as it used to be.

How quickly a person develops tolerance varies. People who use Ambien regularly, especially at higher-than-normal doses, tend to develop tolerance faster. A person’s overall size and how their body handles Ambien also play a role in the development of tolerance.

How to Cope with Ambien Tolerance

Once someone has tolerance to Ambien, the only way to reduce it is to work on stopping the drug or gradually decreasing the dose. It is recommended that people talk to a doctor or a substance abuse treatment specialist to determine which of these options will work best.

Weaning off Ambien may help to reduce the risk of withdrawal effects. These effects may start about 48 hours after a person’s last dose of Ambien. The following withdrawal effects are possible:

  • Anxiety
  • Rebound insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Craving Ambien
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Delirium
  • Tremors
  • Uncontrollable depression or crying
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal discomfort or cramps
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Fatigue

In less than 1 percent of people, Ambien withdrawal can induce seizures. This was observed when the person went cold turkey from Ambien, according to research published in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry.

Due to the risk of seizure and other uncomfortable effects, it is recommended that people detox from Ambien under medical supervision. Health care and addiction professionals can monitor the individual and help them get through the process more comfortably. They also can work to reduce the risk of potential withdrawal effects that are more serious.

People can expect to go through withdrawal for about one to two weeks; however, it is possible to experience cravings for Ambien beyond this point. This is more likely when someone abused Ambien at high doses over a long period. Overall, Ambien tends to leave the body quickly since the body absorbs it rapidly, and this drug does not build up in the body, according to research published in Drugs.

Following the detox process, therapies can be used to help people work toward recovery. These therapies aim to help people determine why they started abusing Ambien. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is among the most commonly used treatments in rehabilitation facilities. It helps people to identify negative behaviors so that they can work on correcting them.

Do You Need a Break?

Any person who struggles with Ambien tolerance should consider taking a break from the drug. Tolerance will not decrease if the person continues to use Ambien. If someone decides to keep using and increasing their dose, they are at risk of addiction and Ambien overdose.

Since Ambien is designed to be used only on a short-term basis, legitimate medical use will not be long term. If you feel you need to take a break from Ambien, it likely means you are abusing the medication.

When a Person Abuses Ambien, there are Other Possible Effects Such As:

  • Not being able to sleep unless they take Ambien
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Problems with motor control
  • Mood swings
  • Not taking care of responsibilities

When Ambien use starts to interfere with a person’s life, it is time to take a break from the drug. Continuing to use Ambien at this point will only cause worse problems, such as loss of a job, failing grades in school, or becoming distanced from loved ones.

While it is not common, there have been cases of fatal Ambien overdose, according to literature published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). No exact dose will cause an overdose in all people. When an overdose occurs, the following symptoms may be present:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Impaired consciousness
  • Coma
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Excessive drowsiness or sleepiness

An Ambien overdose is a medical emergency. The person who has overdosed needs emergency medical attention to reduce the risk of fatality, so call 911 immediately.

Those who experience unusual effects of this drug should also consider seeking help. Certain effects, such as suicidal thoughts, sleepwalking, and issues with memory, require emergency medical attention.

There are case reports regarding thoughts of suicide. One involves a man who had no previous history of suicide attempts or mood disorders, so his Ambien use appears to be the cause, according to research published in DARU Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. In this case report, the person stated that he started taking more of the medication than prescribed to experience the pleasant mental effects.

People who abuse Ambien are putting themselves at risk for potentially serious health effects. Once someone develops tolerance to this drug, they are at risk of addiction. Because of this, once tolerance starts, it is vital to seek treatment to get help with stopping Ambien abuse.

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