Zolpidem is a generic, prescription drug, also sold under the brand name Ambien. Although it behaves similarly to a benzodiazepine, zolpidem is classified as a short-acting nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic. Zolpidem is used to treat insomnia and has anti-anxiety properties. For some people, particularly those who abuse zolpidem, the drug can provide effects like euphoria and deep relaxation.
In the short-term, zolpidem affects neural activity in the brain. Much like benzodiazepines, the drug is believed to affect the GABA neurotransmitters and receptors. When someone struggles with insomnia, they may have a GABA deficiency or malfunction. Zolpidem increases the availability and effectiveness of GABA. Side effects include drowsiness and relaxation, as well as feeling dizzy, lightheaded or having balance problems. Common short-term side effects of zolpidem may include headache, dry mouth, changes in appetite and psychological side effects like new or worsening depression.
Prescription drug abuse is an all-too-common problem in the United States. Drug abuse isn’t the same as addiction, although abuse does tend to lead to addiction. Anytime someone is using zolpidem outside of a doctor’s instructions, it is classified as abuse. Signs of zolpidem abuse can include taking larger doses than instructed or taking it for longer than prescribed. Taking zolpidem without a prescription or buying it from someone is considered to be abuse. Mixing zolpidem with another substance, like alcohol, or to come down from a stimulant would be an instance of recreational abuse.
For years, the risk of zolpidem addiction was perceived to be relatively low. In recent years, it’s become more common for people to report having an addiction problem after using zolpidem. Researchers believe that anytime a drug affects neurotransmitters and brain pathways, addiction is possible. This is especially true when someone uses high doses, which triggers a dopamine response. The likelihood of becoming addicted to zolpidem may be lower than with benzodiazepines like Xanax, but it is still possible.
Addiction is a disease that is characterized by uncontrolled, compulsive use. For many people, zolpidem addiction begins with recreational use of the drug or using it in social situations. Over time, a person needs higher doses of the drug to feel the same effects. Eventually, this can turn into intense cravings. Some signs of zolpidem addiction and dependence include:
- Compulsive, out-of-control drug seeking and abuse
- Feeling the need to regularly use the drug, often several times a day
- Intense cravings that take priority over everything else
- Taking more of the drug or using it for longer than intended
- Maintaining a supply of zolpidem
- Not meeting other responsibilities because of drug use
- Continuing to use zolpidem even in the face of negative consequences and outcomes
- Engaging in dangerous activities while under the influence or to get more of the drug
- Trying to stop using zolpidem unsuccessfully
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop using zolpidem
People zolpidem addiction may experience other issues as well. Changes in mood and behavior often occur. When someone struggles with addiction, they will usually have declining performance at school or work and, in many cases, legal and financial troubles. Their physical and mental health will often decline. Polysubstance abuse is common with zolpidem abuse and addiction. It’s very typical for people who abuse zolpidem to combine it with other substances. This can develop into multiple, simultaneous addictions.
Over time, untreated zolpidem addiction will lead to negative physical, psychological and lifestyle consequences. Symptoms of zolpidem addiction can include memory loss, impaired judgment or reasoning, and delusion. People who are addicted to zolpidem are more likely to struggle with depression and anxiety as well. It’s not uncommon for people to say that they experienced hallucinations after using zolpidem, especially over the long-term. Other symptoms of zolpidem addiction can include suicidal thoughts or behaviors, persistent fatigue, and problems with muscle control.
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