Zolpidem, also known by the trade name Ambien, is prescribed for those who are suffering from insomnia. The mechanism of action of zolpidem is similar to that of drugs like Valium, or any other benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines are generally used to treat nervousness or anxiety, and zolpidem acts on the same areas in the brain to calm you down and help you sleep. The drug acts fairly quickly, and those who take the drug often claim they can fall asleep within 20 minutes after they take it. It is documented as a way to help people fall asleep, although it is less proven in helping people stay asleep throughout the night.
Zolpidem might be considered the apex of our search for an effective sleep aid. This is a goal researchers have had for a long time, and there have been plenty of drugs that have come out of that search. Many of these are sold over-the-counter, and are effective in helping people sleep. However, those who take them also complain that they experience next-day effects that leave them feeling groggy or tired. When zolpidem was developed, it was asserted that it could help people sleep without a "hangover" feeling the next day.
Zolpidem was released in 1991 after successfully completing clinical trials. At that time it was only sold under the name Ambien. Fifteen years later, the FDA approved a generic form of Ambien, which is known simply as zolpidem. When zolpidem became available, however, it also increased cases of misuse and abuse. Soon, people were seeking zolpidem addiction treatment.
When someone takes zolpidem for an extended period of time, they generally develop some level of tolerance to it. This means that they eventually need more of the drug to produce the same effect. For instance, if they were taking 5mg of zolpidem to fall asleep initially, after using the drug for a month they may need 10mg to fall asleep. As the dose increases, so does the risk of dependence.
When someone is dependent on zolpidem, they may experience several negative effects when they attempt to stop taking the drug. For instance, a common experience is rebound insomnia. This occurs when someone stops taking the drug, then has increased difficulty sleeping again. Often, rebound insomnia can be worse than the insomnia that led someone to take the drug in the first place.
It is recommended that people who take zolpidem take no more than 5 pills per week for no more than 12 weeks. Studies have also shown that, while 10mg is an effective dose, doses higher than 10mg don't appear to have increased effectiveness. Thus, taking more than 10mg per dose isn't recommended.
Although zolpidem has been shown to help people fall asleep, it hasn't been shown to be better than other sleeping aids. For example, someone who undergoes cognitive behavioral therapy to help them sleep has higher long-term success rates than someone who takes zolpidem without the therapy.
If someone does need zolpidem addiction treatment, generally the process involves a slow reduction in a dose that occurs over a period of weeks, or even months. Over this time, a doctor will oversee the dose reduction and carefully monitor the mental and physical health of the patient. Withdrawal from zolpidem can have physical manifestations that resemble withdrawal from other benzodiazepines like Valium or Xanax.
In some cases, a doctor may take a patient off of zolpidem and give them another benzodiazepine in order to alleviate some of the discomfort of withdrawal. Rapid detox programs also exist, but they aren't usually needed.
Alcohol may cause changes in the same receptors that zolpidem works on such that it can increase a person's tolerance to zolpidem. This could cause them to need higher doses of the drug from the outset and increase the chances physical dependence could occur. Thus, it's recommended that those with alcohol problems to not use zolpidem.
It's also recommended that zolpidem only be taken when someone is already in bed and ready to sleep. Cases have been documented of people taking zolpidem then driving or engaging in strange behavior that they don't remember the next day. Taking the drug while already in bed increases the odds you will go to sleep instead of engaging in this type of action.