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What Is Ambien?
Ambien, also known by its generic name Zolpidem, is a sleeping pill that was FDA approved in 1992. Since then, it has become one of the most prescribed pills in America. The manufacturer, Sanofi, has made billions of dollars on the pill used to treat people with insomnia. The immediate-release tablet makes users fall asleep in about 20 minutes, and it works as a very effective sedative. There is an extended-release form of the drug, called Ambien CR, that helps you fall asleep and then slowly releases more of the drug to help you stay asleep. For some of the over 40 million Americans with a sleep disorder, this drug has been very helpful. But for others, the effects of Ambien have resulted in bizarre, dangerous, and sometimes deadly behavior.
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What Are the Effects Of Ambien Use?
Ambien works by activating the neurotransmitter GABA and binding it to the GABA receptors, which inhibits the neuron associated with insomnia. This slows down the brain, similar to Benzodiazepines like Xanax. Ambien is meant to be used short term and should not be taken longer than 5 weeks without doctor’s advice. When someone stops using Ambien, they should not do so suddenly, because they may suffer from withdrawal symptoms. Users should not take the drug unless they plan on getting a full 8 hours of sleep or be put at risk of memory loss. Similar to other central nervous system depressants, Ambien can cause amnesia and may also damage short-term memories. Some side effects of Ambien include a loss of coordination, drowsiness, dizziness, weakness, nausea, diarrhea, headache, nose or throat irritation, and muscle pain. However, these effects are not the worst impacts that Ambien can have.
People have reported strange behavior while on Ambien, such as sleepwalking, sleep-eating, and sleep-driving. In fact, the medication guide for Ambien states that it may cause serious side effects, such as:
- Driving a car (″sleep-driving″)
- Making and eating food
- Talking on the phone
- Having sex
Some of the unusual acts that people have done while on Ambien and had no memory of are harmless, such as folding laundry and making guacamole. Others are frightening for the user and whoever is with them, such as hallucinating that they are floating, the furniture is changing shapes, or believing that someone is watching their house. Others are extremely dangerous, such as driving to the store, breaking into a neighbor’s home, scratching a hole in one’s septum, and even murder.
For years, people have been using the “Ambien defense” after committing crimes. In 2006, this gained national attention for the first time when Rhode Island Representative Patrick J. Kennedy crashed his car under the influence of Ambien. In a case published by the National Center for Biotechnology, a 45-year-old man with no violent history had trouble sleeping so his wife gave him 2 Zolpidem pills. He awoke in a wheelchair, confused as to where he was and why he was handcuffed. He had stabbed his wife more than 20 times. He was found guilty of murder in the second degree and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Another case was involving a 62-year-old woman. People described her relationship with her husband as loving and that they were “the ideal couple.” The woman struggled with anxiety and mild depression, but there was no evidence of domestic violence. She was prescribed paroxetine for depression and Zolpidem for her insomnia. Three days after taking these medications, she killed her husband after hitting him on the head with a metal pipe and then placed a plastic bag over his head. She remained in the home for 24 hours after the murder, with friends who spoke to her on the phone saying she sounded “disturbed and confused.” One friend was concerned she suffered a stroke, so she went by the house to check on her. They found the husband’s body along with the wife in the bathtub with a knife to her throat.
The woman had fragmented memories of the murder but did not recall placing the bag over her husband’s head. She mistakenly called her husband the name of her first husband, who was verbally abusive towards her. She said, “He wanted me to shoot him. But I didn’t have a gun, so he told me to get the crowbar for him.” Police said there was no evidence that her husband wanted to die. She was sentenced to 6 years for manslaughter, after the court stated she was under extreme emotional disturbances at the time. She got out on parole after serving 4 ½ years.
The Ambien Defense
These cases are the reason many have sued Sanofi after doing strange and dangerous behaviors while under the influence of Ambien, such as eating cigarettes and raw eggs including the shells. In 2018 actress Roseanne Barr who was famous for her television sitcom, The Roseanne Show, took Ambien and logged onto her Twitter account around 2am. She proceeded to tweet a racist joke towards Iranian American businesswoman Valerie Jarrett. After receiving backlash, she stated in another tweet, “I did something unforgivable so do not defend me. It was 2 in the morning, and I was Ambien tweeting.” The Roseanne Show was canceled, with ABC Entertainment’s president stating, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant, and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.” She was also dropped by her talent agency.
Some argue that the Ambien defense is not an acceptable excuse for strange, inappropriate, or violent behavior, saying that the people who committed these acts must have had these intentions beforehand. After Roseanne’s tweets, Sanofi said in a statement that, “Ultimately at Sanofi we felt that using our medicines as a crutch for bad behavior is unacceptable.” Others argue that the drug is an acceptable excuse to receive a lesser sentence, as no one in their right mind would ever choose to eat cigarettes or scratch a hole through their nose. Those who take Ambien presumably intend to fall asleep, so they cannot be placed under the category of “voluntary intoxication.” However, they knowingly took the medication, so it cannot be categorized as “involuntary intoxication.” For now, it is mostly case by case, with prosecutors attempting to determine if the user was aware of their actions or not.
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Ambien Addiction And Abuse
While most Ambien users are seeking relief from a sleeping disorder, others are using the drug to get high. Those who abuse Ambien take the medication, and then fight off the urge to sleep. They may feel euphoric, relaxed, and buzzed. Some heighten the effects of Ambien by taking it while consuming alcohol, which causes increased drowsiness and memory problems, and sometimes breathing problems. After the initial onslaught of lawsuits against Sanofi, the FDA ordered all hypnotics to issue stronger warnings on their labels. They also changed the recommended dose of 10mg to 5mg for women, because women have a higher risk of next-morning impairment.
Get Help With The Effects Of Ambien Use Today
Ambien is an addictive drug and users can develop a tolerance and dependence quickly. Someone who suddenly stops taking Ambien will feel withdrawal symptoms such as agitation, sweating, shaking, vomiting, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Using a prescription drug in any other way than its prescription is considered abusing the drug. If you or someone you know is abusing Ambien or using alcohol or other drugs to heighten the effects of Ambien, they could be putting themselves and others at serious risk. Reach out today to get information on a safe detox and treatment for an Ambien addiction.
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