Zolpidem tartrate (Ambien) – Apart from being one of the most dangerous drugs, this sleep aid is also one of the most prescribed drugs. In the US in particular, zolpidem is sitting in more than 5 million people’s medicine cupboards right now and many of them are elderly patients.
According to a recent report from the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC), zolpidem is sending at least 10,000 people to hospital each year – more than any psychiatric drug (which is the classification for zolpidem).
Sleepwalking into addiction
“I started Ambien and now I am worried about what will happen in 10 days.”
That’s what one worried new zolpidem user said after she filled her first prescription for the drug. However, the fact is that many zolpidem users can predict exactly what’s going to happen in 10 days.
There’s a good chance they will become addicted to the drug, spending the next several months – or even years – popping this pill.
Zolpidem has been linked to hallucinations, heart palpitations, dangerous falls, and even risky late-night strolls and drives you may never remember. But millions of people aren’t just taking zolpidem because of clever marketing – they’re taking it because they can’t quit this highly addictive drug.
Back in 1992, when drug giant Sanofi submitted Ambien (the first zolpidem drug) for approval, it used studies that it claimed proved the drug was particularly effective for 4-5 weeks. Twenty-three years later and the Ambien label still says the same…
However, when this drug was approved medical authorities did not quite understand the long-term risks. Now, after many years of adverse reports, we now know that zolpidem can be highly addictive… even after using it for just a couple of weeks. Needless to say, a prescription for 4-5 weeks or longer puts patients at serious risk of getting hooked.
In fact, when the US Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) researched zolpidem prescriptions, it found a “broad pattern of unsafe use.”More than two-thirds of those taking it were long-term users, with an average 229 days’ supply. And many people are on zolpidem for years.
Millions of zolpidem patients are taking the drug with absolutely no benefit. After two weeks, it only helps you fall asleep about three minutes faster – and the drug has never been proven to help you stay asleep.
Many zolpidem patients continue taking the drug because it feels much easier than quitting. They’ve heard the horror stories about withdrawal symptoms that can include anxiety, violent stomach cramps, sudden mood changes and even seizures.
But staying on the drug long-term can boost your heart attack risk by 50 per cent and your chances of getting Alzheimer’s by a gigantic 84 per cent.
If you’ve been taking zolpidem (it’s also sold as Ambien, Ambien CR, Intermezzo, Edluar and Zolpimist), quitting will be a challenge – but it’s important to work with your doctor on a plan to wean yourself off of the drug gradually.
Here are some suggestions that might make it easier to doze off without resorting to dangerous or addictive drugs:
- Avoid eating a heavy meal shortly before bedtime: If you must have a late-night snack, try something that won’t spike your blood sugar, like a banana or some almonds.
- Stay away from the computer and your TV for an hour or two before you go to bed, and keep your bedroom free of electronic devices such as your laptop and smart phone.
- After around two or three in the afternoon, opt for decaf tea or coffee. And before bedtime, try a herbal tea like chamomile. Chamomile is a natural sedative, and one study found it can help you fall asleep faster and reduce night-time waking by one-third.
- Consider other natural solutions like L-Theanine that can also help you drift off to dreamland quickly – and, more importantly, safely.
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“ISMP Quarter Watch, May 6, 2015, ismp.org
“Safety concerns mount for sleeping pill zolpidem (Ambien)” Joe Graedon, May 7, 2015, The People’s Pharmacy, peoplespharmacy.com