If we were to believe the imagery of sleeping pill commercials, anyone with insomnia can pop a tablet and achieve deep, consequence-free sleep. The reality is, obviously, not so. Sleeping pills are some of the most addictive medications available. Roughly 9 million Americans use prescription sleep aids before bed. It's estimated that at least 30 percent of users are dependent on them. Used sparingly, the medications are fine. But that's a difficult thing to do for those who feel they've found a cure for sleepless nights.
Benzodiazepines are the most addictive form of sleeping pills. Luckily, the most commonly prescribed sedatives are non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics such as Ambien: They slow the body’s functions as effectively as benzos like Xanax, but generally aren’t as habit-forming. Even so, it’s possible to get addicted — especially if you take them for more than a short period, or without medical supervision. According to Addiction Center, more than half a million Americans are addicted to Ambien.
Heather, a 25 year-old retail supervisor in Indiana, used to count herself among these numbers. For addicts, as she attests, the side effects of dependence are often matched only by the effects of withdrawal. In her own words, here’s Heather on the dark side of sleeping pills.
I was prescribed Ambien when I was 21 years old. I was diagnosed with manic depression and they concluded this was leading to insomnia. I was also prescribed Sertraline at the same time.
I had a few months’ encounter with opiate painkillers — this was my first time using any sort of illicit drugs. When I quit the painkillers, I began to use the Ambien to fill the void. I would remove the coating on the tablet, crush it into powder and snort the Ambien. I generally stuck with my 10mg dose, but other times I'd use up to 20mg to 30mg, all insufflated. This would cause some euphoric hallucinations and put me into a sound sleep.
The hallucinations didn't compare to anything I've read about substances such as shrooms or DXM. Reality would become a little blurry, a computer screen could appear to become 3D, I would become relaxed and very open similar to how I had with opiates in the past. It could sometimes result in blackouts, but that is common with Ambien use in general.
I actually had a seizure at work one day, which had never happened to me before. The seizure was very sudden. My hands had been shaking at work and I wrote it off as lingering withdrawal from the opiates — I believe I was only a month clean. I was about to step off the sales floor because I felt light headed. I blacked out and fell down, hitting my head. I came to upon impact.
I told my co-workers that I had been feeling nauseous and lightheaded. They offered to take me to the ER, but I had a friend come pick me up from work and supervise me for the rest of the day. The shaking continued throughout the rest of that day until I took another dose that night.
After the seizure, I made the conscious decision to resume medication management and request to not have my Ambien prescription refilled. Very few people knew my reasoning. But I had let one substance control me in the past and I didn't want to continue down that path again.
The rebound insomnia was quite awful. I got little sleep in the months following. My daughter was conceived a few months later and the insomnia was worsened by pregnancy. I picked up drinking about 6 months after my daughter was born because I couldn't sleep at night, yet had to get up for work by 5AM. I have worked on that over the past 2 years.
Melatonin does not work for me. Benadryl does, but it leaves me incredibly drowsy the next morning. Ambien didn't do that, but it got to the point where I needed it to function and that's not something I desire. There are still days that I don't sleep until 4am and have to wake back up at 6am for work. I still wake up every few hours at night, even though it has been nearly 4 years.
I never feel fully rested. But at this point, I don't know if my body can go back to normal.