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We need sleep as much as we need food and water. We could die in a week without sleep, mostly due to the toxins that have built up in our brains, and the overall stress that occurs when our bodies don’t get the rest they need. In today’s busy world, sleep is often considered as a waste of time, so people tend to limit it strictly to 8 hours, or at least frown upon those who sleep too much.

Then, there are people who can’t sleep, find it incredibly hard to sleep, or can’t sleep without waking to the slightest sensations. There are a plethora of reasons behind this, sometimes psychological, sometimes physiological. Thankfully, advances in pharmaceutical medicine created medication to specifically help with sleep, known as sleeping pills. One of them is Ambien.

What is Ambien?

Ambien is a brand name for the substance called Zolpidem. This drug’s chief mechanism is to slow down brain processes, slowing thought and allowing you to relax. Though it is not an illegal drug, it cannot be bought over the counter, In order to get Ambien, you must have a proper diagnosis, and a licensed physician to prescribe it.

Zolpidem is a Schedule IV (4) drug due to the risks of constant abuse. If Zolpidem is obtained due to fraudulent means, it will be punishable by law and will lead to both prison sentences and fines.

Zolpidem first made its appearance in the early 1990’s, advertised and sold as a drug that can cure insomnia and various other sleep disorders. It was effective with people falling asleep in less than 30 minutes after ingestion. It wasn’t without its fair share of problems and strange stories.

Like all psychoactive drugs, Zolpidem saw misuse and abuse. There was case where people would take it, or are under the influence of it while driving or operating heavy equipment. This inevitably leads to accidents and fatalities. Others would take a small dose of it to help them “even out” through the day, which also leads to mistakes and accidents.

Other people abuse it by taking it and staying awake. People would report experiencing a warm, mellow, glowing effect often bringing a sense of well-being. This trend spread on quickly, putting the drug into strict control, eventually leading to scheduling.

There were accounts of people seemingly sleepwalking when they took Ambien. They would take Ambien and wake up the next day, only to find that they have either eaten a lot of food, or drank a lot of their stored beverages, but the person wouldn’t have any recollection of it.

Ambien is also addictive, as most psychoactive drugs are. Users tend to gain a dependency on the drug, that they cannot feel relaxed, or their insomnia deepens without it. Thankfully it only happens to people who have been taking the drug for quite a long time, and those with addiction drivers such as a particularly stressful life, or living conditions.

What is It Used For?

Ambien is marketed specifically to aid sleeping and as a treatment for insomnia. Classified as a sedative, It’s used for both physical and mental conditions that make sleeping difficult, or make staying asleep difficult.

It comes in two forms. A quick release tablet that helps a person sleep in 30 minutes or less. This is the most commonly used version of Ambien. Another is a combination of a quick release capsule and a slow release capsule. The first layer quickly dissolves to help the person sleep, and the slow release allows the person to stay asleep. This suits the people who suffer from light sleep issues or are easily disturbed when they slumber.

Unfortunately, it’s also used for recreation. Use of Ambien outside of its medicinal purpose is illegal and will result not just in severe punishment of the law, but also side effects and conditions brought on by the drug’s continued misuse.

What Does It Look Like?

Zolpidem comes in several shapes, but the brand Ambien comes only in two forms. The first form is the regular Ambien. It comes in an oblong shaped tablet with concave sides and flat slightly raised edges. It also has letters and numbers etched on both sides, which can clearly be seen, or at least felt if you have the touch for it.

For the 5 mg tablet, it comes in an oblong, capsule shape and has pink/dull peach color depending on the light. On one side it has “AMB 5” etched on it, indicating that it’s 5 mg of Ambien. On the other side, it has the numbers “5401” which is part of the NDC number “0024-5401-XX.” The XX depends on what package it comes with, such as 31 for a bottle of 100 pills, 34 for a carton of 100 unit doses, and 50 for a bottle of 500.

The 10 mg tablet comes in the same capsule shape but has a white color. On one side it has “AMB 10” debossed on it, while the other side has “5421,” from the NDC number, 0024-5421-XX, with XX also changing depending on how it’s packaged.

What Does It Do?

Ambien works by slowing the activity of the central nervous system. This system is composed of your spine, your brainstem, and your brain. Nearly all depressants work by slowing down brain function, allowing you to relax.

Our brain sends messages to the body by the use of chemicals called neurotransmitters. These tiny molecules exist between the small space between neurons called the synapse. When a particular stimulus is registered by the nerves like pain, the neurons fire neurotransmitters to other neurons in lightning-fast progression until it reaches the brain or spinal cord. The brain or spinal cord then sends back a signal, passed along by the use of neurotransmitters, back to the nerves that felt the stimulus and it causes the area to feel pain.

This is one example among hundreds of ways the brain communicates with the use of neurotransmitters. Among those, in particular, is the neurotransmitter called GABA, short for “Gamma-AminoButyric Acid.” What it does it that it causes neurons to lock up, preventing them from firing certain neurotransmitters, or just stop them from firing altogether. GABA functions as our relaxants, which relieves feelings of anxiety, danger, and fear.

Ambien works similar to this. Your neurons cannot tell the difference between Ambien and GABA. The neurons pick up Ambien and behave as if they got GABA, causing them to lock up, or limit their neural firing.

This is how Ambien slows your brain activity down. The dosage is not enough to completely stop your brain activity, but it’s enough to trick the brain into going to a state of lethargy, helping you sleep. Ambien does not directly cause sleep though, unlike tranquilizers and barbiturates (usually used in surgery), but it dramatically helps facilitate it, which is why it’s commonly used to help people with trauma or anxiety disorders.

Is It a Controlled Substance?

When it first debuted in 1991, it was an over-the-counter drug. It was used by people who suffered from insomnia to those whose sleeping problems were due to outside influences, like noisy apartment neighbors. It was widely acclaimed for its ability to help people relax, but that freedom and potency led to abuse.

At first, it was turned into a drug only obtainable via prescription, such as most antibiotics. However, this was also abused by the ease of making fake prescriptions, furthering illegal drug distribution.

Eventually, it was listed as a Schedule IV (4) drug, which means Ambien has high risks of abuse which will lead to physical and mental dependency, along with the ranks of Heroin. The difference though is that despite having strict control, Ambien, aka zolpidem still sees proper medical use.

What are the Side-effects?

Ambien is not a “take as needed” type of drug. It needs to be taken on a regular interval, otherwise, the person would feel withdrawal symptoms. Due to regular intake, it’s not uncommon for the person to feel side effects such as:

  • Reduced Coordination
  • Confusion
  • Unshakable feeling of tiredness or heaviness
  • Dryness of the throat
  • Cold-like symptoms like stuffy nose and throat irritation
  • Minor bouts of nausea, constipation, upset stomach, or diarrhea.
  • Muscle pains, especially back pains
  • Headaches.

According to some users, the side effects eventually lessen over regular use, but that is up for debate.

In some cases, especially when abused, a person may experience the following symptoms; if they do, they must seek medical attention

  • Chest pains leading to irregular heartbeats
  • Palpitations
  • Fainting spells
  • Tunnel vision and the feeling that you might black out
  • Trouble breathing, shallow breathing, and difficulty swallowing
  • Lapses in memory, or big time gaps
  • Fever
  • Depression

The reason why Ambien is strictly controlled is due to the numerous injuries and fatalities caused by the drug either by people making mistakes under the influence of it, or misuse of the substance. Ambien is allowed to be sold because it’s useful to people who really need it. Using it for recreation will lead to conditions both physical and mental, which are not worth the effort spent obtaining the drug illegally.

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