Posted on Jun 06, 2022, 4 p.m.
Most people who struggle with sleep disorders are well aware of the drug zolpidem tartrate, but they most likely know it by its brand name, Ambien. In fact, even if you do not struggle with a sleep disorder, chances are that you have heard of this drug. Ambien continues to be one of the most popular prescription sleep medicines on the market. However, not all of Ambien’s popularity is positive. This drug is widely known for some of its unwanted side effects, especially the risk of memory loss. Here’s what you need to know about memory loss from Ambien and whether it’s permanent.
Why Does Ambien Cause Memory Loss?
Ambien is a psychoactive drug that changes how the brain communicates with other systems in the body. These can include mood, perception, and even consciousness. The drug is typically taken orally as an extended-release tablet, allowing it to make its way into the body at a slow and steady rate while also having a quick onset of action. This allows Ambien to kick in within 15 minutes, making it an effective drug for people who experience insomnia and other sleep disorders.
However, since the body purges itself of the drug rather quickly, it does not always prove to be a useful medication for people who struggle to stay asleep. Because of this, many people may try taking more than their prescribed amount of Ambien to intensify its effects. This can easily lead to an addiction, including various withdrawal symptoms and dangers from long-term use.
Ambien-related memory loss involves various factors. First, Ambien’s mechanism of action releases GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), which reduces the activity of neurons responsible for memory and learning functions. While this isn’t a significant danger when the drug is taken as prescribed for short-term use, long-term use and/or abuse of the drug can keep those neurons in a suppressed state. As a result, memory will weaken. Second, older individuals are typically more sensitive to Ambien’s effects. This suppression of memory, along with other memory issues that come with age, can multiply together to do severe damage to memory function.
The Most Dangerous Combination
Besides Ambien’s mechanism of action and age concerns, there is another dangerous factor that contributes to memory loss. Mixing other drugs with Ambien can compound the problem much more severely. Drug interactions can increase the negative symptoms of Ambien, especially when those drugs are also central nervous system depressants. While we might have other prescription drugs in mind, one that is much more likely to be involved is alcohol. Mixing alcohol with Ambien can greatly increase the chances of damaging one’s memory, but the problem goes much further than memory loss.
Ambien’s hypnotic effects mixed with alcohol result in a sedated coma-like state. While Ambien works to sedate the body and prepare it for natural sleep, alcohol suppresses REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which leaves the body in sedation rather than rest. This increases the risk of sleepwalking, where an individual could start operating machinery or drive unknowingly. These sedative-like effects of Ambien are widely known to the public today as more and more issues of public offenses are blamed on the sedative effects of the drug.
Temporary or Permanent?
While just one mixture of alcohol with Ambien abuse makes this a possible danger, an Ambien addiction mixed with an alcohol addiction makes this danger almost inevitable over time. Besides the memory loss issues involving Ambien, alcohol has its own risk of memory loss. Wet brain (Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome) can occur as a result of alcoholism. This type of brain damage occurs from a thiamine deficiency, where alcohol prohibits the consumption, absorption, and activation of Vitamin B1. If left untreated, this brain damage can lead to lesions and permanent damage to memory.
If treated, the threat of permanent memory loss from Ambien is much less severe. If you go through a detox and recovery process with trained medical professionals, you can expect the body to go through a healing process, which includes the risk associated with memory loss. However, if Ambien is abused long-term or mixed with other substances like alcohol, the damage the brain (and memory) suffers could be permanent.
This article was written for WHN by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine.
Content may be edited for style and length.
Materials provided by:
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