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This morning during an interview with Howard Stern, John Stamos opened up about his DUI in June and his following month-long stint in rehab.
The Fuller House star revealed an interesting fact about getting clean: Kicking his Ambien habit was tougher than giving up drinking.
“I was on you know, some medications for anti-depressants and that damn Ambien. I’m so happy to be off that…” he told Stern. “And that was the hardest thing to kick by the way. Booze and whatever, that happened, but the Ambien was tough.” He also mentioned that the meds were messing with his memory.
Ambien, generically called zolpidem, is a drug that’s taken right before bed to combat insomnia. And while it’s known to not be physically addictive (unlike other sedative drugs like Xanax), it can definitely be psychologically addictive, Shelby F. Harris, PsyD, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center, tells Yahoo Health.
“When used as prescribed, it is generally very safe, but in some people (as with most medications) there can be adverse effects, including memory problems (as Mr. Stamos indicated), sleepwalking and sleep eating,” Harris says.
The risk of sleepwalking — and even sleep driving — increases when dosage is too high, or if you take Ambien and then don’t get a full seven to eight hours of sleep. The sedative effects are also intensified when combined with other drugs that depress the central nervous system, such as alcohol. (If Stamos was drinking at all while he was taking Ambien, that would help explain why he had such a bad experience with it.)
“The problem with Ambien (and other similar medications) is that it can become psychologically addictive,” Harris says, something she sees first-hand with her patients. And this can be a very difficult habit to break. “If someone takes Ambien and it works well, but they abruptly stop taking the medication,” that can lead to a perceived dependence on the drug, Harris says. That person may think that “the only way to sleep is if Ambien is taken, causing a strong desire to continue taking the medication.”
Related: Could Insomnia Be in Your DNA?
Kimberly Cramer, a primary therapist at Reawakenings Wellness Center, an addiction treatment center Florida, adds that “Ambien continues to be one of the most abused sleeping pills on the market.” And psychological reliance on the meds can develop in as little as just two weeks, she adds.
The good news is that since it isn’t physically addictive, your body won’t build up a tolerance to it, Harris says, and you shouldn’t experience withdrawal symptoms when going off Ambien.
If you are taking Ambien and noticing unwelcome side effects, you may want to explore other potential insomnia treatments.
Harris suggests first finding a qualified sleep specialist who can try a drug-free treatment like Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I): “The sleep medicine field widely recognizes [CBT-I] as the gold-standard treatment.” It doesn’t work immediately like taking a pill does, but with a few weeks of this behavioral treatment, you can significantly change sleep patterns and learn to fall asleep on your own, finding long-term success without an Rx.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to weaning yourself off a sleep medication like Ambien, Harris explains. “For some people, it can be just to stop it cold turkey and fall back on CBT-I treatments, for others it may be more appropriate (and easier to tolerate) to slowly decrease the dosage over time.”
If you don’t feel like your meds are right for you or want to explore new ways to treat insomnia, always discuss the options with your doctor to figure out what approach is best for you.
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