It Happened to Me: I Got Addicted to Ambien

Early one morning, after taking an Ambien at some point the night before, I wandered out of my apartment in Brooklyn, clad only in a towel, with no shoes, keys, phone or money.

Feb 14, 2012 at 3:00pm | Leave a comment

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You know what's super-fun? Sleeping.

You know what's not? Going to sleep, unwittingly participating in some mega fucked-up stuff, and having no recollection of it when the alarm clock sounds.

Since I was a child, I've had sleep problems. I've always had a terrible time getting to sleep, often suffering through sleepless nights that turned into mornings where I could hardly keep my head off my desk.

After many years of trying various combinations of warm milk (yuck), melatonin (hippie nonsense), and, eventually whiskey (not a sleep-aid! Just a drunk-aid, y'all!), I told my college therapist that I needed something strong to put me to bed and I needed it now. First, we tried out a schizophrenia sedative, Klonopin, which didn't make me sleep, but did make me feel like my IQ was dropping by the second. Then, we settled on Ambien.

This was the late '00s, so I had already heard horror stories about what the drug could make you do while asleep, but I hardly had the cash to pay for a flight anywhere, much less the boldness to hold a stewardess at knifepoint. I had no access to a car, was relatively certain that it was close to impossible to "binge" in the confines of my dorm (protein shakes and raw turkey were the only foods I kept in my fridge on a regular basis).

On my first night with what would become my new best friend, I took the pill before getting ready for bed. When I stopped by my boyfriend's dorm room to say goodnight, he and friends were still hanging out and chatting. I announced that I had been unable to shower because something was causing a ruckus in the bathroom. He looked at me quizzically, until I explained that his comb and his toothbrush were having an argument so distracting it interfered with my grooming routine. Then I hopped into his bed and went out like a light.

It's a well-advertised fact that Ambien users can become dependent on it to sleep. But here's the thing your doctor or the commercials don't tell you about Ambien. From a practical standpoint, it works. From a recreational one, it can get you high as hell.

Over the next few months, I started to take my Ambien a little earlier each evening. Usually, within an hour or so of knowing I'd be getting into bed, but there were many nights when I didn't make it there.

It's like having that last drink at the bar when you know you should go home -- I'd fight the pill's effects and stay up, often telling my friends insane things like how to turn the light in the room into energy, or how paintings of forest scenes on their walls were actually drawings of mermaids bathing themselves in blood.

Most of the time, I would make it back home otherwise unscathed, but on occasion (particularly when I had a few glasses of André sloshing around in me), the evening would start out fine, then suddenly veer off. When I woke up, my room would look like the set of a snuff film, or I would find myself asleep on my floor with my hair soaking wet and my clothes nowhere to be found.

Anybody who's ever blacked out knows the cringe-inducing horror of finding out what you did the night before because your friends (or complete strangers) had to tell you.

On one such occasion, I had wandered into the common area of a friend's dorm, where a few of them were hanging out and drinking. A boy who I vaguely knew from campus sat next to me and started to tell me that he was thinking of leaving school. As he told me how he didn't fit in and how he had even considered taking his own life, I apparently began to light matches and hold them to the leg of his pants.

While finding out I did this still haunts me, both because of the cruelty of the action and the weirdness of it, when I woke up the following morning, I had no memory of even talking to him, much less trying to turn him into human barbecue. I'm mortified but I also can't picture it; it was like it was somebody else doing it.

This had a practical application, frighteningly enough, with sex. From time to time, I would have sex on Ambien without telling my partner, essentially roofie-ing myself so I could be the dirty-talking, threesome enthusiast my naturally shy personality prevented me from being, with no pesky memory of the sordid details lurking in my thoughts the next day.

On one of many nights that Ambien completely struck from my mental record, I ended up scaring myself enough to think I might be in need of a change.

After returning from a party, I took my magic little pill and did a few chores around my room and went to bed, or so I thought.

When I woke up in the morning, I was wearing nothing but a towel (which was something of a theme). Someone was sleeping, naked and wrapped up in a rug, on my floor. My pillows were soaked in blood. I went into the bathroom to find myself with two black eyes and a deep gash across my nose that had left muddy rivers of caked blood on either side of my face.

Already shaken, I went back into the room to find that the girl on my floor was a friend who I had invited in at some point to sleep off a sex and booze bender in my grubby Ikea carpet. Not that either of us really remembered much, particularly not how I'd bruised and cut up my face.

I knew I needed a break, and so I took one. I've been very lucky with my bad habits in that, in most cases, I can identify a problem and make steps to quit. Unfortunately, in this case, my optimism was no match for my addiction: specifically, my desire to trip balls courtesy of my psychiatrist. Within months, I was taking Ambien again.  

Thus began an ongoing cycle of starting and stopping again, of promising myself each time that I would never swallow another pill, all the time rationalizing my increasingly erratic behavior.

All 20-somethings take drugs!

Why wouldn't you take sleeping pills with whiskey?

Why wouldn't you take them in the afternoon? Why wouldn't you want to spend thousands of dollars on things you can't even remember buying? Is it that weird to wake up to a computer covered in naked pictures you can't recall taking? Who doesn't love a 2 AM email from their camp friend telling them that they're made of starlight?

It wasn't until earlier this year that I hit a breaking point. Early one morning, after taking an Ambien at some point the night before, I wandered out of my apartment in Brooklyn, clad only in a towel, with no shoes, keys, phone or money.

Nearly naked, I walked down the main thoroughfare in my not-so-nice neighborhood. A shopkeeper I knew found me, dressed me in some clothes from the store's lost-and-found, and brought me home. I woke up a few hours later with a groggy head and no recollection of where I had picked up a Buckeyes sweatshirt and a peasant skirt. If it sounds awful and embarrassing and terrifying, it was.

I knew it was time to give it up.

I told my therapist about my issues, and asked her to never prescribe Ambien to me again. Once in a while, we'll talk about my addiction, and I'll take time to really consider how I let things get so strange and terrible.

I know it wouldn't be difficult for me to get my hands on the pills again. But for the most part, it's my fear of dying some horrible, embarrassing accidental death that keeps me doing it.  Well, that, and the fact that everyone looks terrible in a peasant skirt.