Ambien is a prescription drug commonly used for short-term treatment of the sleep disorder insomnia. The immediate-release formulation of Ambien helps people with insomnia fall asleep quicker but is not designed to help them stay asleep for longer periods. This medication is not recommended for long-term use because physical dependence can occur. This condition is marked by withdrawal symptoms, a manifestation of the body’s reaction to a reduction of this drug. Below is more on Ambien withdrawal symptoms and how they’re treated.
Understanding Drug Dependence
Ambien is the brand name of a sleep-inducing medication called zolpidem. This medication is effective and safe when taken as prescribed and is also classified as a Schedule IV Controlled Substance, meaning its potential for abuse and dependence is relatively low. However, though the risk for dependence is low, case reports suggest that when taken at higher doses or for longer than prescribed, Ambien can have a potential for abuse.1,2 This is even more likely among individuals with a prior history of drug or alcohol abuse.
While it’s not a common drug of abuse, some may abuse Ambien for its sedative effects, while others may become dependent on it to sleep. When an individual who’s taking this medication for insomnia becomes accustomed to or tolerant of their doses, they may take more of the medication, so they can fall asleep. Tolerance is a sign of developing dependence.
What’s more, people who use Ambien every night for longer than two weeks are likely to develop a tolerance to the drug, meaning they need to increase their doses to sleep. Not only does this increase their chances of developing dependence, but Ambien dependence is also likely to occur if the medication is used regularly for longer than a few weeks or misused at high doses. Ultimately, drug dependence is when an individual needs a substance to feel normal or “good,” and when they’re not taking the substance, they will experience withdrawals.
What Are Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms?
Withdrawal from Ambien is difficult partly because of the changes taking place. The brain’s withdrawal symptoms are caused by the brain’s attempt to reestablish normal activity. Ambien withdrawal has the opposite effect of taking the drug (otherwise referred to as rebound symptoms,) and suddenly stopping the drug can lead to more severe withdrawals.
Common symptoms of Ambien withdrawal include:
- High blood pressure
- Mood swings
- Nausea and vomiting
- Panic attacks
- Stomach cramps
- Uncontrollable crying
The purpose of taking Ambien is to treat sleep disorders like insomnia short term. However, when a person becomes dependent on Ambien and suddenly stops taking it, they may once again struggle to fall asleep. This is known as “rebound insomnia,” a withdrawal symptom that mimics the condition the medication was originally taken to treat.
Rebound insomnia occurs because Ambien suppresses the central nervous system and reduces the firing of certain nerve cells in the brain. Ambien’s effects dissipate when use is stopped, leaving the brain in overdrive trying to overcome this sudden shift. This leads to an inability to fall asleep, along with increased anxiety, among other withdrawals.
When users stop taking Ambien entirely and suddenly, the risk of rebound insomnia, as well as other complications like seizures and delirium, increases. Thus, it’s recommended that individuals who are interested in quitting Ambien should seek out medically monitored detox at a facility like our California detox center to ensure their safety and health as they go through this process.
How Long Does Ambien Withdrawal Last?
The duration of Ambien withdrawals varies from user to user and depends on various factors. However, generally speaking, Ambien withdrawal can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Those who take larger doses of the drug over a longer period will generally experience the most intense withdrawals. Heavy Ambien users are also likely to struggle with withdrawal for longer than moderate users. While a typical dose of Ambien is 5mg daily, many people addicted to the medication take far larger doses, often 10 to 20 mg per day.
Furthermore, individuals taking Ambien CR (controlled release) are more likely to experience longer-lasting withdrawal symptoms. The goal of this formulation is to keep users asleep, whereas regular Ambien means helping users fall asleep. Since Ambien CR keeps users asleep, it remains in the body longer, which means it takes longer to leave the body.
Due to the similarities between Ambien and benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium, the withdrawal symptoms of Ambien are similar to those of benzos. Generally, a person will have recovered from Ambien withdrawal after two weeks, with the worst symptoms occurring between days 3 and 5.
Symptoms that persist longer than two weeks are known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). These may last anywhere from 18 to 24 months. Symptoms of PAWS include anxiety, poor concentration, insomnia, poor appetite, mood swings, irritability, and agitation.
Ambien Withdrawal Timeline
The duration of drug withdrawal depends on the drug’s half-life. This refers to how long it takes for half the drug to leave a person’s system. Below is a deeper look into the timeline of Ambien withdrawal and when users would experience the worst symptoms.
- First 48 hrs: Ambien’s half-life is about 2 hours, which is much shorter than most sedatives. Ambien withdrawals usually begin within 48 hours after the person’s last dose, with symptoms being mild but increasing after 1 or 2 days.
- Days 3-5: Days 3 to 5 are when Ambien withdrawals peak or become the most severe. Users are likely to experience confusion, memory loss, mood swings, shakiness, panic attacks, and difficulty sleeping during this time.
- Weeks 1-2: After about a week, withdrawal symptoms will begin to subside.
Ambien Detox at Banyan
Detoxing from Ambien should always be done under medical supervision to prevent complications and increase the individual’s chances of quitting. At our Banyan Palm Springs rehab, we offer a prescription drug detox to help individuals dependent on drugs like Ambien safely regain their health. Detoxification is usually the first step in treating dependence and addiction at our facility. It’s a crucial step as it sets ups clients for a successful recovery in the long run.
If you or someone you care about is battling drug or alcohol abuse, don’t wait to get help. Call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763 to find out more about our Palm Springs drug rehab programs.
- National Library of Medicine - Modest abuse-related subjective effects of zolpidem in drug-naïve volunteers
- National Library of Medicine - Evidence of zolpidem abuse and dependence: results of the French Centre for Evaluation and Information on Pharmacodependence (CEIP) network survey