Ambien is the brand name for a prescription sleep aid called zolpidem. The medication is a member of a class called non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics. The members of this class are often called Z-drugs, and they work in a similar way to benzodiazepines like Valium, but they’re slightly different in their chemical composition. They also tend to have more mild effects. Ambien is a short-acting drug that only lasts for a few hours. That makes it ideal for people that have trouble falling asleep but generally stay asleep through the night.
Like other central nervous system depressants, Ambien comes with some risk of chemical dependence and addiction. If you become dependent on the drug, getting off of it may mean going through some uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Learn more about Ambien withdrawal and how it can be treated.
Will You Experience Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms?
Ambien is a safe and well-tolerated medication that’s used to treat insomnia, especially among people that have trouble getting to sleep. But if you use the drug for too long or misuse it, you may develop a chemical dependence on it. Ambien is usually prescribed for short-term therapeutic treatment that lasts for up to six weeks. Taking the drug longer than that risks substance use problems and dependence.
Chemical dependence is your brain’s adaptive response to certain drugs. The consistent use of depressants like Ambien can cause your brain and nervous system to get used to them over time. Your brain may adjust its natural brain chemistry to account for Ambien. When you stop using the drug, your brain chemistry may be out of balance until you readjust to life without the drug.
You’re more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms if you misuse Ambien as a recreational substance or mix it with other substances. Taking the drug frequently in high doses can cause you to become dependent more quickly. It may also lead to more severe dependence than it would in someone that takes the drug as prescribed. One of the first telltale signs of dependence is tolerance. As your body gets used to the drug, you’ll start to feel its effects diminishing.
This is part of the reason that certain drugs, especially depressant sleep aids, are only effective for short-term use. After several weeks, you may start to have sleep issues, even with the drug. Let your doctor know if you feel like you’re becoming tolerant, and don’t increase your dose without speaking to a medical professional first.
Other signs that you might go through withdrawal symptoms when you stop using Ambien include:
- Using more than you intended
- Trying and failing to cut back
- Restlessness when you skip a dose
- Insomnia or anxiety when you stop using
- Using just to avoid discomfort
- Strange sleep patterns
What Are The Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms?
Ambien can cause a number of withdrawal symptoms that are associated with a sudden increase in central nervous system activity. Ambien works to slow down your nervous system, which helps people with sleep problems relax when it’s time to get some rest. However, if you use the drug for too long or misuse it, your brain may get used to a consistent, relaxing effect and adapt its own chemistry. When you stop taking it, your nervous system will become overactive, causing uncomfortable feelings of restlessness.
One of the most common effects of Ambien withdrawal is rebound symptoms. Rebounding refers to symptoms that are the exact opposite of the drugs’ effects, and they’re typically the symptoms a drug was designed to treat. When it comes to Ambien, the common rebound symptom is insomnia. Even in mild cases of withdrawal, you may have trouble falling asleep for a few nights as your body adjusts to life without the drug. If you have chronic sleep problems, you may need to explore other insomnia treatments to address sleep issues after you quit taking Ambien. Anxiety, panic attacks, restlessness, and general feelings of discomfort are also possible.
Other symptoms of Ambien withdrawal include:
- Increased heart rate
Since Ambien is a depressant, it’s possible for it to cause some serious symptoms like seizures. Seizures, extreme confusion, hypertension, and heart complications can be caused by severe depression withdrawal. For that reason, it’s important to consult a doctor before quitting Ambien cold turkey.
When Will Symptoms Show Up?
Ambien is a relatively short-acting depressant that’s specifically designed to help you get to sleep faster. Zolpidem’s elimination half-life is around 2.5 to 3 hours which is the length of time before a drug is reduced to half of its concentration in your bloodstream. Ambien’s duration of action is around the same amount of time, so you’re likely to stop feeling its effects after three hours. Withdrawal symptoms may occur a few hours after that. You may not notice mild withdrawal until the next night when you try to go to sleep, and you experience rebound insomnia. Withdrawal symptoms may begin around 24 to 48 hours after your last dose. They may get worse over the following few days until they reach their peak. Peak symptoms may include some of the most uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal. Soon after your symptoms peak, you’ll start to feel better.
How Long Does Withdrawal Last?
The length of time you might possibly experience withdrawal symptoms may vary, but it’s likely for you to start feeling better after a few days. Your symptoms may clear up after five to seven days, and most will be gone by the second week. However, you may have some lingering symptoms, especially related to anxiety and insomnia. In some cases, you may need to address these symptoms in treatment, or they could last much longer.
Is Ambien Withdrawal Dangerous?
Ambien is a depressant, which is a category of drugs that are known to be potentially dangerous during withdrawal symptoms. However, Ambien tends to have more mild effects than other depressants like benzodiazepines, alcohol, and barbiturates. Still, it may be dangerous to go through withdrawal from Ambien on your own. Depressants can cause seizures, heart palpitations, and even heart failure during withdrawal.
Seizures that are caused by depressant withdrawal can be severe, similar to the tonic-clonic seizures that are caused by epilepsy. Seizures can be more dangerous if you go through them by yourself. Because they can happen suddenly, passing out and falling can lead to serious injuries. Convulsions can also cause injuries if you have a seizure near other objects.
Depressant withdrawal can also cause a condition called delirium tremens. Delirium tremens is more commonly associated with alcohol, and it’s less likely to happen during withdrawal from benzodiazepines or Z-drugs like Ambien. However, it’s possible for a severe Ambien dependence to cause some delirium tremens symptoms. Delirium tremens is characterized by extreme confusion, panic, heart palpitations, loss of consciousness, shaking, seizures, chest pains, heart attacks, and stroke.
The intensity of your withdrawal symptoms will depend on your history with the drug. If you’ve used Ambien for a long time on a regular basis, you may have a severe dependence on the drug. Withdrawal can be even more intense if you quit using the drug suddenly, without tapering off of it. Sudden cessation can throw your brain chemistry into chemical imbalance in a way that’s more jarring than if you tapered slowly.
How Is Ambien Withdrawal Treated?
Since Ambien could be potentially dangerous during withdrawal, it’s important to consult a doctor before you try to quit cold turkey. Your doctor may be able to help you adjust your dose or taper off the medication slowly to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Tapering allows your brain and body to adjust to lower levels of the drug over time. However, it may be difficult to taper without the help of a doctor or medical professional. A dose that’s too high will be ineffective, and a dose that’s too low can cause uncomfortable symptoms. A mild dependence on Ambien can be treated with the help of a doctor, and you may be able to get off of the drug at home.
More severe dependence or addiction to Ambien or other depressants may need to be treated in medical detox. Detox is beneficial for people that are likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms or other medical issues that may complicate withdrawal. Medical detox, or medically managed intensive inpatient treatment, is a level of care in addiction treatment that involves 24-hour care from medical and clinical professionals. You may be treated with medications to help address or avoid serious symptoms of withdrawal. You may also go through other treatment approaches to address deeper issues that could be connected to addiction.
What Happens After Detox?
When you complete detox, or if it’s not necessary, you may need other levels of care in addiction treatment to effectively address your substance use disorder. That may be necessary if you’ve developed an addiction to Ambien or another drug. Addiction is usually identified by compulsive drug use that persists despite medical, psychological, or social consequences. Addiction treatment involves several levels of care, personalized treatment plans, and therapies for a variety of needs directly or indirectly related to addiction.