Ambien Withdrawal and Detox

Modified: 22nd Jul 2019

Ambien is frequently prescribed for patients who have trouble sleeping. While it can be helpful for some, it’s problematic for others who use it long-term or in large amounts. Those who wish to discontinue its use may experience Ambien withdrawal.

Ambien is meant for short-term use. Those who take it for extended periods of time may become dependent on the drug. Unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can be tough to handle when Ambien use is stopped.

Discontinuing Ambien use is a serious decision that requires special assistance and monitoring.

What Causes Ambien Withdrawal?

Ambien withdrawal occurs when a user has become physically dependent on a drug. When the drug is stopped, intense, unpleasant symptoms are experienced. This is because the chemistry of the brain has been altered and the drug is necessary for normal functioning.

Ambien contains the active ingredient zolpidem. It’s a sleep aid that classifies as a sedative-hypnotic. Ambien works similarly to benzodiazepine drugs. Both Ambien and benzodiazepine medications affect gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for:

  • Slowing hyperactive nerve signals
  • Relaxing muscles
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Inducing sleep

GABA does this by lessening the effects of other brain chemicals. It prevents overstimulation of the brain and allows for relaxation.

Ambien works by increasing the activity of GABA in the brain. As with most drugs that affect neurotransmitter levels, the brain quickly adapts and becomes dependent on Ambien. After using Ambien for extended periods, the brain stops producing healthy levels of GABA on its own. In order to feel normal, Ambien users must continue the use of the drug.

Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms

During Ambien withdrawal, the brain becomes overstimulated. This imbalance results in uncomfortable symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can be mildly unpleasant to severe. These symptoms include:

  • Restlessness and nervousness
  • Irritability and emotional instability
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Insomnia and other sleep difficulties
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Flushing of the skin

In addition to the symptoms listed above, Ambien withdrawal can result in alarming and severe mental symptoms. These can include:

  • Delusional thoughts
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Psychotic episodes

Withdrawal symptoms are most severe when Ambien is stopped suddenly. Anyone who uses Ambien regularly has the potential to experience withdrawal. There are several factors that determine how severe symptoms may be, including:

  • Usual dosage
  • Frequency of use
  • Length of time used
  • Genetics
  • Current abuse of other drugs
  • Other mental health conditions

Prolonged Ambien use will generally cause the worst withdrawal symptoms. These cases should be handled professionally for the best chance at recovery.

Heavy users often rely on Ambien as a way to cope with stress and other psychological issues. Withdrawal can be especially distressing for those dealing with:

  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Life stressors and traumatic experiences

Discontinuing Ambien when it has been used this way can cause a flood of negative emotions and mood swings in addition to withdrawal symptoms. This can make quitting even more difficult.

Duration of Ambien Withdrawal

Ambien withdrawal usually lasts around a month, beginning about 48 hours after the final dose. Sometimes symptoms can begin sooner for heavy users.

The withdrawal follows a timeline of symptoms. These symptoms are referred to as acute withdrawal symptoms.

Ambien Withdrawal Timeline

After 48 hours, symptoms typically begin with physical, psychological, and sleep disturbance issues.

During days one and two, the initial stages of withdrawal may leave individuals with fatigue, mental fog, and memory and learning problems. They may feel tired and not very alert, but still, struggle to fall asleep.

From day three to day seven, the side effects of Ambien withdrawal peak. Individuals experience the most noticeable discomfort during these days. Cravings may become very intense.

After the first week of withdrawal, symptoms usually begin to subside. After the first month, most withdrawal symptoms will diminish. Some psychological side effects and cravings may persist, however.

Acute withdrawal symptoms usually taper after about a month. However, those who are heavily dependent on Ambien may be at risk for experiencing protracted withdrawal.

Sometimes withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings continue for longer periods after the drug is stopped. Protracted withdrawal can last for several weeks or even months. The intensity of this withdrawal can vary over the course of time. Symptoms may include:

  • Drug cravings
  • General fatigue
  • Difficulty enjoying pleasurable activities
  • Cognitive and memory deficits

In addition to these symptoms, protracted withdrawal may mimic other psychiatric disorders. These include anxiety, panic, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorders and schizophrenia.

Detoxing from Ambien On Your Own

Discontinuing Ambien is not to be taken lightly. In fact, it can be dangerous. This is especially true for heavy users. Abruptly stopping Ambien use can even result in death.

Withdrawal symptoms from discontinuing Ambien use can be especially concerning when individuals also have pre-existing cardiac and respiratory issues, psychiatric disorders, and a history of seizures.

To lessen the chance of experiencing these symptoms, it’s best to taper the dose gradually under professional supervision. This allows time for the brain and body to adjust. It’s never advised for those who have used Ambien long-term to quit “cold turkey.” This almost guarantees withdrawal symptoms and may lead to relapse.

Detoxification programs can help users break free from Ambien dependence while minimizing withdrawal symptoms.

Medical Detox for Ambien

Detox programs usually establish a gradual tapering schedule for Ambien cessation. During this time, Ambien dosage is slowly lowered in a controlled, safe manner.

How Medical Detox Works and What to Expect

The tapering of the drug allows the brain to slowly adjust its chemical balance, minimizing withdrawal symptoms. As the tapering dose gets smaller and eventually stops, the body is able to rid itself of the drug without dangerous effects.

When a patient enters a detox program, they’re carefully monitored for safety and adjustments can be made to their regimen as necessary. They’re offered round-the-clock support and encouragement to help them stay the course.

These detox programs often include counseling to ensure patient safety and success. This is especially helpful for those who have used Ambien to cope with environmental stressors that may still be present.

Medications Available for Ambien Detox

Sometimes substitute or supportive medications are used to manage withdrawal side effects during the detox period. Drugs such as the anti-psychotic quetiapine may be helpful for Ambien withdrawal. Anti-seizure drugs also show promise for withdrawal treatment.

Ambien dependence most often requires professional help. Detox programs can increase the chances of a safe recovery. They can also greatly reduce the chance of experiencing Ambien withdrawal.

If you or someone you know is struggling with Ambien dependence, there is hope. For more information on addiction and treatment programs, please visit our websiteand explore our blog. You can also contact us with any questions you may have.

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.