ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Ambien is pretty addictive. Users can develop a dependence within just a couple of weeks of daily dosing. Withdrawal can be difficult. This article outlines what to expect during withdrawal and ways to treat symptoms medically.
ESTIMATED READ TIME: Less than 10 minutes.
Table of Contents:
- Ambien and the Brain
- Is Ambien Withdrawal Hard?
- Is Ambien Withdrawal Dangerous?
- A List of Withdrawal Symptoms
- The Basic Timeline
- Medicines that Help
- Natural Remedies that Help
- Where to Go for Help
- Where to Find Local Help
- Your Questions
Ambien and the Brain
Zolpidem is the main active ingredient in Ambien. Its chemical structure is very similar to the benzodiazepine class of drugs, but zolpidem is officially called a “hypnotic”. Benzodiazepines are prescribed for a variety of reasons and attach to neurons within our brain responsible for sensations, emotions, muscle movements, and cognition.
Because of this, zolpidem causes its user to become sedated without experiencing the other qualities of benzodiazepines. However, after regular or daily use, you can become physically dependent on zolpidem. This makes quitting Ambien both hard and potentially dangerous.
Is Ambien Withdrawal Hard?
To begin, you need to take the following facts about yourself into account:
- Overall health state
- Time length and frequency of use
In general, the long you’ve been using Ambien … the harder detox will be. If you’ve been using it for a longer time and taking high doses, then you can expect to experience a longer withdrawal process with more possible difficulties.
Still, it is difficult to know how long withdrawal will last or how difficult it be. Why? Because we are individuals. We each use drugs for different reasons. Likewise, use patterns and dependency differ.
Is Ambien Withdrawal Dangerous?
Again, people with higher levels of dependence are more likely to experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Severe seizures might occur and even be fatal. People with certain mental health issues are also at risk. For these reasons, Ambien withdrawals should always be carried out under medical supervision.
You should never quit cold turkey. Doctors will taper your dose, thereby your body can gradually resume normal functioning.
A List of Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms begin within approximately 48 hours after your last Ambien dose. Some people have experienced symptoms as early as a few hours later.
Withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Abdominal cramps and discomfort.
- Cravings for Ambien.
- Mood swings.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Panic attacks.
- Rapid heart rate and breathing.
- Rebound insomnia.
- Uncontrollable crying.
The Basic Timeline
The timeline after your last dose of Ambien can be divided into five stages.:
1. The First 24 to 72 Hours. During this period, your symptoms begin their peak and are most uncomfortable. Usually, you can expect to feel both physical and psychological symptoms.
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms:
Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms:
- Memory loss
- Mood swings
- Sleeping disorder
2.Week 1. After the first week, acute withdrawal tends to resolve. Symptoms have lessened to a great extent, but not the cravings. Also, many people find themselves experiencing depression and paranoia during this period. A tendency to experience trouble sleeping, or nightmares, is still present; in particular, for those experiencing mental trauma (in general or due to the withdrawal). So, it’s important to undergo psychotherapy treatment in order to get help for coping with this situation.
3.Week 2. Cravings, depression and paranoia are not as strong as they were the week before. During this week you might feel foggy as though you can’t think straight. For this reason, it’s possible to experience mood swings. However, your sleep begins to stabilize.
4.Week 3. Your cravings have further decreased. You might still experience sleeping disorders.
5.Week 4. You definitely begin feeling better, though there may be still some traces of anxiety and/or irritability. Your sleep starts becoming really stable. Your body and brain are noticeably getting back to their normal functioning.
After the first month of Ambien withdrawal, heavier users possibly may experience post acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This is when withdrawal symptoms last for a much longer period of time, about six months after cessation.
The most common PAWS symptoms associated with Ambien are:
When planning to quit Ambien, always seek medical consultation with a doctor who is experienced in tapering doses of zolpidem in order to get a customized plan.
Medicines that Help
Usually doctors don’t prescribe other medications during Ambien withdrawal. Instead, they taper Ambien doses to fully resolve dependence and address insomnia simultaneously. In these cases, it can take weeks to months for a gentle taper. You can find benzo equivalent dosing schedule on Dr. Heather Ashton’s website. However, if insomnia is severe and a lack of Ambien causes it to come back, you may be prescribed a medication solely for that reason.
To date, there are very few medications available for Ambien withdrawals. Doctors don’t want to risk further addiction, so they tend to prescribe short term therapies for the instances of anxiety and depression as mental withdrawal symptoms.
Natural Remedies that Help
Since chronic insomnia is probably an issue for some of you, a few different natural remedies are offered below that not only help with withdrawals but also with sleep.
Acupuncture. While this is still being researched, a more recent study found that acupuncture had positive effects on reducing withdrawal symptoms, in particular for those dealing with great discomfort from withdrawal.
Distractions. When you’re going through withdrawal – particularly, psychological withdrawal – you’ll want to keep your mind occupied to outwit cravings. There are a variety of ways to do this and it all depends on who you are as an individual. Some find help in the arts (such as playing music, drawing, or writing in a journal) while others find new habits to be very beneficial (such as cooking or gardening). Don’t be afraid to experiment around while you’re in treatment. You might just learn something new about yourself.
Exercise. At most medical detox clinics, exercise is highly recommended to those going through detox because it promotes natural dopamine and endorphins. In case of Ambien withdrawal, exercise has been shown to help people get a better night’s rest. Though this isn’t true for everyone, it may just be the secret you’ve been missing out on.
Meditation and Yoga. Withdrawal can bring a lot of stress . Meditation and yoga not only mitigate withdrawal symptoms, but also help reducing cravings. These types of alternative therapies are also beneficial for those dealing with mental illness alongside their addiction, such as anxiety and depression.
Nutrition. While not the case for everyone, some drug users find themselves with a poor diet. However, an even bigger issue is that many drugs have the effect of absorbing much of what people eat. Drugs like Ambien can also cause loss of appetite. While in recovery, it’s vital to get your body back on track with water and healthy foods.
All of the above have potential to promote better sleep. Of course, people with chronic insomnia might need more than a natural remedy to benefit them. If this is your case, the best thing to do is to consult your doctor. Chances are they will figure out the solution right for you.
Where to Go for Help
If you need help for Ambien dependence, you are not alone.In 2015, the estimated number of Ambien and other sedatives users was 446,000. So where can you start?Dr. Heather Ashton wrote the book, “The Ashton Manual” that outlined withdrawal procedure and protocols for benzodiazepines. While Ambien IS NOT A BENZO, it can be helpful to read the book and to adapt some if its principles in your own case.Where else can you look?
- Your prescribing physician
- Your local pharmacy or consult a pharmacist
- Addiction doctors (Find an ABAM specialist near you)
- Psychologists and counselors (Find an APA psychologist member near you)
- Psychiatrists (Find an APA psychiatrist near you)
- Seek support in online forums like Benzo Buddies, Recovery.org, or Drugs.com
- Read medical experts like Dr. Matthew Edlund on Quitting Sleeping Pills
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline – 1-800-622-HELP (4357)
You’ll also want to reach out to family and friends. As you try to quit Ambien, you’re going to be in need of a support system. The people you can always turn back to when things get difficult. Furthermore, even after treatment when recovery is still ongoing, you’ll have people there when need be. If you’re a family member or friend of someone who’s addicted to Ambien there are a variety of options for you to seek help for your loved one.
When you do find the right treatment, you can give us a call. We’re always happy to help.
Where to Find Local Help
- Local detox clinics
- Local hospitals
- Local mental health centers
- Your State’s Department of Health and Social Services
- SAMHSA’s behavioral treatment search engine
While you may be concerned about anonymity, also know that Americans are increasingly destigmatizing issues with prescription medications, especially through advocacy groups like Facing Addiction. In fact, an estimated one in three American families experiences a problem with drugs or alcohol through one close family member. So, your friends and family can also be a source of help.
If you have any further questions pertaining to Ambien withdrawal, we invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any advice to give for people currently withdrawing, we’d also love to hear from you. We try to provide a personal response to each comment and get back to you promptly.
SAMHSA: Substance Use Treatment Advisory
Addiction Blog: The Ambien Withdrawal Timeline Chart