How Long Does Withdrawal From Ambien Last?

In This Article

Ambien (zolpidem) is a prescription medication used for short term treatment of insomnia. It belongs to a group of drugs called sedative-hypnotics that work by depressing the central nervous system and slowing down brain activity. While Ambien is generally considered safer than certain other sedatives, it can still be misused. Long-term use may lead to tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal.

Symptoms of Ambien Withdrawal
 Verywell / Gary Ferster

Overview

If you’ve been taking large doses of Ambien for more than a few weeks, you may experience withdrawal symptoms upon stopping. These symptoms can range from a general unwell feeling to tremors, panic attacks, and vomiting. Case reports suggest that withdrawal symptoms are most common among people who quit abruptly after long-term or heavy use.

Ambien is also sometimes used recreationally (which includes taking larger doses than prescribed or intentionally staying awake after taking) to take advantage of the drug’s intoxicating effects.

Ambien dependence is more likely in people with a history of drug or alcohol misuse. Dependence and withdrawal are rare in people taking Ambien exactly as directed, but it can still happen.

According to the label from the drug manufacturer, withdrawal symptoms appear in about 1% of people taking a therapeutic dose. However, that figure did not account for the instances of people misusing Ambien.

The effects of regular Ambien use are similar to alcohol intoxication, and can cause impaired judgment, slurred speech, and behavioral changes.

Ambien misuse is most common among teenagers and young adults. Occasional recreational use in social situations sometimes develops into a regular habit. The drug is sometimes used as a substitute for other substances or to counterbalance the effects of stimulants and is sometimes snorted or injected for that purpose.

People in drug treatment programs may start using it to treat withdrawal symptoms or to get high on something that metabolizes quickly within 24 to 72 hours and therefore won't show up on most drug tests.

Signs & Symptoms

Although it was previously believed to be rare, new research suggests that withdrawal symptoms may be common among those who take the drug more frequently or in higher doses than prescribed.

Unfortunately, there is not enough data available about Ambien withdrawal and further research is needed. From reports of specific cases, clinicians know that Ambien withdrawal can range from mild to severe and depend on factors such as:

  • How long you have used Ambien
  • The dosage you're taking
  • The forms you've taken (i.e., swallowed as a pill vs. snorting or injection)

Mild symptoms of withdrawal include insomnia and restlessness. These symptoms may be bothersome and can interfere slightly with your day-to-day activities, but are not serious.

Severe withdrawal symptoms, which would prevent you from engaging in normal activities, include flu-like symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, sweating, and muscle cramps.

There are reports of people experiencing severe anxiety and nervousness. It is also possible to experience tremors, become lightheaded, have a panic attack, or even potentially have a seizure.

Ambien withdrawal symptoms typically begin within 48 hours after your last dose and should resolve within a week or two.

Possible Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms

Physical
  • Aches and pains

  • Hand tremors

  • Headache

  • Hyperventilation

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Racing pulse

  • Restlessness

  • Speech difficulties

  • Sweating

Psychological
  • Anxiety

  • Confusion or delirium

  • Insomnia

  • Panic attacks

Keep in mind that Ambien withdrawal symptoms can be compounded by the effects of other substances or medications you're taking.

Coping & Relief

If you take a regular therapeutic dose of Ambien, it is unlikely that you will experience withdrawal symptoms. However, you may have trouble sleeping without it.

To train your body to fall asleep without sleep aids, you may choose to taper your dose over the course of one to two weeks. Under your doctor's guidance, you can use a pill cutter, which you can pick up at any pharmacy, to chop your pill into halves and quarters.

Always consult your doctor before making changes to your medications.

If you are still having trouble sleeping after stopping Ambien, consider talking to your doctor about melatonin as an alternative. Melatonin is a natural chemical produced in the brain that helps regulate your sleep cycles. As you get older, your brain doesn’t produce as much melatonin as it used to. A melatonin supplement at bedtime can help.

There are also other herbal remedies that can help you fall asleep, such as valerian root and chamomile tea. 

If you are experiencing severe symptoms of Ambien withdrawal, your doctor or inpatient program's physician may recommend the short-term use of a sedative. Common sedatives prescribed to help with Ambien withdrawal include:

Warnings

Talk to your doctor before making any changes to your medication. If you are worried about withdrawal, your doctor can help you safely taper down your dose.

If you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor right away. Ambien can be potentially harmful to a developing fetus.

If you regularly take a higher than normal dose of Ambien, you may be at increased risk of severe withdrawal symptoms. You should speak with your doctor and refrain from self-medicating with other drugs or alcohol.

Long-Term Treatment

Recovery from an Ambien use disorder can be difficult. If you are having trouble quitting or are trying to quit more than one substance, then it’s important to ask for help. That help may be medical, psychological, or social.

Outpatient treatment comes in many forms. You may choose to start with your regular doctor or a psychiatrist who can help you with medically-assisted detox.

You may also choose to see a therapist for therapy. Psychotherapy can help you identify triggers that motivate your substance use and teach you the skills to handle those situations.

Group therapy sessions are offered at hospitals and addiction treatment centers. 12-Step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) take place every day in cities and towns throughout the country.

If you need more support than outpatient treatments or 12-Step programs can provide, you may want to consider spending some time in an inpatient treatment facility.

Resources

If you are ready to quit taking Ambien, the best place to start is by talking with your prescribing doctor. Your doctor can advise you about the best way to quit and help you develop a plan to deal with any potential withdrawal symptoms.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

To find a 12-Step meeting in your area, use searchable online directories for Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

A Word From Verywell

Ambien use disorder is a potentially serious problem. If you have been taking Ambien in ways other than how it was prescribed or are worried about Ambien withdrawal symptoms, don't hesitate to ask for help.

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Article Sources
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