Ambien Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline & Detox Treatment
Ambien is a prescription medication commonly used for the short-term treatment of insomnia.1 The immediate release formulation of Ambien helps people with chronic insomnia fall asleep, but is not designed to help them remain asleep.2
It is not recommended for long-term use. Physicians have been advised to avoid prescribing Ambien for extended lengths of treatment without re-evaluating their patients because of the risks of misuse.2
Ambien is a brand name formulation of zolpidem, a sleep-inducing medication that can lead to the development of physical and/or psychological dependence.2 People with a history of addiction or problematic use of drugs or alcohol may be more likely to misuse or become addicted to Ambien.2
The risks of misuse may increase when the medication is taken in larger doses or with alcohol or other CNS depressant substances, which can enhance the drug’s hypnotic effects.2
How Addictive is Ambien?
Ambien is a Schedule IV Controlled Substance, meaning that it has a relatively low potential for abuse and dependence. As a Schedule IV drug, the abuse and dependence liability is thought to be similar to benzodiazepines such as Xanax.3 However, though the risk for dependence is relatively low, case reports suggest that when taken at higher doses, Ambien may have some abuse potential, even among individuals with no prior history of misusing drugs or alcohol.4,5
Some individuals misuse Ambien for its sedative properties, some may become physically and/or psychologically dependent on the drug to sleep, and others may increase the dosage if they can’t fall asleep.
Additionally, individuals who use Ambien nightly for more than two weeks may build a tolerance to the drug, meaning Ambien may no longer be effective in helping them sleep.1 The risk of developing significant physiological Ambien dependence also increases if the medication is used regularly for longer than a few weeks or misused at high doses. Dependent individuals may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking Ambien.2,6
Withdrawal from Ambien
Various signs and symptoms of withdrawal may arise when Ambien use suddenly stops or if the dose is rapidly decreased. In some cases, the symptoms of withdrawal associated with relatively short-acting sedative hypnotic medications like Ambien develop as soon as 6-8 hours after the final dose. These symptoms may include:2,7
- Hand tremor.
- Rapid heart rate and breathing.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Seizures in rare cases.
In clinical trials, Ambien withdrawal was reported within 48 hours of the last dose, and included symptoms such as:2
- Panic attack.
- Uncontrolled crying.
- Stomach cramps.
Medications Used to Treat Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms
Sedative hypnotic withdrawal may benefit from medical supervision and may require management with benzodiazepines or other relatively long-acting sedating agents to mitigate the risks of severe or complicated withdrawal.9
People who wish to stop using Ambien are encouraged to talk to their doctor about the potential for withdrawal symptoms and how to slowly stop taking the drug to best avoid withdrawal.2
Ambien Detox and Quitting Safely
Abruptly stopping the use of Ambien—especially for those who have taken the drug for extended periods of time and at higher doses—can be potentially dangerous.2 When physical dependence is pronounced, quitting without medical supervision may not be advisable due to the risk of experiencing potentially severe withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures.9
Medically supervised detox can ease the process of quitting Ambien. Though a period of supervised medical detox may take place in an outpatient setting, when more severe withdrawal risks are present, Ambien withdrawal management may more safely take place at a detox center or inpatient addiction treatment facility.10
While detox is an important first step, it is typically not enough to support an individual’s long-term recovery from drug addiction. To maintain recovery over time and avoid relapse, ongoing treatment can more comprehensively address the individual’s underlying thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that led to the Ambien misuse in the first place. An evidence-based rehab program can help an individual learn the skills needed for lasting recovery. Treatment looks different for every individual but might include:10
- Inpatient rehabilitation. Inpatient treatment includes 24-hour care in a residential facility, where treatment may incorporate individual and group counseling, various therapies, psychiatric care, education, and more to help the individual understand and resolve the issues that led to the Ambien misuse and help them develop coping strategies as well.
- Outpatient rehabilitation. Like inpatient care, outpatient treatment generally includes individual and group counseling, therapies, psychiatric care, education, and more. The difference is that individuals in outpatient programs return home or to a sober living facility after their clinic-based appointments are finished each day.
- Individual counseling and therapy. One-on-one sessions help people get to the root of their problems, address their psychological issues behind the addiction, and learn to modify behaviors to maintain abstinence and avoid relapse.
- Group counseling and therapy. Some of the same strategies applied during individual sessions work in a group, where individuals can learn from and support peers with similar struggles.
- Twelve-step programs. While not professional treatment themselves, these programs outline a program for lifelong recovery and serve to complement the benefits of more formal professional treatment efforts. Individuals gain support from peers. Some individuals select a sponsor or peer who is further along in their recovery to aid them in their recovery efforts.
Beyond the formal treatment program, aftercare services, which may include ongoing counseling, continued support groups, sober living communities, job placement help, and alumni activities help individuals maintain long-term abstinence.10