Ambien is a prescription sleep aid that is used to treat insomnia. Because of its effects on the brain, Ambien can be addictive. If a person uses Ambien long-term or in ways other than as prescribed, there is a risk of becoming addicted or dependent on Ambien. When a person is dependent on Ambien, they need Ambien to function normally.
Ambien withdrawal occurs when a person has an Ambien addiction, or is dependent on Ambien, and stops taking the drug. As their body adjusts to functioning without the drug in their system, the person will experience Ambien withdrawal symptoms.
What Causes Ambien Withdrawal?
Ambien works by regulating a specific neurotransmitter receptor in the brain, the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This receptor suppresses the function of other pathways in the brain and central nervous system allowing the person to relax and fall asleep. When the brain gets used to Ambien having this effect, it may become reliant on Ambien to function normally. When a person stops using Ambien and the brain needs to re-adjust, withdrawal symptoms can occur.
Ambien withdrawal occurs when a person has used Ambien for an extended period, either as prescribed or in ways other than prescribed. When Ambien is used as prescribed, for a short period, there is a low risk of withdrawal symptoms occurring. However, if a person uses Ambien for longer than recommended, they may experience withdrawal. A person who misuses Ambien by taking it through routes other than intended (such as snorting or injecting) or by using higher doses than recommended is at a greater risk for experiencing Ambien withdrawal if they stop using Ambien.
Ambien Withdrawal Schedule
How long it takes for Ambien to wear off will vary from person to person. In general, the effects of Ambien will wear off within seven to eight hours after taking it. If a person has been using Ambien long-term or in high doses, Ambien withdrawal might start within the first 48 hours after stopping Ambien use and can last for three to five days.
The Ambien withdrawal schedule will vary depending on how often the person used Ambien and how much Ambien they were using. Once the initial withdrawal symptoms have worn off, the person may experience additional withdrawal symptoms for one to two weeks.
Ambien withdrawal symptoms can occur if a person has been using Ambien for a while and then stops using it. People that are using Ambien as prescribed will experience these symptoms 1% of the time or less. If higher doses of Ambien are being used or a person has used it for an extended period, withdrawal symptoms are more likely to occur. The side effects of Ambien withdrawal include:
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms
- High Blood Pressure
- Stomach cramping
- Flushing of the skin or blushing
- Feeling lightheaded
- Uncontrolled crying
- Abdominal cramps
Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal Symptoms in the Elderly
Ambien withdrawal symptoms in the elderly can be slightly different than how younger individuals experience them. Elderly people can be more susceptible to the effects of Ambien. A lower dose is usually recommended for them. They may develop impaired motor functions or cognitive performance. Elderly people tend to have weakness and increased susceptibility to falling when on Ambien. However, withdrawing from Ambien use can have positive withdrawal effects in this population. Studies have shown that withdrawal from Ambien can improve muscle strength and balance in elderly people.
Symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), also known as protracted withdrawal symptoms, occurs when a person experiences long-term withdrawal symptoms after stopping Ambien use. This syndrome usually only occurs in people who used Ambien chronically and in very large doses. The symptoms are typically psychological rather than physical, and can include:
- Emotional outbursts
- Aches and pains
- Insomnia relapse
Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms
Protracted withdrawal symptoms are the same as PAWS, except that they last for months or even years instead of just weeks following the person stopping the use of the drug. Patients have described these symptoms as occurring in waves, mostly associated with the recurrence of insomnia.
Ambien Withdrawal and Death
While the withdrawal from Ambien can be uncomfortable, the chance of death from withdrawal is unlikely. There have been no published case reports of death from Ambien withdrawal, nor is it warned against on the FDA label. Death related to Ambien use is more likely to be associated with an overdose. Going through the withdrawal process, though uncomfortable, will lead to a healthier lifestyle in the end.
How Long Does Ambien Take to Wear Off?
When a person is taking Ambien as prescribed, the effects of Ambien usually last between seven to eight hours, so a person taking Ambien should make sure they are able to get a full night’s rest. If a person tries to wake up before the effects of Ambien have worn off, they may experience extreme drowsiness, or a “drugged” feeling and should not drive or operate large machinery.
The effects may take longer to wear off in women than they do in men. In 2013, the FDA published revised dosing recommendations for Ambien in women, stating that women are more sensitive to the drug and take longer to clear it from their systems. As a result, the recommended dosing in women was decreased to 5 mg at first, with an increase to 10 mg if the lower dose doesn’t work to relieve insomnia. However, studies suggest there is no difference in the effects of Ambien between women and men.
In a person who is misusing Ambien or has taken Ambien chronically, the withdrawal symptoms may take longer to appear. Acute withdrawal symptoms will usually occur within 48 hours after stopping Ambien use.
Treating Withdrawal Symptoms
When Ambien withdrawal symptoms are too unbearable for a person to handle, they may use different treatment options to help them cope. In most cases, Ambien use will be tapered to slowly wean the person off of Ambien use, while trying to minimize withdrawal symptoms. If a person still experiences symptoms, other medications can be used to ease the withdrawal symptoms. This process should be accompanied by therapy and support throughout the withdrawal process to help the person avoid experiencing a setback and eventually successfully quit Ambien use.
Ambien detox is when a person is regularly taking Ambien but chooses to stop using it. As their body adjusts to not having Ambien in their system regularly, they will go through a detoxification or detox process. While going through detox, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms that will be hard to deal with. This may make them want to continue using Ambien in order to avoid those withdrawal symptoms. The following are suggestions on how to safely detox from Ambien:
- What to Take for Ambien Withdrawal: A person going through Ambien withdrawal may be provided with medications to help them cope with the withdrawal symptoms. This is typically done in an inpatient setting so the person can be closely monitored by a medical professional who will administer the medications.
- Alternative Treatments for Ambien Withdrawal: A person who is going to quit taking Ambien should speak with a medical professional about how to do so safely. They can help the individual develop a plan that will work for them and give them resources to help them along the way.
There is no set Ambien detox protocol. The time it takes to undergo Ambien detox depends on how quickly a person is weaned from Ambien use. This is usually determined by the dose of Ambien the person is using and how often they are using it. A medical professional can help someone with Ambien addiction develop a plan where they taper Ambien use or use less and less of it over time until they are no longer using Ambien. Tapering helps lessen the withdrawal effects and allows the body to adjust to the absence of Ambien slowly.
Ambien outpatient detox centers allow people with Ambien use disorders to get the help they need without having to stay in an inpatient facility. During outpatient detox, the patient will be provided with cognitive and emotional support to wean off Ambien use. The medical professional will help the person develop a plan to taper Ambien use and provide the support they need to stick to the plan. The person may also participate in group therapy sessions for additional support during their recovery.
Detox at Home
Ambien detox at home may seem like an appealing option because the person can be comfortable in a familiar place. However, self-detox of Ambien at home is difficult and requires extreme self-control. When a person experiences the withdrawal symptoms of Ambien, they may be tempted to resume Ambien use. If there is no one there to help them, the chances are higher that a sobriety setback will occur.
Cold Turkey Withdrawal
Cold turkey Ambien withdrawal is when someone suddenly stops taking Ambien and doesn’t use it again, even if they experience withdrawal symptoms. Because of Ambien’s effects on the central nervous system and changes that can occur with long-term use, suddenly stopping its use without allowing the nervous system to adjust can cause serious issues and can be dangerous. Quitting Ambien cold turkey increases the risk of seizure, which is usually a rare side effect of Ambien use.
Key Points: Understanding Ambien Withdrawal and Detox
Here are some key points to remember about Ambien withdrawal and detox:
- Ambien withdrawal can occur when people who have been using Ambien for an extended period, or at higher doses than what was prescribed, stop using it
- Ambien withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable and in some cases severe
- Ambien detox is the process of the body getting used to functioning without Ambien
- Ambien detox is best done with supervision from a medical professional
Contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health today to speak with a representative about how professional addiction treatment can help you address your substance use disorder.
Food and Drug Administration. “Ambien Prescribing Information.” April 23, 2008. Accessed August 8, 2019.
Nurminen, Janne; et al. “Handgrip strength and balance in older adults following withdrawal from long-term use of temazepam, zopiclone or zolpidem as hypnotics.” BMC Geriatrics, November 21, 2014. Accessed August 10, 2019.
Melemis, Steven. “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery.” The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, September 2015. Accessed July 26, 2019.
Food and Drug Administration. “FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA approves new label changes and dosing for zolpidem products and a recommendation to avoid driving the day after using Ambien CR.” May 14, 2013. Accessed August 10, 2019.
Greenblatt, D.; Harmatz, J.; Roth, T. “Zolpidem and Gender: Are Women Really At Risk?” Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, June 2019. Accessed August 10, 2019.
Roehrs, T; Roth, T. “Gender Differences in the Efficacy and Safety of Chronic Nightly Zolpidem.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, March 2016. Accessed August 10, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.