Ambien, or the generic form known as Zolpidem, is a sedative that is used to treat insomnia. It belongs to a class of drugs known as “Z-drugs”. Ambien is not a benzodiazepine and is considered to be less habit-forming than benzos. This often leads people to believe that the medication is not addictive, but that is far from the truth. In a case study reported by the National Institutes of Health:
Zolpidem, a nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic, binds to the benzodiazepine binding site on the gamma-aminobutyric acid type A (GABA-A) receptors. Many studies have reported the efficacy and safety of zolpidem in the treatment of insomnia, low dose, and dependence capability. However, many cases of zolpidem abuse and dependence were reported around the world. This case showed that zolpidem can exert abuse capability, euphoric mood, tolerance, and withdrawal syndrome. (NIH)
Z-drugs like Ambien are intended for short-term use only. A person can develop a dependence on the drug in a few weeks. Once dependence has developed withdrawal symptoms will occur if the drug is discontinued. The withdrawals from Ambien are very uncomfortable, so stopping on your own is extremely difficult. Some of the withdrawal symptoms are:
- Mood swings
- Panic attacks
- Physical and psychological cravings
- Upset stomach
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased heart rate
A lot of the withdrawal symptoms could pose serious health risks. When withdrawal symptoms occur, the brain is trying to get back to its normal activity. Withdrawal from Ambien has the opposite effect of taking the drug and abruptly stopping could lead to severe symptoms such as seizure activity. The duration of Ambien withdrawal varies from person to person. Some may experience symptoms for only a few days while others can experience them for weeks. Heavy Ambien users and those that have taken large doses over a long-term period will likely have symptoms for a longer period. Also, people that take Ambien CR or controlled release will have symptoms for a longer duration. Regular Ambien helps users to fall asleep while Ambien CR helps users to fall asleep and stay asleep, so Ambien CR stays in the body longer. Due to the chemical makeup of Ambien being similar to benzodiazepines, the withdrawal symptoms are very similar. Like benzodiazepine withdrawal, acute withdrawal symptoms are usually gone in 2 weeks. Any symptoms an individual experience after that period is known as Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS). PAWS, which are primarily psychological symptoms, can last between 18-24 months. Some of the post-acute withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, insomnia, poor appetite and coordination, agitation, irritability, and mood swings.
How Long Does Ambien Withdrawal Last
Ambien withdrawal usually begins about 48 hours after the last dose was taken. The first 2 days in withdrawal the symptoms are usually mild but do increase. Days 3-5 are when the withdrawal symptoms are the most severe for the user. It is very difficult to sleep at this point, and individuals may experience confusion, mood swings, and memory loss. Shakiness, panic attacks, and rebound insomnia may also occur. Weeks 1 and 2, after the symptoms peak, users start to feel normal again. By the 2nd week, symptoms start to slowly fade and former addicts should be able to sleep again.
How to Safely Get Off of Ambien
Ambien has to be slowly tapered, so it is best to do that in a medically supervised treatment center. In a treatment facility, they can monitor you and perhaps give you other medications to help with the uncomfortable withdrawal. Detoxing off of the medication is only the first step in this process. Once an individual has been successfully weaned off of Ambien, it’s important to focus on long-term recovery, coping skills, and also learn healthy sleep habits. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is very effective for insomnia. CBT helps the individual explore the underlying thoughts and behaviors that are getting in the way of healthy sleep. Both a medically-supervised detox and therapy are essential when getting off of Ambien. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, our addiction specialists are available around the clock to assist you. Evoke Wellness at Cohasset has evidence-based treatment programs that cater to the individual needs of each patient. Our solution-focused treatment will get you to lasting recovery. Call us today!