Ambien, the brand name for the drug zolpidem, is a non-benzodiazepine sleep medication that’s designed to help people with chronic insomnia. For many people struggling with insomnia or other sleep-related disorders, about 50 million Americans age 18 and older, Ambien can be incredibly helpful in ensuring they get enough rest to properly function.
Though Ambien isn’t a benzodiazepine, its effects mimic benzos actions. Like the rest of benzos, it is only intended for short-term use. It is classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule IV drug, meaning that it has a lower risk for abuse relative to Schedule III substances but still carries the potential for dependence. Even when being used as prescribed, Ambien has a wide range of possible adverse side effects, including depression, memory loss, disorientation, and sleepwalking.
Ambien has been proven effective in helping people get to sleep but not stay asleep. People may continue to use the drug because they continue to wake up in the middle of the night. Others may use the drug recreationally to achieve euphoric effects. Some users mix Ambien with alcohol or other drugs to increase their euphoric effects.
Users are also likely to build up a tolerance to Ambien quickly, and so medical professionals prescribe Ambien for short periods at the lowest effective dose. If sleep problems persist longer than six weeks, it’s recommended that clinicians find alternative treatment options.
However, some people can become tolerant of Ambien within just days of regular use, and since people will often take them for longer than their intended use. If an individual has a history of addiction or drug abuse, they are more likely to become addicted to Ambien as well.
Ready to get Help?
Talk to a treatment expert
As previously mentioned, Ambien and other non-benzodiazepine sedatives work in much the same way as their benzo counterparts, including Klonopin and Valium in that they reduce the activity of the central nervous system by binding themselves to the brain’s GABA receptors.
GABA, short for gamma-Aminobutyric acid, is a neurotransmitter that regulates how the body responds to feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress to help the brain keep itself calm. GABA does this by blocking the nerve impulses that transmit those feelings throughout the brain and central nervous system.
The difference between Ambien and benzodiazepines like Klonopin is that Klonopin binds itself to all GABA receptors and creates more general feelings of sedation and relaxation. Ambien, on the other hand, is more selective and targets specific GABA receptors for the sole purpose to initiate sleep.
When abused, taken longer than intended, inhaled, or taken intravenously, Ambien has the potential to lead to dependence. Long-term use can cause users to build tolerance and even lead to adverse effects on the nervous system. Building tolerance may be just as likely with Ambien as it is with benzodiazepines, according to animal studies.
Because of the potential for sleep disorders and central nervous system problems, addiction can be serious. However, Ambien withdrawal symptoms can also produce dangerous effects. The symptoms of Ambien withdrawal are often similar to those of benzodiazepines and can include:
Though rare, seizures have been observed in case studies where users developed a dependency on zolpidem and increased their dosage along with a growing tolerance. In one case, for instance, a dependant man stopped taking Ambien before a flight to stop his addiction. After 48 hours he started to experience convulsions.
Rebound insomnia is not the same thing as regular symptoms of insomnia, the major difference being that rebound insomnia will be significantly more intense and harder to deal with than the sleep issues someone in Ambien withdrawal may have experienced before using the drug. Rebound insomnia can lead to a total lack of sleep for days on end.
Ambien withdrawal is rarely a life-threatening situation, although the severity of certain symptoms can put people who are attempting Ambien detox on their own in potentially dangerous situations that could have very serious health consequences.
As previously mentioned, withdrawal seizures are far more prevalent with benzo and alcohol withdrawal, but they can occur in Ambien withdrawal after lengthy use and an abrupt cessation.
When people who have engaged in heavy, extended abuse of Ambien start to experience distressing side effects such as memory loss, it makes sense that they would get scared and immediately stop taking Ambien all at once, which triggers severe seizures due to the sudden shock immediate withdrawal places on the brain’s GABA receptors.
Another potentially dangerous symptom of Ambien withdrawal is delirium, which is characterized by confusion and altered wake-sleep patterns. If symptoms are experienced in public or while driving, they can lead to an accident. Even then, the delirium in combination with other symptoms like depression, panic attacks, insomnia, and an overall unbalanced and agitated state could lead to someone accidentally harming themselves or worse.
So while Ambien withdrawal will not kill you, because of the potential dangers associated with many of the symptoms of Ambien withdrawal, it’s important to seek medical assistance when you’ve started to build a tolerance to the drug or suspect that you’ve developed an addiction.
While Ambien withdrawal does have an established timeline, the exact length and severity of a given person’s withdrawal experience are going to vary based on a variety of influencing factors that will differ from person to person. These factors can include things like the speed at which someone weans themselves off Ambien as well as:
Another factor that can affect the withdrawal process that is specific to Ambien is whether or not someone was taking the extended-release version, which is more slowly released into the body and meant to last much longer, giving a significantly longer half-life and leading to a more protracted withdrawal.
Also, extended-release Ambien is a higher dosage of the drug because it is meant to work longer, so when someone abuses it in a nonstandard way, meaning either in the form of an injection or a snorted powder, they’re bypassing the chemicals that allow for the slowed release. This creates a stronger high, but it also leads to a higher risk of an overdose as well as much more intense withdrawal symptoms in general.
With this knowledge in mind, the typical Ambien withdrawal timeline should occur in roughly the following stages:
Quitting Ambien cold turkey may sound like a good idea, but it can be difficult, painful, and dangerous. In some cases, it can be dangerous and even deadly.
Given the difficult physical symptoms, withdrawing on your own without professional medical help can be very challenging. It’s important to find a professional, medically assisted detox program to support you during the process of Ambien withdrawal.
Doing this will ensure that you are carefully monitored in a safe environment while your body goes through the difficult detoxification process. Participating in an addiction treatment program also gives you a better chance at lasting recovery as a result of the structured medical and emotional support you will receive.
A full continuum of treatment ensures the best opportunity for a successful recovery. Following a full continuum of treatment means starting with the medical detox process and then progressing gradually from an inpatient status to outpatient treatment. You will then have the opportunity to participate in an alumni program after the formal treatment program is completed.
However, Ambien is both chemically and psychologically addictive. It can work on your limbic system and change your brain chemistry in such a way that makes you crave it even after you’ve detoxed. After the drug has left your system, it may still have left its mark on your brain. To remain free of addiction, it’s vital to pursue active recovery continuously.
After detox, it may be helpful to find a treatment program the gives you the tools to ensure a long lasting recovery. Through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other evidence-based treatment options, you can learn how to avoid triggers and deal with cravings without relapsing. In fact, CBT has also shown promise in treating insomnia, which may have lead to the initial need for Ambien in the first place or re-occurred after detox.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a dependence on Ambien, Ocean Breeze Recovery is here to provide you expert, compassionate support and treatment every step of the way toward a longer, happier, substance-free life. We offer a seamless transition from detox to ongoing care, so call 1-844-554-9279 now to speak with one of our addiction specialists, or contact us online for more information.
Charles, M, (September, 2006). Cognitive-behavioral Therapy of Insomnia. Sleep Medicine Clinics. Retrieved January, 2018 from https://www.sleep.theclinics.com/article/S1556-407X(06)00065-8/fulltext
Barrero-Hernandez, F, (February,2002). Epileptic seizures as a sign of abstinence from chronic consumption of zolpidem. Pub Med. Retrieved January, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12022074
Sethi, P, (February, 2005). Zolpidem at Supratherapeutic Doses can Cause Drug Abuse, Dependence and Withdrawal Seizure. Semantic Scholar. Retrieved January, 2018 from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0839/ddb611bfffb67a92dbacd58388e6657f4bd6.pdf
Petroski, R, (April, 2006). Indiplon Is a High-Affinity Positive Allosteric Modulator with Selectivity for α1 Subunit-Containing GABAA Receptors. ASPET. Retrieved January, 2018 from http://jpet.aspetjournals.org/content/317/1/369.full
Rosenberg, R, (December, 2011). Sleep Maintenance Insomnia: Strengths and Weaknesses of Current Pharmacologic Therapies. Taylor and Francis Online. Retrieved January, 2018 from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/10401230500464711