Abmien (Zolpidem) is a prescription drug that was developed to help treat insomnia. Millions of people suffer from insomnia, and many people are not able to cope with insomnia through natural means such as by getting adequate exercise throughout the day, engaging in relaxation exercises, and avoiding electronics before bed. Therefore people are quick to go to the doctor and ask for a sleeping pill so that they can fall asleep.
Since doctors cater towards fulfilling their patient’s needs, they prescribe the person with Ambien. It works as a short-acting hypnotic (non-benzodiazepine) and is of the imidazopyridine class of drugs, which works by binding to GABA receptors. Most people are able to get relief quickly after taking it and they fall asleep within 15 minutes. There is also a controlled-release version of the drug (Ambien CR) which helps people stay asleep throughout the night.
For individuals with chronic insomnia, these medications seem to work like a charm. However just because they work well for helping someone fall asleep does not mean they don’t carry risk. Some have argued that they can cause memory problems, and studies have shown that they are linked to a higher risk of car accidents, cancer diagnoses, and ultimately, death. There are many causes for concern when it comes to Ambien and other sleeping pills – therefore, many people end up withdrawing from them.
Factors that influence Ambien withdrawal include
The typical factors that will determine the severity of withdrawal from this drug include: time span (e.g. how many months you took it), dosage, your physiology, as well as whether you quit cold turkey. Someone who hasn’t taken Ambien for an extended period of time likely isn’t going to experience any major withdrawal.
1. Time Span
How long were you taking the Ambien? Did you take it for years or just a few weeks off and on? People that are consistent users of this drug are likely going to have an increased tolerance as well as a tougher time withdrawing. If you took this medication casually off and on for awhile, you likely aren’t going to experience as much in regards to withdrawal compared to someone who used it daily at a high dose.
2. Dosage (5 mg, 10 mg, 20 mg) + Subtype
Dosage: Most people take anywhere between 0 mg and 10 mg so that they can fall asleep. Individuals that weigh more tend to need a higher dose for a therapeutic effect on insomnia. However since this is a medication associated with potential for death at higher doses, most people are prescribed a dose as low as possible to help them sleep. With that said, some people become tolerant to their dose and end up having to consistently increase it for the same effect.
Subtype: Those people that have been taking the standard Ambien aren’t likely going to have as significant of a withdrawal as someone who has been taking the CR (controlled release version). The point of the standard Ambien is just to help a person fall asleep, whereas the CR is intended to keep them asleep.
3. Individual Physiology
A lot of how people respond to drug withdrawals has to do with their own physiology and circumstances. There are a lot of factors that a person may not even consider that could have an impact on withdrawal. Some people don’t experience any symptoms when they stop taking Ambien, while others experience pretty wicked withdrawal effects that persist for weeks.
4. Cold Turkey vs. Tapering
Although this is just a sleeping medication, it can result in a pretty potent withdrawal for some if they quit cold turkey. Threfore it is always recommended to conduct a gradual taper. In other words, make sure you work with your doctor or psychiatrist to gradually lower the dose over a period of time. It is highly recommended to “wean” yourself off of Ambien over a period of weeks if you have been on it for an extended period of time and are taking a high dose.
Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities
Some would argue that the withdrawal symptoms associated with Ambien are similar to those experienced from users of benzodiazepines like Xanax. Literature and science shows us that the withdrawal symptoms of Ambien do not match the intensity of the benzodiazepine class of drugs. For more information read: Xanax withdrawal symptoms.
Although there is an overlap of symptoms, the intensity and timeline for full recovery is thought to be significantly more severe when dealing with a benzodiazepine. However, that doesn’t mean Ambien withdrawal should be discounted as insignificant. Many people experience pretty intense withdrawal symptoms upon stoppage of Ambien that they never expected. Below is a list of possibilities that people have reported upon discontinuation.
- Agitation: Many people report feeling agitated when they first discontinue the medication. This agitation may persist throughout the day, but may become increasingly problematic at night when the person attempts to sleep.
- Anxiety: This drug essentially acts on the GABA receptors which is the same as anxiolytic medications. Therefore it makes sense that when a person stops taking it, they would experience some anxiety.
- Depression: Many people report feeling depressed when they stop this medication. It is thought to be similar to the depression that people experience when coming off of benzodiazepines.
- Dizziness: As with any drug withdrawal, you may experience dizziness to a certain extent. This is thought to be more common among individuals that quit cold turkey.
- Fatigue: When you stop taking Ambien, it is likely that your sleep will not be as good for awhile. Therefore you may start to feel fatigued and lethargic. These feelings should go away as soon as you regain an ability to sleep properly.
- Headaches: Another very commonly reported symptom associated with withdrawing from most medications. If this persists, take the time to drink some water and consider OTC headache relief.
- Insomnia: When you take a drug to help you sleep and it works, it is essentially creating dependency within your brain. In other words, your brain expects to receive the Ambien so that it can drift off to sleep. When you don’t get it, you may experience insomnia to a worse degree than before you initially started Ambien.
- Irritability: Some individuals report becoming irritable when they have stopped taking Ambien.
- Memory problems: A common side effect is impaired memory functioning while on this medication. It is hypothesized that these drugs could lead to permanent memory impairments if abused or taken over an extended period of time.
- Mood swings: To a lesser degree, some people experience mood swings when they quit the drug.
- Muscle aches: Many people report feelings of body aches and/or muscle weakness.
- Nausea: It is reported that many people experience pretty significant nausea when they first stop taking Ambien. If you feel nauseated throughout the day, just know that this is pretty normal.
- Nightmares: This drug has an influence on a person’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep (for the controlled-release version). Therefore as your brain readjusts itself to not having the drug, there is no telling how your dreams will be affected – this could involve having nightmares.
- Panic attacks: This is a drug that has a calming effect and lowers your arousal, which ultimately helps you fall asleep. Some people experience rebound anxiety to such an extreme when they first quit this drug that they actually have panic attacks.
- Seizures: This is a drug that acts on the GABA-A receptors in the brain (similar to benzodiazepines). Sudden discontinuation of drugs that act on the GABA receptors are known to cause seizures. Therefore if you are at a high dose, it is best to play it safe and conduct a gradual taper.
- Shaking: Talk about feeling uncomfortable – some people that come off of this drug actually experience physical shakes when they first quit.
- Sleep problems: You may not be able to get proper sleep when you first stop taking Ambien. The problems you experience may be more pronounced if you were taking the CR version as the drug acted as a crutch to help keep you asleep throughout the night. Stripping yourself of the medication is likely going to temporarily create more sleep problems.
- Tiredness: You may experience daytime tiredness when you first stop taking this drug. This tiredness may be in part due to the fact that you haven’t been able to sleep as well without taking it. Once your sleep improves the daytime tiredness should gradually diminish.
- Vivid dreams: Since this medication is known to have an effect on your ability to sleep, many people report having vivid and/or crazy dreams when they first quit taking it.
- Vomiting: Some people have a difficult time with vomiting when they quit Ambien. This usually doesn’t last for more than a few days and is usually accompanied by intense nausea.
Note: Since Ambien stays in your system for approximately 13.5 hours after stopping, discontinuation symptoms may become most noticeable within 1-2 days of quitting.
How long does Ambien withdrawal last?
Everyone will have a different experience when it comes to Ambien withdrawal. It is thought that if someone has developed dependency, the withdrawal will take longer because a gradual taper will be necessary. Additionally if you taper too fast, the symptoms may be more powerful and debilitating than they would if you took the time to conduct a gradual taper. People that have become tolerant to high doses of the drug have reported a “post-acute withdrawal syndrome” (PAWS).
Another important point to make is that if you were taking the “CR” version, it may be more difficult to reestablish a normal sleeping cycle. The controlled-release version works throughout the night to help people stay asleep. Therefore your brain becomes accustomed to receiving the drug throughout the night to help keep you asleep. When you take away a constant release throughout the night of a drug, you are likely going to have more problems establishing a normal sleep cycle.
For most individuals the symptoms will subside within a few weeks of stopping the medication. In fact some users report that they experienced no withdrawals after the first week that they stopped. Others that have been taking a higher dose and have built up a strong tolerance may experience psychological effects several months after they quit. Just keep in mind that even if the withdrawal feels crappy, it will eventually end.