What Is Ambien Withdrawal?
Ambien (zolpidem) is a prescription sedative-hypnotic drug commonly prescribed for people with sleep disorders. Those who take Ambien for longer than 2 weeks are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms that may make it difficult to stop using the medication.1
Ambien Withdrawal Symptoms
The common symptoms of Ambien withdrawal include:1,3,4
- Stomach cramps.
- Excessive drowsiness.
- Insomnia or other sleep problems.
- Muscle aches and pains.
- Anxiety and nervousness.
- Panic attacks.
- Crying spells.
- Flushed skin.
- Mild dysphoria.
- Seizures (rare).
Risks of Withdrawal
Withdrawal may result in drug cravings and could promote relapse in those who are trying to quit Ambien because the symptoms can be temporarily controlled by taking another dose of Ambien.
Ambien withdrawal can also cause severe anxiety, panic attacks, and a return of sleep problems. In rare cases, it may also cause seizures.1
Withdrawal Timeline for Ambien
A typical withdrawal timeline for Ambien might look like this: 10
- 6-8 hours after last dose: Mild withdrawal symptoms may begin.
- 2 days: Most people will start to fully experience the effects of withdrawal within 2 days after the last dose.
- 4-5 days: Symptoms begin to improve.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Heavy users of Ambien may experience a post-acute withdrawal syndrome that can last for months or even years. Withdrawal symptoms can diminish, only to briefly flare up. Users may gradually experience longer and longer symptom-free periods over time.
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms include:
- Cognitive impairment.
- Ringing in the ears.
- Tingling and numbness in limbs.
- Muscle pain.
- Gastrointestinal problems. 11
Causes of Withdrawal
Even though Ambien is believed to have a low potential for abuse and dependence,7 some studies have found that the drug may have abuse potential even in those who do not show a history of addictive behaviors.2, 13
People may abuse the drug for its sedative properties or become psychologically dependent on it to sleep. Still others may take more than the recommended dose if they are not able to fall asleep. 9
People who take the drug for longer than 2 weeks may develop tolerance to the drug’s effects, in addition to experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they stop using. 1,8
Withdrawal symptoms from central nervous system (CNS) depressants such as Ambien can include a rebound effect. 1,8
The brain responds to regular Ambien use by gradually turning down the background inhibitory nervous system signaling that the drug enhances. When someone stops taking Ambien, the inhibitory system is no longer functioning at normal baseline. This allows the brain to become overexcited, which can potentially lead to anxiety, insomnia, and even seizures. 12
Treatment for Ambien Withdrawal
Medically supervised detox can ease the process of quitting Ambien, particularly in those who used the drug heavily for a long period of time. Detox may take place on an outpatient basis, with a physician slowly lowering a person’s dose over time to minimize withdrawal symptoms (tapering).
In more severe cases, Ambien withdrawal may take place in a detox center or addiction treatment facility.5
Treatment is not over once a person has successfully detoxed from Ambien. To maximize chances of long-term sobriety and avoid relapse, those with significant dependence on Ambien should consider ongoing treatment following detox.
Each person is unique, and not every treatment program will be right for everyone. Some common forms of addiction treatment include:5,6
- Inpatient rehabilitation: Inpatient treatment includes 24-hour, around-the-clock care in a residential facility. Treatment typically incorporates a detox period, counseling, therapy, support groups, and more.
- Outpatient rehabilitation: Outpatient often includes a combination of counseling, therapy, and support groups on a part-time basis. This option is best suited for those with less severe addictions and/or those who wish to remain active in their professional and personal lives during treatment.
- Individual counseling or therapy: One-on-one counseling helps people address the underlying psychological causes behind their addiction, as well as learn new behavioral strategies to help sustain sobriety and reduce cravings.
- Group counseling or therapy: Group counseling provides people with an addiction the support and challenge of peers who are going through similar struggles.
- 12-step programs: Twelve-step programs offer a step-by-step process toward recovery among the support of peers. Many participants select sponsors, or peers at a more advanced stage of recovery, as part of the 12-step process.
- Relaxation therapy: Relaxation therapy is commonly used for Ambien addiction since it helps people who have abused sleeping pills learn how to relax and fall asleep without relying on medications. Breathing techniques and relaxation strategies are taught to help a person fall asleep easier.
Following initial treatment, many people choose to continue with some form of aftercare services. Aftercare may consist of ongoing counseling, weekly support groups, and living in a sober community surrounded by other people in recovery. Sober living communities typically offer job placement services, specialized care, and recreational activities for residents.
Counseling and behavioral therapies may also be used to help people avoid relapse. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques may be used to help curb cravings when they arise.6
Therapists might also recommend practicing good sleep hygiene to help combat insomnia. Sleep hygiene tips include:
- Keeping a routine sleep/wake schedule.
- Using the bedroom only for sleep and sex.
- Sleeping in a dark room without lights or sound.
- Turning off electronic devices an hour before bedtime since these can trigger the “wake” function of our brains.
- Minimizing consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and other substances that may affect one’s quality of sleep.
- Relaxation and breathing techniques to help a person wind down and fall asleep at night.
Find a Detox Center
Withdrawing from Ambien can be challenging, uncomfortable, and in rare cases life-threatening. If you or someone you love wants to quit Ambien, contact one of our rehab support advisors at for assistance finding a detox center or rehabilitation program.
. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Zolpidem.
. Licata, S.C., Mashhoon, Y., et al. (2012). Modest abuse-related subjective effects of Zolpidem in drug naive volunteers. Behavioral Pharmacology, 22(2): 160-166.
. Food and Drug Administration. (2013). Medication Guide: Ambien.
. U.S. National Library of Medicine: DailyMed. (2014). Ambien.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Medical Detoxification.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016). DrugFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Drug Schedules.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). What are the possible consequences of CNS depressant use and abuse?
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Emergency Department Visits Attributed to Overmedication That Involved the Insomnia Medication Zolpidem The DAWN Report, August 7, 2014.
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fifth Edition.
. Ashton, H. (2004). Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms from Benzodiazepines. Comprehensive Handbook of Drug and Alcohol Addiction.
. Kuhn, C., Swartzwelder, S., Wilson, W. (2014). Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy, 4th Edition. New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
. Victorri-Vigneau, C., Dailly, E., Veryac, G., and Jolliet, P. (2007). Evidence of zolpidem abuse and dependence: Results of the French Centre for Evaluation and Information on Pharmacodependence (CEIP) network survey Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 64(2):198-209.