When someone has problems falling asleep, their doctor may prescribe Ambien. This drug is often used for a short period to help people with sleeping problems. However, some people can become dependent on Ambien. As such, they can experience the symptoms of Ambien withdrawal when they attempt to stop using the drug.
What Is Ambien?
Ambien is the brand name for the substance called zolpidem. This drug is a fast-release medication used to help people fall asleep faster by helping them reach a relaxed and calm state. Yet, the drug does not necessarily help them stay asleep all night.
How Can Someone Become Dependent on Ambien?
While the risk of developing a dependence on Ambien is low and not that common, individuals still do become dependent on it. Dependence can develop the longer a person uses Ambien, typically more than a few weeks.
The body becomes accustomed to the sedative effects one experiences and slowly builds a tolerance to those effects. As a result, the person taking Ambien will think the medication is no longer working, so they increase their dosage to help them fall asleep. However, they may not realize that developing tolerance is a sign of becoming dependent on Ambien.
Another way someone can become dependent on Ambien is when they believe they need it to fall asleep. Since they think they need the drug, this indicates they are becoming psychologically dependent on Ambien.
What Are the Symptoms of Ambien Withdrawal?
When someone stops taking Ambien or their dose is gradually reduced, they can experience symptoms of Ambien withdrawal. The symptoms experienced do vary from person to person due to various factors, such as:
- How long Ambien was taken
- The dosage taken
- The frequency it was taken
- Whether other drugs or alcohol were also being used
Keeping this in mind, the more common symptoms of Ambien withdrawal include the following:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Excess sweating
- Stomach cramps
- Panic attacks
- Elevated blood pressure
- Lack of energy
- Crying for no reason
- Mood swings
Timeline of Ambien Withdrawal
The symptoms of Ambien withdrawal can begin in as little as six to eight hours after the last dose. However, for some people, the symptoms do not manifest for a few days. Once withdrawal begins, the symptoms are usually mild and not overwhelming.
Over the next several days, the withdrawal symptoms become more frequent and moderate. They will continue to increase in intensity until they peak between three and seven days after Ambien is stopped.
Once the withdrawal symptoms peak, they will gradually decrease in intensity over the next week. Usually, by the end of the second week, the physical symptoms vanish.
However, some people may still have cravings for Ambien and still have insomnia. These symptoms are called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) since they are related to psychological dependence on the drug. These symptoms will gradually subside, but it could take a month or longer before they do.
Why Mixing Ambien with Alcohol Is Dangerous
One of the warnings when taking Ambien is not to drink any alcohol. However, some people ignore this warning and drink regardless. Unfortunately, they risk their lives each time they mix the two substances.
Alcohol, like Ambien, is a sedative and can create a calm and relaxed state. However, when they are mixed, the sedative effects are amplified. As a result, someone could experience blackouts, pass out, overdose, or die.
In addition, sedatives slow heart rates and respiratory rates. So when there is too much alcohol and Ambien in the body, the substances can cause a person to stop breathing or their heart to stop.
Sadly, some people deliberately mix alcohol and Ambien because they want to experience more intense effects from alcohol or Ambien. This practice is more common when someone has an alcohol use disorder or Ambien use disorder, and their body has developed a tolerance to the substance.
How to Safely Stop Using Ambien
Quitting Ambien cold turkey is never a good idea, as the withdrawal symptoms can become so severe the person will return to using Ambien just to make the symptoms stop. Instead, the safest and best approach to stop using Ambien is gradually tapering the substance.
Tapering allows the body to readjust slowly and minimizes the withdrawal symptoms’ intensity. In addition, a medical professional should supervise the patient’s Ambien withdrawal at a medical detox center.
Supervised detox helps ensure the person’s detox is medically monitored. Should there be any adverse withdrawal symptoms, the person has access to medical professionals and doctors to further help them through withdrawal.
In addition, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) may be appropriate in certain situations. MAT uses various medications to help ease and lessen the more intense withdrawal symptoms.
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