Ambien is a sleep-inducing prescription medication used to treat chronic insomnia. It is the brand name of the drug zolpidem. A sedative-hypnotic, Ambien is not intended to be used long-term. It is classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule IV controlled substance.
How Does Ambien Work?
When a person takes Ambien, the drug activates a neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma- aminobutyric acid (GABA) and binds it to the brain’s GABA receptors. This activity inhibits neuron activity associated with insomnia and slows down the brain, depressing the central nervous system. The drug is very effective and generally works within twenty minutes. Although it initiates sleep quickly, it does not sustain sleep unless the person takes the controlled release form of the medication.
Common Street Names for Ambien
Date Rape Drug, Mexican Valium, Roofies, and R2 are common street names for Ambien. Other common names include:
- Forget-Me Pill
For years, Ambien has been considered safer than many other sedatives. However, over the last several years, the drug has become more frequently misused. People begin taking higher and higher doses of Ambien to get the same desired sleep-inducing effect. As tolerance to the drug increases, dependence develops. Other people take Ambien recreationally when they discover the drug causes a “high” or eases anxiety. After taking the drug, these people intentionally stay awake to feel its intoxicating effects.
When a person who has developed an Ambien addiction and stops taking the drug, they experience withdrawal. Withdrawal occurs as the brain tries to reestablish normal activity. Withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe depending on the dosage the person was taking, how long they used the drug, if they took other drugs or alcohol with the Ambien, and whether they swallowed pills, injected, or snorted the drug. Symptoms can be acute, lasting for a few days, or protracted, lasting for months. The intensity of withdrawal symptoms in protracted withdrawal often fluctuates and is described by some people as coming in waves. In most cases, withdrawal symptoms begin between 24 – 72 hours of taking the last dose of the drug.
Symptoms of Ambien Withdrawal
A common symptom of Ambien withdrawal is rebound insomnia. When rebound insomnia occurs, the person has difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep that is worsened by abruptly stopping sleeping pills. Insomnia may be worse than it ever was before and continue to worsen over several days.
Feelings of restlessness, anxiety, and irritability are also common withdrawal symptoms that many people experience. They may feel confused and be prone to mood swings and emotional outbursts. They will have a headache, and their body will have aches and pains. They may experience fatigue, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting.
Additional Ambien withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Uncontrolled crying
- A strong craving for Ambien
A rapid pulse, elevated blood pressure, and fast breathing are more severe symptoms a person going through Ambien withdrawal may experience. Their body temperature may be elevated, and they may be flushed. They could experience panic attacks, be extremely nervous, and have difficulty with their speech.
The most severe symptoms of Ambien withdrawal include:
Not everyone going through Ambien withdrawal will experience all of the same symptoms.
Ambien Withdrawal Timeline
- The First 48 Hours: The half-life of Ambien is approximately two hours, which means it takes that long to leave your body. For most people, withdrawal symptoms will begin within 48 hours of taking the last dose. Symptoms during the first two days will be mild but increase in intensity.
- Days three through five: Generally, withdrawal symptoms reach their peak on the third day and are most severe for three days.
- Day six through fourteen: After the symptoms peak, they slowly lessen in intensity. By the second week, former Ambien users begin to be able to sleep normally and feel like themselves again.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms
Depending on various factors, post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) are symptoms that could last as long as 18 to 24 months. As time goes on, these symptoms reduce in severity. Anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, agitation, irritability, poor concentration, and a poor appetite are the most common symptoms of PAWS.
Get the Help You Need
If you or a loved one struggles with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, now is the time to get the help you need. Call and speak to a professional at English Mountain Recovery, located in the beautiful Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. We will answer questions and help you begin your journey to a sober life.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.