Dependence on Ambien

If you take Ambien long-term (more than 4 weeks at a time), Ambien use can lead to Ambien dependence or addiction. More on Ambien dependence, abuse, and addiction liability here.

minute read

Are you concerned that you might be developing a dependence on Ambien (zolpidem)? Are you worried about Ambien addiction? In this article, we’ll explore the difference between dependence and addiction. We’ll also look at the different strategies used to treat both. And we invite your questions about dependence on Ambien at the end.

What is drug dependence?

Our bodies are designed to seek homeostasis. When you take any kind of drug over time, the body will adapt to that drug by either “slowing down” or “speeding up” certain processes to accommodate for the physical reactions the drug provokes in the brain and body. So in its most basic sense, Ambien dependence is a physical reaction to the drug zolpidem.

Dependence on Ambien occurs when you either take Ambien in high doses or for extended periods of time. Ambien dependence simply means you won’t be able to stop taking Ambien abruptly without withdrawal symptoms. Your body has adapted to the presence of zolpidem in the brain, and will experience specific symptoms when you cut down your dosage or stop taking Ambien.  Because Ambien is so effective as a sleep aid and because of how fast does Ambien work, Ambien dependence can occur quickly, in the first weeks of taking the drug.

Ambien dependence time: How long to be dependent on Ambien?

Because Ambien is highly addictive, zolpidem is typically only prescribed for very short-term use. Ambien may be prescribed for as little as 7 days, but usually not longer than 4 weeks.You can become dependent on Ambien after only a couple of weeks taking the drug. The longer you take Ambien and the higher the dose, the more likely you are to develop a dependence.

Dependence on Ambien symptoms

Ambien dependence has a few main symptoms. These symptoms don’t necessarily indicate an addiction to Ambien. They’re simply signs that your body is used to functioning with Ambien in your system. Dependence on Ambien symptoms include:

  • feeling that you need to take Ambien every day
  • experiencing withdrawals when you haven’t taken Ambien
  • if you’ve developed a tolerance, needing to take higher doses than prescribed to ease your insomnia

Ambien dependence vs addiction

Dependence on Ambien is different from a Ambien addiction, which includes psychological symptoms (see below). Although dependence is frequently present during clinical cases of drug addiction, it is not necessary for an addiction diagnosis. Ambien addiction is more likely if you’re not taking zolpidem as directed, by taking large amounts or when you snort or smoke Ambien.

How long does Ambien stay in hair and urine samples for possible addiction detection? A single dose of Ambien can be detected in hair up to five weeks after exposure and specialized tests for Ambien can detect zolpidem in urine samples up to 60 hours after ingestion.

Physical dependence on Ambien

As we’ve been discussing above, physical dependence on Ambien can happen to anyone. But how can you treat dependence? Generally, you must go through symptoms of withdrawal until Ambien is totally out of your system. For example, a physical dependence on Ambien can be unpleasant if you’re no longer experiencing trouble sleeping and don’t need to take the medication. Withdrawal symptoms can be treated by gradually lowering your Ambien dose over a period of days or weeks, so that your body can slowly adjust to the lower levels of the drug.

Psychological dependence on Ambien

Ambien dependence crosses the line into addiction when you start experiencing intense psychological dependence. A psychological dependence on Ambien requires completely different treatment from a simple physical dependence. Therapy and support groups may be recommended by your doctor to help you deal with the mental and emotional Ambien dependence you’ve developed.

So how do you get addicted to Ambien?  And how do you know if you’ve developed psychological dependence on Ambien, or not? If you’re psychologically dependent on Ambien, you will:

  1. feel the need to take Ambien to cope with everyday stress
  2. feel a compulsive need to use Ambien
  3. experience strong Ambien cravings
  4. continue to use Ambien even if it has negative consequences

Ambien dependence withdrawal

The only way to treat Ambien withdrawal is to gradually decrease the dose of zolpidem under the medical supervision of your prescribing doctor. Generally, you continue to taper Ambien dosage until you can safely go off Ambien totally. If this is not an option and you stop Ambien cold turkey, you will eventually feel better, but it can take days or weeks to stop having symptom. Ambien withdrawal is pretty unpleasant and can cause:

  • extreme nausea
  • dizziness and vertigo
  • headache
  • impaired coordination and balance

Sleeping Pills Withdrawal Treatment Programs specialize to assist all those who attempt to quit Ambien but find it difficult to stay away from a relapse for a longer period of time. In addition to pharmacological help, trained staff at detox clinics or treatment facilities can make the process of withdrawal far more manageable by offering motivation and psychological support.

Ambien dependence questions

Do you still have questions about Ambien dependence and addiction? We welcome all questions in the comments below.

Reference Sources: DailyMed: Ambien
NCBI: Intractable nausea caused by zolpidem withdrawal
FDA Medication Guide: Ambien Tablets 
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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