Ambien is a common medication typically prescribed as a treatment for insomnia. Effects begin to appear soon after taking Ambien, and the body also eliminates the drug from its system relatively quickly. If you’ve taken Ambien, you can expect it to appear on a blood test for up to 20 hours and a urine test for up to 48 hours after your last dose. A hair test can detect Ambien for as long as five weeks after taking it.
Physical dependence is possible if you use Ambien often, especially in large doses. You may also face increasingly strong withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking Ambien, contributing to dependence, misuse, and addiction. If you’re taking Ambien, it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider who can help you gradually taper off the medication to reduce withdrawal symptoms and protect your health.
This guide will explore how Ambien works, the effects of taking Ambien, and what you can expect in the days after taking Ambien. We’ll also advise you if you’re trying to quit Ambien.
How Is Ambien Metabolized in the Body?
Ambien is the brand name of the generic drug zolpidem. Ambien is part of the Z-drugs category, including zaleplon and eszopiclone. These drugs are grouped for their similar mechanism of action within the body, making them an effective alternative to benzodiazepines. Historically, benzodiazepines have also been used to help patients with insomnia.
Ambien is prescribed as a short-term treatment for insomnia because it helps induce sleep. Ambien is prescribed the most often in the United States out of all insomnia medications. Ambien works by interacting with the body’s gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system. GABA is a neurotransmitter that inhibits certain brain activity, so Ambien can inhibit central nervous system (CNS) activity by calming the brain and helping a person go to sleep. Zolpidem interacts with the same GABA receptor complex that benzodiazepines bind to.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies Ambien as a Schedule IV drug. Schedule IV drugs are recognized as effective prescription medications while acknowledging that they have a moderate risk of physical dependence and misuse. SAMHSA shared that more than 9.5 million individuals reported using zolpidem in 2017, and another 900,000 misused zolpidem in that time. This figure represented a decrease from 2016 when over 11.4 million people used zolpidem, and about 1 million misused it.
What Are the Effects of Ambien?
The primary effect of taking Ambien is sleepiness caused by its ability to increase GABA activity, which inhibits certain brain activity. While taking Ambien, you may notice some related side effects, including:
- Daytime drowsiness: While Ambien can help you sleep at night, it can also contribute to drowsiness the next day. If you’re experiencing drowsiness, ask your doctor. They may reduce your dose or advise you to take Ambien earlier in the evening.
- Dizziness: Ambien can cause you to feel dizzy, especially when leading up to sleep. For this reason, it’s highly recommended that you only take Ambien in the evening once you’re preparing to go to bed.
- Drugged feeling: Ambien can make you feel “drugged,” which patients often describe as sluggishness, grogginess, and difficulty concentrating. These effects are due to Ambien’s mechanism of action, which helps inhibit brain activity.
- Somnambulism: Also known as sleepwalking, somnambulism can be dangerous, leading to falls and other injuries. If you find yourself sleepwalking, talking to your doctor is important.
- Increased risk of injury: In addition to sleepwalking, Ambien can increase your risk of falls and other injuries by causing dizziness and drowsiness. Talk to your doctor if these side effects are severe.
- Memory loss: Ambien can cause memory loss. For instance, you may not clearly remember what you did after taking Ambien the night before, or it could affect your short-term memory in other ways.
- Confusion: Ambien can lead to confusion, which is worsened by drowsiness and lack of clarity. If you find yourself confused after taking Ambien, you may be taking too much.
- Depression: Ambien can contribute to depression, especially with prolonged use. If you experience symptoms of depression, talk to your doctor about reducing your dose or changing medications.
- Diarrhea: Taking Ambien can lead to diarrhea. Staying hydrated and eating bland foods is useful in the short term, but if it is severe or happens often, you should talk to your doctor about alternative treatments.
- Headache: If you experience headaches while taking Ambien, talk to your doctor before using painkillers or other over-the-counter medications to manage them.
If you’re taking Ambien frequently or in large doses, you’re more likely to experience some or all of these side effects. Some of these effects, like memory loss and confusion, are particularly concerning because they significantly increase the risk of accidental misuse (e.g., taking more Ambien because you forgot you took it before).
Other side effects increase the risk of falls and physical injury, so managing your dose with the help of a physician is important. Additionally, if you’re experiencing severe side effects, you should reach out to a healthcare provider who can help you taper off Ambien and find an alternative to treat your insomnia.
How Long Does It Take for the Effects of Ambien to Wear Off?
Ambien is relatively fast-acting. Effects begin about 30 minutes after taking Ambien and peak around 1 to 2.5 hours after the last dose for most people. Two types of Ambien may be prescribed: a fast-acting version and a slow-release version. The kind of Ambien you take will impact how quickly the effects set in.
If you’re taking Ambien in a small prescription dose, the side effects are unlikely to last more than 12–24 hours after your last dose. However, larger doses of Ambien can leave you feeling drowsy or experiencing other symptoms for up to 24 hours. Unfortunately, there is a risk of developing a physical dependence on Ambien once you’ve taken it for some time.
Once physical dependence develops, you’ll notice withdrawal symptoms set in about 6–8 hours after you miss a routine dose of Ambien or as the effects of Ambien wear off. Ambien withdrawal symptoms typically peak on the second day and begin to fade away by the fourth or fifth day.
What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Ambien?
Withdrawal symptoms of Ambien include:
- Cravings: The most common withdrawal symptom is cravings. You’ll be tempted to take Ambien, even if you’re trying to quit.
- Insomnia: In the absence of Ambien, you’re likely to experience insomnia. Ask your doctor about alternative therapies to help you sleep.
- Dysphoria: Described as general unhappiness, restlessness, or frustration, dysphoria can contribute to depression symptoms.
- Delirium: Confused thinking and reduced environmental awareness are two common symptoms of delirium, and they tend to come on very quickly (within hours).
- Anxiety: Without Ambien to help inhibit brain activity, you might experience increased anxiety. There’s also a potential for panic attacks.
- Physical symptoms: You may experience heart palpitations, stomach cramps, and/or tremors when you stop taking Ambien.
- Rare symptoms: While rare, Ambien withdrawal can also lead to seizures and/or psychosis.
Due to the potential severity of withdrawal symptoms and the risk of relapse, individuals must undergo a medical detox to help them safely taper off of Ambien. Medical detox will help you manage withdrawal symptoms and avoid giving in to cravings.
Do you need help quitting Ambien? Zinnia Healing offers treatment options that work for you. Learn more about how to get started.
How Is Ambien Detected on Drug Tests?
Ambien has a short half-life of about three hours, which represents how long it takes for your body to eliminate half of the dose. This process means any Ambien you take will be halfway out of your system in about three hours after your last dose, but it can take longer for older individuals and those with a liver impairment to metabolize Ambien.
Because of the short half-life, Ambien is generally only detectable in urine tests for up to 48 hours and the blood for up to 20 hours. However, high doses of Ambien can be detected up to as long as 72 hours in urine tests and 48 hours in blood tests. Ambien isn’t absorbed well by hair follicles, but one study found that it can be detected in a hair test as many as five weeks after taking it.
These ranges are only general and will vary depending on the individual’s metabolism, age, gender, weight, liver function, and kidney function. If you’ve taken Ambien and you’re worried about it showing up on a drug test, you can always get cleared with a prescription from your doctor. If you’re taking Ambien without a prescription, a healthcare professional can help you gradually taper off and find a better treatment for any conditions (like insomnia or depression) that you may be experiencing.
What’s the Best Way to Quit Ambien?
Ambien is often prescribed for insomnia, but it may also be purchased illegally in the second-hand market. Whether you’re taking Ambien with a prescription or not, a physical dependence can develop over time. Dependence, combined with withdrawal symptoms, can put anyone on the path to misuse, creating an addiction that’s impossible to overcome on your own.
Whether you’re using Ambien for insomnia or recreationally, you must reach out to a caring professional who can help you gradually taper off your dose while limiting withdrawal symptoms and helping you manage insomnia and other issues. Failing to enlist the help of a medical professional can put you at risk of overdose or severe withdrawal symptoms that lead to a medical emergency.
At Zinnia Healing, we prioritize client comfort while helping them solve co-occurring disorders like insomnia and depression. You’ll work with our staff to develop a customized plan that’s right for you while setting goals that will help you get on the path to a better lifestyle. With our team by your side, you’ll be confident knowing that you have all the support and resources necessary to transition off of Ambien and stay clean.
Are you ready to take the next step? We offer a variety of recovery pathways in a safe, confidential, and nonjudgmental environment. The road to treatment begins with a free call. Dial (855) 430-9439 today to get started.