Tapering Off Ambien
Ambien, or zolpidem, is a common drug prescribed for sleep. As a controlled substance, it has a risk of abuse. If you or a loved one wish to stop taking Ambien, whether it is prescribed to you or not, a taper may be needed. In a taper, the dose of a drug is gradually reduced to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Depending on your medical history and dose of Ambien, you may be able to taper at home. However, if you struggle with Ambien use and take high doses, you may need additional care.
Why Taper Off Ambien?
Although Ambien is not a benzodiazepine or benzo, it is chemically similar to benzos. Therefore, stopping Ambien cold turkey can lead to similar withdrawal symptoms as stopping a benzo. Tapering Ambien allows you to have a better chance of avoiding withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Abdominal cramps
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Panic attack
How to Taper Off Ambien
How you taper off Ambien depends on the dose that you are taking. If you are taking Ambien as prescribed by a doctor, it is much easier and faster to taper it off than if you are taking large amounts of the drug throughout the day.
Although you should inform your doctor if you want to taper and stop your prescribed use of Ambien, you may be able to taper it on your own without medical assistance. However, if you struggle with taking high doses of Ambien, the tapering regimen becomes more complex and often involves temporarily adding other drugs. Therefore, it is important to seek medical advice if you are tapering from a high dose.
Ambien Taper Schedule
If you are taking Ambien as prescribed at night for sleep, you may be able to completely stop taking it without a taper depending on the dose you are using. This strategy is most appropriate if you are using a low dose of the drug, such as a max daily dose of:
- Ambien 5mg
- Ambien CR 6.25mg
- Intermezzo 1.75mg if you are a woman
- Intermezzo 3.5mg if you are a man
- Zolpimist 5mg
However, if you are taking higher doses of the drug, you may need a taper. If you are taking higher doses of Ambien as prescribed, you should talk to your doctor about reducing the strength of the Ambien you are getting. After several days at a lower dose, you may be able to discontinue Ambien altogether. Examples of tapers include:
- Ambien 10mg may be reduced to 5mg for several days then stopped
- Ambien CR 12.5mg may be decreased to 6.25mg for a few days then stopped
- Zolpimist 10mg may be reduced to 5mg for a couple of days then stopped
Some people struggle with using much higher doses of Ambien. In severe cases, the total daily dose of Ambien may be in the hundreds of milligrams a day. In these cases, a taper can be complex. The exact taper often depends on the person and their medical history.
For this reason, it is safest to seek medical advice before tapering Ambien on your own if you are taking a high dose. People on high doses of Ambien have successfully tapered when they were medically monitored in the hospital. Often, these high-dose Ambien tapers include substituting with another benzo. Some examples include:
- A woman on 120mg of Ambien a day who was switched to a benzo, and tapered off the drugs after 15 days.
- A man on 400mg of Ambien a day for whom doctors switched the drug to a benzo and tapered off after seven days.
- A man on 20mg of Ambien a day in combination with other meds. He was already on a benzo and his Ambien was tapered by 5mg every four days.
An outpatient Ambien taper may take much longer, up to 4 weeks in some cases.
When to Seek Medical Assistance
Tapering off Ambien by yourself can be dangerous in some cases, even if you are taking a low dose as prescribed. This is especially true if:
- You have a history of seizures: Stopping Ambien too quickly can trigger seizures in some people. If you have ever had a seizure, you should talk to your doctor about tapering off Ambien. Your doctor may recommend that you taper the drug in a medically-assisted environment to keep you safe.
- You are using multiple substances, including alcohol: Ambien interacts with many different substances. Some substances, like alcohol and gabapentin, can also trigger seizures if you stop them abruptly. Stopping Ambien if you are also stopping other substances can, therefore, be dangerous. Your doctor can advise you of the safest way to stop the substances. This may include stopping one at a time on your own or stopping all of them at the same time under medical supervision.
It can also be hard to successfully stop taking Ambien without support. This includes therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, has been shown to help people stop using sedatives and sleeping pills.
Medically-Assisted Ambien Detox
Because stopping Ambien is so similar to stopping benzos, medical detox may be helpful. In medical detox, a team closely monitors you as you are coming off Ambien. Any withdrawal symptoms or complications can be quickly addressed by medical experts. Because 24-hour supervision is needed for medical detox, it often takes place in a hospital or acute care rehab center.
If you or a loved one struggle with Ambien addiction and need help stopping, contact our trained professionals at The Recovery Village Ridgefield. We can help you plan the best and safest way to stop using Ambien for good.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Ambien – Zolpidem Tartrate Tablet, Film Coated.” Accessed August 29, 2019.
Pardal, Pavan Kumar; Praksh, Jyoti; Konwar, Raaj. “Zolpidem Dependence.” Delhi Psychiatry Journal, October 2011. Accessed September 28, 2019.
Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. “Using Medication: What Can Help When Trying to Stop Taking Sleeping Pills and Sedatives?” Updated August 10, 2017. Accessed September 28, 2019.
Mattoo, Surendra K; Gaur, Navendu; Das, Partha P. “Zolpidem Withdrawal Delirium.” Indian Journal of Pharmacology, November-December 2011. Accessed September 28, 2019.