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Sleeping Pill Withdrawal & Detox

Sleeping pill withdrawal involves symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, excessive sweating, nausea, fatigue, and spasms, among others. The detox period generally lasts about two weeks with symptoms peaking between one and five days after last use.

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What Is Sleeping Pill Withdrawal?

Sleeping pills work primarily by targeting neurotransmitter activity and reducing the level of communication that exists in between cells. This leads to a sedative effect that can help people who suffer from sleep disorders fall and remain asleep. 

However, if sleeping pills have been abused, consumed in high doses, and/or taken for an extended period of time, physical dependence is likely. This means withdrawal will occur when use is stopped, particularly if stopped suddenly. 

Withdrawal refers to the symptoms that occur as your body adapts to achieve homeostasis following the extended or heavy consumption of a chemical substance, such as sleeping pills. Withdrawal often occurs as a result of tolerance, or the tendency for the body to adapt to a foreign substance, warranting that more of that substance be taken in order to achieve the same effect. 

As the body adapts, the discontinuation of a medication like sleep aids can produce uncomfortable symptoms for a certain period of time. In the case of Ambien, withdrawal symptoms can occur in as few as six to eight hours following most recent use. The length of time withdrawal symptoms last will depend on several factors, including consumption habits and both genetic and environmental characteristics. 

What Causes Withdrawal From Sleeping Pills?

Withdrawal occurs as a result of the physiological adjustment and adaptation the body made to acclimate to the presence of sleeping pills. Changes in the cellular processes and production of neurochemicals that result from the prolonged or heavy consumption of sleeping pills can create difficult and debilitating symptoms when that substance is suddenly discontinued. 

Withdrawal symptoms are indications of the body’s readaptation to the lack of the substance upon which it has become physically dependent. A reduction in central nervous system activity resulting from a decline in intercellular communication, which is how Ambien works, may induce irritability and anxiety for a certain period of time when the pill is no longer taken. 

What Are Common Symptoms of Sleeping Pill Withdrawal?

Common symptoms of withdrawal from sleeping pills include the following:

Medical detox is always recommended for sleeping pill withdrawal.

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Perspiration
  • Irritability 
  • Depression 
  • Respiratory difficulties 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Delirium and hallucinations
  • Spasms
  • Shakiness

Factors That Determine the Intensity of Withdrawal Symptoms

Two of the main factors that determine the intensity of withdrawal symptoms following the discontinuation of sleeping pills include the length of time sleeping pills were consumed and how much had been regularly consumed. 

Prolonged use of sleeping pills results in more significant physiological adaptation to their presence. This leads to a longer period of time during which withdrawal symptoms will likely occur and also a higher severity of symptoms. 

Similarly, consuming larger doses of sleeping pills increases the physiological adjustment the body undergoes and results in more severe and prolonged withdrawal symptoms. 

How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

Most cases of withdrawal from sleeping pills will resolve within one to two weeks. The specific withdrawal experience depends on the type of medication that has been consumed as well as the length of time the pills were taken and the average dose. 

Ambien is the most widely prescribed sleep aid, and it has a half-life of approximately two to three hours. Withdrawal symptoms usually occur between six and eight hours following the last consumption of Ambien, and they typically reach their peak within one to five days. After the initial five days, symptoms usually decline and are completely eliminated within two weeks. 

Sleeping Pill Withdrawal Timeline

If you have discontinued the use of sleeping pills after taking them for an extended period of time or in large quantities, you may experience withdrawal symptoms less than eight hours following your last dose. 

The severity of these symptoms will most likely peak within one to five days and then gradually subside. It is uncommon to experience withdrawal symptoms more than two weeks after discontinuation unless a relapse has occurred. 

Detoxing From Sleeping Pills

A medical detox is a supervised discontinuation of a drug that has either become habit-forming or resulted in overdose. This process can help to minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms and protect you from major health complications, such as a seizure or cardiovascular event. It also makes relapse much less likely since you’ll have medical supervision and support throughout the withdrawal process.

With medical detox, you’ll often have an initial stay in an inpatient setting, often a hospital or detox unit. You’ll receive supportive care as you go through the withdrawal process. Medications may be prescribed to deal with specific symptoms of withdrawal. For example, insomnia and anxiety are common symptoms of sleeping pill withdrawal, so medications may be prescribed to address these issues.

Medical detox is always recommended for sleeping pill withdrawal. It can be dangerous to suddenly stop taking the pills on your own after dependence has formed. 

With sleeping pill addiction, a tapered approach to withdrawal may be recommended. This will generally involve switching you to a long-acting benzodiazepine and then tapering the dose of that medication over a period of weeks or months. This allows the body to gradually adjust to the lowered dose of the medication, mitigating withdrawal symptoms and keeping you safe throughout withdrawal. 

After the initial detox phase, you may transition to outpatient treatment. It’s important to get ongoing care following detox to address the underlying issues that led to sleeping pill abuse. Without more comprehensive treatment, relapse is very likely. 

Tips for a Successful Detox

Follow your doctor’s advice. If you are prescribed a tapering dose of a medication, don’t deviate from their instructions. 

If you are detoxing in an outpatient setting, have a support system in place of people you can reach out to if things get tough. You’ll likely need support from friends, family members, and treatment professionals during this vulnerable time.

Remember that recovery is not necessarily a linear process. While the goal is to avoid relapse, if you do relapse during detox, reach out to your treatment team. They will help you to get quickly back on track. 

Get Help for an Addiction to Sleeping Pills

Sleeping pill withdrawal is not something you should attempt on your own. It can be a dangerous process without help. 

Reach out for help for an addiction to sleeping pills. Your treatment team will design a medical detox process that makes sense for your level of dependence, and they’ll devise a treatment plan that ensures you can successfully make it through detox and beyond. With the right foundation, you can learn to live a healthier and happier life in recovery from sleeping pill abuse.

Updated March 7, 2024
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