Mixing Lunesta with Alcohol: Understanding the Risks and the Need for Addiction Treatment

Millions of Americans don’t get enough sleep and a growing number are turning to prescription sleep medications to overcome sleep disturbances. However, medications like Lunesta come with very real risks of abuse and addiction, especially if mixed with alcohol. If you are struggling with Lunesta addiction, professional treatment is the best way to protect yourself from the psychological and physical risks of prescription sleeping pill abuse.

The human body is designed for sleep. We rely on it to promote healthy physiological function, sufficient energy, and cognitive and emotional balance. But for more and more of us, this most seemingly natural of functions remains elusive. In fact, the World Health Organization has found that over 65% of adults get less than 8 hours of sleep each night.

This sleep loss epidemic is driven by multiple, complex factors that disrupt healthy sleep patterns, including everything from crushing work hours to physical discomfort to psychological distress, and is linked to heart disease, stroke, obesity, cancer, and mental illness. “No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation,” says Dr. Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. “It sinks down into every possible nook and cranny. And yet no one is doing anything about it. Things have to change: in the workplace and our communities, homes, and families.”

Widespread changes, however, are difficult to implement and people are typically left to address their sleep problems on an individual basis. For a growing number of people, that means taking sleeping pills—at least 4% of Americans over the age of 20 now take a prescription sleep aid like Lunesta in a given month and prevalence of use increases with age. However, while Lunesta may temporarily alleviate sleep difficulties, it is not without its own risks. For some, what begins as responsible Lunesta use evolves into abuse and addiction, presenting significant physical and psychological dangers, particularly if mixed with alcohol. If you are struggling with Lunesta addiction, understanding these dangers is essential to helping you recognize the need for treatment and begin the journey toward recovery.

What is Lunesta?

Lunesta is a sedative hypnotic drug designed to help users fall and stay asleep. For many, it is highly effective—studies show that people who are given Lunesta fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer than those who were given placebos, which can make a difference in the lives of people struggling with severe insomnia. But while therapeutically valuable for some, Lunesta also presents real risks, many of which are too often overlooked by both clinicians and users.

Lunesta works by acting on GABA receptors, depressing the central nervous system to induce feelings of sleepiness and relaxation. Unfortunately, these effects can last for more than 11 hours after administration, which means that important functions like memory and coordination may be compromised even after you wake up. This next-day impairment spurred the FDA to decrease the recommended starting dose in 2014 and issue a warning regarding “decreased mental alertness the morning after use.” More disturbingly, some people report engaging in activities during use that they have no recollection of the next day, including driving, having sex, and sleepwalking.

In addition to the immediate risks of legitimate Lunesta use, there is also a risk of abuse and addiction. At high doses, it may be taken to induce feelings of euphoria, opening up the door for recreational use. However, even those who take Lunesta as directed may develop physical and psychological dependency on the drug as the brain adapts to modified GABA activity, which can have wide-ranging implications for your wellbeing. “They’re not this cute little thing that comes in and targets a little cell in your brain that’s just all involved in sleep,” says Dr. Patrick Fuller, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School. “These drugs are not that specific; they affect not just the brain, but the peripheral systems as well.” Indeed, Lunesta may cause a number of significant psychological disturbances such as irritability, depression, suicidal ideation, and hallucinations. You may be at heightened risk for these effects if you have a pre-existing mental health disorder such as depression.

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The Dangers of Mixing Lunesta with Alcohol

While there are a number of dangers associated with using Lunesta alone, these dangers increase exponentially when mixing Lunesta with alcohol. In part, this is because both drugs are depressants and potentiate one another, causing greater impairment of coordination, judgment, memory, and concentration. As a result, you are more likely to participate in risky activities—including increased substance abuse—with potentially devastating consequences. You are also more prone to blackouts, which means you may not remember what you did or realize that you were engaged in dangerous behaviors in the first place. Additionally, both Lunesta and alcohol can create or aggravate mood disturbances and the severity of these disturbances may be augmented when used in combination, compromising your psychological health and putting you at greater risk of self-harm. Further, mixing Lunesta with alcohol presents physical health risks that Lunesta alone typically does not. More specifically, you are more likely to experience respiratory depression, which may lead to coma or even death.

Unfortunately, many people combine Lunesta with alcohol precisely due to their potentiating relationship; taking the two together may make you feel sleepier or achieve a greater high. This is particularly true for people who have achieved a high level of tolerance to Lunesta as the result of long-term use and are seeking to intensify its effects. This is a sign that you have developed a deeply unhealthy relationship with the drug and need to get help for your substance use disorder.

Seeking Treatment for Lunesta Addiction

Healing from Lunesta addiction is possible. However, many who try to discontinue Lunesta on their own quickly return to using after experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, nausea, vomiting, tremors and headaches. Effects such as depression, which may be caused by Lunesta, may also arise during withdrawal, causing profound psychological distress. And, of course, the return of insomnia makes some feel as though they have no choice but to keep using. As such, beginning your recovery journey in a medically supervised detox environment is the best way the ensure you stay safe and comfortable. In a medically supervised detox program, highly trained detox specialists can provide you with the pharmacological and psychosocial supports you need to minimize withdrawal symptoms and relapse risk during this vulnerable time.

However, in order to truly heal, you must also address the roots of your Lunesta addiction. In a residential addiction treatment program, you can explore the underlying issues driving your Lunesta use and received diagnosis of and treatment for any co-occurring mental health disorders. This is essential to help you regain psychological wellness and find a resolution for the symptoms Lunesta ostensibly helped you control. Via a comprehensive range of therapies, you can learn to create better sleep using healthy and safe methods that will enhance your quality of life in a lasting way rather than creating short-term relief. In fact, the American College of Physicians now recommends cognitive behavioral therapy as the first-line treatment for insomnia owing to its proven and durable efficacy. Not only is it safer and more effective than medication, it also helps you find strategies for simultaneously coping with a broad range of psychological and behavioral issues. “Getting insufficient sleep is a two way street,” says Dr. Walker. “Anxiety is a big contributor to disorders like insomnia but also sleep deprivation itself markedly raises your risk for the development of anxiety and depression.” With the right care, you can break the cycle of sleep disturbances and psychiatric distress and learn how to develop and maintain healthier patterns that fortify ongoing healing.

In a residential treatment environment, you will have the opportunity to work with compassionate clinicians and peers to deeply examine yourself and discover who you can be without drugs. With the support of the recovery community, you can take concrete steps to realizing your true potential and creating the future you truly want.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help your or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.