Lunesta (eszopiclone) is sedative-hypnotic prescription sleep aid commonly prescribed for chronic insomnia, which can severely impact a person’s focus, coordination, memory, and the ability to function during the day. But while it can help treat insomnia, Lunesta can also be habit forming, lead to dependence and abuse, and cause significant withdrawal symptoms if stopped suddenly. Lunesta addiction can be a very serious issue, but with comprehensive treatment a safe withdrawal, reduction in symptoms, and improvement in sleep patterns can be achieved.
What Is Lunesta?
Lunesta is the brand name for eszopiclone, which is used to treat insomnia. It works by increasing the activity of selective neurotransmitters in the brain that induce sleep.
Lunesta belongs to a class of drug known as non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics and is often preferred, because it is believed to have a similar effect on the brain as a benzodiazepine but not carry as significant a potential for abuse. Lunesta has a shorter half-life than traditional benzodiazepines, which means it is removed from the body faster, which means there is less potential for buildup in the body over time and, as a result, has fewer residual effects.
Although Lunesta may be less addictive than benzodiazepines, long-term use can still bring considerable potential for dependence, abuse, and addiction.
Lunesta Facts And Statistics
Lunesta was first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004 to treat insomnia. It was the first insomnia treatment medication to be approved without the “short-term” indication associated with all previous sedative-hypnotics, meaning it could be used without the same concerns related to long-term use that were previously placed on other sedative hypnotic medications.
Lunesta belongs to a newer class of sedative drugs that bring about the onset of sleep more quickly and allows for longer periods of sleep. The shorter half-life initially suggested a reduced potential for dependency, tolerance, and “carry over” that can cause impairment of daytime activities. But recent reports have shown that these issues are still of concern, particularly with long-term use of the medication. In fact, Lunesta is currently federally controlled as a Schedule IV medication because of its potential for abuse and addiction.
According to a 2015 report published by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 19 million people aged 12 or older used prescription sedatives, including Lunesta, that year. Of that number, more than 16 million users were 26 years of age or older. And about 8 percent of people who used prescriptions sedatives misused them. Some of the most commonly self-reported reasons for misuse included:
- To help with sleep
- To relax or relieve tension
- To get “high”
- To help regulate emotions
- To increase/decrease the effect(s) of some other drug
- Dependence or addiction
Although it is the prescribed reason for use, the most common reason for misuse was to help with sleep. Nearly 72 percent of people took Lunesta more often than prescribed, at higher doses than prescribed, or without a prescription when trying to regulate their sleep.
The survey also showed that people with co-occurring mental health issues were more likely to misuse prescription sedatives than those who did not.
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Symptoms and Diagnosis of Lunesta Abuse and Addiction
Lunesta addiction and dependence on Lunesta are usually different issues. With long-term use, tolerance to the medication can build up, requiring higher dosages to get the same effects. Additionally, body and brain function can begin to change based on dosage and length of time Lunesta has been used. The brain may learn that it does not have to function in a particular manner anymore, because the medication will provide the function. For example, the brain can reduce or stop producing certain neurotransmitters, expecting Lunesta to help with production as it has in the past. In situations involving tolerance and dependence, a physiological change tends to occur.
On the other hand, addiction usually signifies an emotional, as well as physical, element to dependence. Generally, it is possible to be dependent without being addicted, but addiction typically has a component of dependency involved.
Symptoms of dependence on Lunesta include:
- Physiological changes in body function, such as no longer producing dopamine without use, which is usually experienced as a disruption in emotional function
- Craving Lunesta and an inability to reduce or stop usage
- Withdrawal symptoms when the medication is stopped
Signs a person may have a Lunesta addiction include:
- Increasing the dosage without telling a doctor
- Mixing Lunesta with other drugs to increase the effects
- Taking it for a “Lunesta high”
- Continuing to take Lunesta after the prescription has expired
- Doctor shopping to get new prescriptions
- Obtaining Lunesta by stealing it from family or friends, or through other illicit activity
- Repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop Lunesta use
- Hiding Lunesta use
- Unexplained anxiety
- Memory loss
- A continued need to take Lunesta despite disruptions in interpersonal relationships, physical and psychological problems brought on by its use or abuse
Diagnosing Lunesta Addiction
Doctors prescribing Lunesta for insomnia typically watch for signs of overuse and addiction. As with many sedatives, the potential for abuse and addiction can be high when using Lunesta. Symptoms and side effects people may experience when using Lunesta can range from mild to severe and may appear after short- or long-term use.
An observation or report of certain side effects could indicate to doctors that tolerance, dependence, overuse, or addiction may be at issue. Overuse or addiction to Lunesta can also cause several short- and long-term side effects.
Short-term side effects may include:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Somnambulism –sleepwalking, or driving, talking, cooking and other activities usually completed while awake
- Next-day effects, like drowsiness and trouble concentrating
- Dry mouth
- Runny nose and other cold like symptoms
Long-term side effects include:
- Organ damage, particularly to the liver, kidneys, and brain
- Rebound insomnia
Since Lunesta entered the market to treat insomnia, cases of overdoses have been reported involving amounts up to 90 times the maximum recommended dose. Many people who have experienced Lunesta overdose involving these amounts of the medication have survived and fully recovered. Generally, fatalities associated with Lunesta overdose have occurred when alcohol or other central nervous system drugs were used in combination.
People who are addicted to Lunesta or engage in Lunesta abuse can be at greater risk for overdose. This is because there is a tendency to use it outside the parameters of the prescription, at higher doses, and with alcohol or other drugs to increase its effects or obtain a Lunesta high. Lunesta overdose is a serious issue and can become life threatening. It can cause respiratory distress as breathing drastically slows, coma, and death.
If a person has overdosed on Lunesta, it is important to call a doctor, poison control, or emergency responders immediately.
Causes and Risk Factors for Lunesta Addiction
Lunesta may not be right for everyone. People who have a history of addiction, substance abuse, and certain medical conditions may be at higher risk for Lunesta abuse or addiction. People considering the use of Lunesta should tell their doctor about any medications they are currently taking, medical conditions they may have, and if any of the following situations apply:
- A history of alcohol or drug abuse of addiction
- A history of liver disease
- A history of depression or other mental health issues and/or suicidal thoughts
- Currently pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding
Withdrawal and Detox from Lunesta
When Lunesta has been used or abused over a long period of time at high doses, withdrawal symptoms are often experienced when the medication is stopped, especially if it is stopped abruptly. Generally, in order to prevent Lunesta withdrawal, doctors will gradually reduce the dosage to taper individuals off of it.
The severity of withdrawal symptoms can range from moderate to severe depending on a number of factors including dosage, length of time used or abused, and individual body chemistry.
Symptoms of Lunesta withdrawal can include:
- Sleep disruption, such as trouble falling or staying asleep and disturbing dreams
- Rapid heart rate
- Nausea and vomiting
The process of Lunesta withdrawal can be very dangerous and, if not monitored by a doctor, can lead to other medical problems. Inpatient treatment programs focused on detox and withdrawal from Lunesta can be a safe and helpful option. This process is called a medical detox and allows trained medical professionals to help taper the Lunesta usage, monitor vital signs and behavioral changes, and offer support to overcome Lunesta addiction.
According to a 2014 study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), almost 8 million people suffer from co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders. The study also found that people who suffered from a mental health disorder were more likely to abuse alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription medication. Often, substance abuse occurs as people with mental health disorders attempt to self-medicate to relieve symptoms of the disorder. People who abuse Lunesta may also suffer from a mental health disorder in which sleeplessness is a symptom.
Lunesta might not be suitable for people who suffer from anxiety and depression because its use may increase feelings of anxiety, irritability, abnormal thoughts, depression and thoughts of suicide.
While co-occurring disorders may be difficult to diagnose, it is important that treatment addresses both Lunesta abuse and any mental health conditions that may be present.
Treatment and Prognosis
A residential treatment program can provide a safe environment for people addicted to Lunesta to taper off medication, manage any withdrawal symptoms, and address issues related to the cause of addiction. While in treatment, trained medical and mental health professionals can create personalized treatment plans using individual psychotherapy and group and family therapy to explore and address physical, emotional, and behavioral issues that may have led to addiction. It can also provide an opportunity to practice and integrate new skills in a therapeutic setting.
Treatment for Lunesta addiction can include psychotherapy to better manage behaviors and emotions. Cognitive behavioral therapy can teach new, helpful ways to deal with stressful situations and triggers. And motivational interview techniques can help people move beyond insecurities and negative self-talk to find inner motivation to change behavior.
Residential treatment can provide a strong foundation for continued treatment and relapse prevention.
The end of treatment generally does not signify the end of recovery. During the next step, relapse prevention tools often become essential to prevent a return to Lunesta abuse.
The goal of relapse prevention is to ensure individuals who suffer from addiction are able to better manage daily life stress, effectively identify and prevent involvement in high risk situations, and utilize support systems to remain drug free. It usually includes emotional as well as physical protocols. And in the case of Lunesta addiction, relapse prevention could include follow-up therapy sessions and applying self-care, like practicing better sleep hygiene, exercising, and eating healthy.
How long relapse prevention lasts depends on the individual. It can be a short time or last for years, as he or she continues to use strategies to balance lifestyle choices with healthy, helpful behaviors.