Sleep disorders are often an understated problem. For many people, every night is a struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep. The consequences are more than a little grogginess the next day. Poor sleep can cause a variety of problems in your waking life from health issues to poor cognitive functioning. Though sleep is important, millions of people suffer from sleep disorders every year. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that as much as a third of adults in the United States don’t get the recommended amount of sleep each night. Issues like insomnia keep many people from falling asleep, while other sleep issues might cause them to wake up frequently in the middle of the night.
Since sleep is so important and sleeplessness is so common, it’s not hard to understand why we have sought chemical help for sleep issues for decades. The U.S. has used a variety of chemical compounds and medications to help facilitate sleep. Currently, there are a variety of medications on the market that are said to be able to help you get to sleep fast and stay asleep longer. Among these medications is a drug called Zimovane, a prescription sleep-aid that’s used as a short-term treatment for insomnia.
However, sleep medications have a long history of unwanted side effects including dependency and addiction. Does Zimovane pose the same risks and is it worth the potential harm? Learn more about this prescription sleep aid and what happens if you become addicted.
Zimovane is a brand name for the drug zopiclone that’s sold as a prescription insomnia medication. It’s legally classified as a Schedule IV drug, which means that it’s only legal to have with a prescription. It belongs to the broad category of central nervous system (CNS) depressant just like most other hypnotic medications and alcohol.
As a depressant, it slows down the nervous system by increasing the efficiency of a certain neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA. This naturally occurring chemical binds to GABA receptors, which are responsible for controlling excitability in the nervous system.
When activated, it causes feelings of relaxation, eases anxiety, and promotes sleep. More specifically, Zimovane is in a category known as Z-drugs, which have a high affinity for selectively binding to hypnotic, sleep-inducing sites on specific GABA receptors. Z-drugs are the latest hypnotic medication in a line of depressants starting in the late 1800s.
Barbiturates were first used throughout the first half of the 20th century until public perception of the drugs began to notice their adverse effects. They have a high risk for dependence, addiction, and can actually make sleep disorders worse if used for too long. Barbiturates were largely replaced by benzodiazepines (benzos) in the 1960s and 1970s, and they are still heavily used today. However, they come with some of the same adverse effects.
Z-drugs work in a way that is very similar to benzos even though they have a different chemical structure. They are perceived to have a lower addiction potential than benzodiazepines but studies have suggested that they are equally likely to lead to dependence when abused. People may abuse Zimovane for its intoxicating effects; the drug can cause relaxing euphoric effects similar to alcohol. In some cases, dependence can happen through normal use of the drug when it is taken for too long. Dependence also develops more quickly in older people.
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Zimovane, like other depressants, starts to display specific signs when a substance use disorder is starting to develop. Recognizing these signs can mean addressing the issue early and avoiding dangerous consequences. The first sign of a substance use disorder is often a growing tolerance. To you, it will feel like the drug is getting weaker. A normal dose is less effective than it used to be when you first started taking Zimovane. This is because your body is becoming tolerant to drug’s effects. As GABA binds to its receptor, your brain may start producing excitatory chemicals to balance brain chemistry. To achieve the same effects as your first dose, you may need to take heavier or more frequent doses.
Dependence often follows feelings of tolerance. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), dependence is when, “the body adapts to the drug, requiring more of it to achieve a certain effect (tolerance) and eliciting drug-specific physical or mental symptoms if drug use is abruptly ceased (withdrawal).”
Withdrawal symptoms are usually a clear indicator that you’ve become dependent on a drug. If you feel any of the following symptoms when you skip a dose or stop using Zimovane, it points to chemical dependence:
Addiction may follow drug dependence. Though dependence and addiction are often thought of as interchangeable, there is a difference. Addiction is marked by the continued use of a drug despite consequences. If you feel cravings that compel you to use Zimovane even though you know it will cause medical, social, vocational, or legal problems, you may be addicted.
Though addiction is a chronic disease with no known cure, it is treatable with evidence-based interventions and a long-term commitment to recovery. Addiction treatment typically follows a path through several levels of care that descends in its level of intensiveness. This process is called the continuum of care. This continuum typically starts with detoxification, especially when a CNS depressants like Zimovane is involved.
Medical detox is the highest level of care and involves 24/hour medically managed services. It’s medically necessary to recover from depressant addiction since withdrawal can be deadly.
In detox, medical staff may help wean you off the drug safely or at least monitor your symptoms in case of any complications. If you’ve become addicted to the drug detox should be followed by addiction treatment. This will involve an individualized treatment plan that is based on your needs. Effective addiction treatment will involve evidence-based behavioral therapies that help you address any underlying issues that contribute to your addiction. Your therapist and clinicians will also help you develop strategies to avoid relapse.
Zimovane is said to be safer than some of the alternatives like benzodiazepines, but they have shown to cause some of the same side effects as other depressant sleep aids. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration modified the recommended dosage of zolpidem, a similar Z-drug because they found that users were still significantly impaired the morning after taking the drug.
Zimovane can cause drowsiness, dizziness, and slowed reaction time that can be deadly when behind the wheel of a car. Auto accidents and slip-and-falls are possible under the influence of this medication, especially when it’s abused. Older people have an increased risk of impairment that leads to an accident.
Heavy doses of the drug or taking it with alcohol, other depressants, or opioids can increase the likelihood of a dangerous overdose. Overdose can lead to respiratory depression and death.
Withdrawal symptoms can also be potentially dangerous. Depressants like Zimovane will suppress excitatory brain functions, which build up as you develop dependence. Stopping abruptly can cause your nervous system to become overactive leading to seizures and Delirium tremens which can be fatal.
If you or a loved one is starting to develop a substance use disorder involving Z-drugs or another sleep aid, speak to your doctor immediately. If you run out or stop using the drug abruptly after becoming dependent, it could cause potentially deadly side effects.