Lunesta is a central nervous system depressant that’s used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. Though it’s similar to benzodiazepines, it’s chemical structure is different and it’s in its own category often called non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics. It may also be called a Z-drug because, like most drugs in this category, its chemical name (eszopiclone) has the letter Z in it. Like most depressants, Lunesta is GABAergic. That means it works in the brain by affecting a naturally occurring chemical messenger in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA for short.
GABA is responsible for regulating excitability in your brain in order to help you rest and relax. People with insomnia or another sleep disorder may have a psychological or biochemical problem that makes controlling excitability more difficult. Increasing the effectiveness of GABA can help your brain relax when it’s time to relax and sleep. Lunesta and other GABAergic chemicals bind to GABA receptors and increase the potency of the natural chemicals that promote sleep.
Unfortunately, your brain can get used to Lunesta, causing chemical tolerance and chemical dependence. Dependence occurs when your brain alters chemicals in your nervous system to help balance brain chemistry around the foreign chemical.
It may increase or decrease it’s own natural brain chemicals to achieve balance. However, as you build tolerance, you may have to increase the dose of the drug to maintain balance. If you stop using or cut back, you’ll experience the consequences of a chemical imbalance, which can cause uncomfortable or dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Lunesta is considered to be milder than other sleep aid options like benzodiazepines and barbiturates. The withdrawal symptoms may also be less severe though they can be serious in certain circumstances. If you are used to high doses and then quit abruptly, you’re more likely to experience more intense symptoms.
Symptoms can include:
Severe symptoms like seizures, hypertension, and chest pains aren’t common for non-benzodiazepine z-drugs, but they can happen in some circumstances, especially if drugs are mixed. If you or someone you know is struggling with sleep-aid dependence, speak to a doctor before quitting cold turkey.
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The timeline on which you experience withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on your personal history with Lunesta. If you’ve taken it for a long time or if you’re used to a high dose of the drug, you might experience more intense withdrawal symptoms more quickly if you quit cold turkey.
However, you are likely to experience symptoms that are similar to the following timeline:
Lunesta has a half-life of about six hours. That means it takes that much time before it’s reduced to half of its original concentration in your blood. Sometime after that, the drug will wear off, and you’ll start to feel withdrawal symptoms, typically between one to two days. Early symptoms can include anxiety and insomnia.
At some point within a week, your symptoms will escalate and reach their peak. Peak withdrawal symptoms will be at their most severe. If you experience dangerous symptoms like seizures, it’s most likely to occur during your peak symptoms, though it can happen before of after that.
Your condition will improve after your symptoms peak. Physical symptoms are usually the first to subside, but psychological symptoms may linger for a longer period. In some cases, they need to be addressed in treatment, or they will continue indefinitely.
Symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, and cravings may continue for a long time without treatment. They may lead to relapse if they aren’t addressed in treatment.
Though they are generally mild in their effects, z-drugs like Lunesta are in a class of drugs called central nervous system depressants, which can cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms. If you get used to high doses of the drug and then quit abruptly, it can potentially cause severe symptoms like tremors, seizures, and a condition called delirium tremens which is marked by sudden confusion, panic, hypertension, chest pains, and cardiac arrest. Both delirium tremens and seizures can be deadly without medical intervention. But, with treatment, severe symptoms of withdrawal can be treated and avoided.
Severe withdrawal symptoms are more common if you’ve gone through depressant withdrawal before. A neurological phenomenon called kindling can cause changes in the brain after a period of withdrawal. These changes can make subsequent withdrawal periods more dangerous. Medical detox involves 24-hour medically managed care that can help you avoid deadly symptoms and treat other uncomfortable symptoms.
After you complete detox, you may need to continue to the next level of care in addiction treatment.
Detox is important, but it’s often not enough to effectively address severe substance use disorders. If you still have biomedical or psychological problems that need high levels of care, residential treatment services can cover 24-hour medical monitoring.
If you are able to live on your own, you might be able to move on to intensive outpatient or outpatient treatment.
Through treatment, you will receive therapy based on your specific needs.
These therapy options will address underlying issues and help you to learn the skills you need to safeguard your recovery in the future.
Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease. Even if it seems under control right now, it can start to get out of hand before you realize it. Addiction often spreads to multiple areas of your life. For instance, growing tolerance may mean the need to use the drug at odd hours to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal. This can affect your ability to perform at school or work. It’s common for long-term substance use problems to affect your physical and mental health, personal relationships, and your finances.
However, addiction is treatable, and finding the right treatment options for your needs can help you avoid some of the most severe consequences that tend to come from addiction. Even if you have experienced some of the worst sides of addiction, there is still help available. Learn more about addiction and how it can be treated to begin your road to recovery today.
Becker, H. C. (1998). Kindling in Alcohol Withdrawal – National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-1/25-34.pdf
Ogbru, Annette. (n.d.) Benzodiazepines Drug Class: Side Effects, Types & Uses. Retrieved from https://www.rxlist.com/benzodiazepines/drugs-condition.htm
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019, September 11). Delirium tremens: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000766.htm
WebMD. (2017, March 20). What is GABA? Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/qa/what-is-gaba