What Is Less Addictive: Zolpidem (Ambien) and Eszopiclone (Lunesta)?
Unfortunately, both zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta) can be addictive, especially if abused. The question of which one is more or less addictive, however, is difficult to answer. Like almost every aspect of the disorder of addiction, it is a deeply personal experience. That is, different people will experience the drugs differently. Some will develop an addiction to Lunesta after using Ambien without incident, and vice versa.
For those who are concerned about the potentially addictive nature of either drug, it is important to know the facts, maintain open communication with the prescribing physician, and report any unusual symptoms or concerns.
Zolpidem or, Ambien, is prescribed to treat insomnia, or the issue of having a hard time falling or staying asleep throughout the night. It is a sedative-hypnotic drug that works by slowing down the brain’s functions, allowing the brain and the body to relax and go to sleep.
Lunesta or, Eszopiclone, is prescribed for the treatment of insomnia, for those who experience difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep. It is classified as a hypnotic medication that works by slowing down the brain’s function, which in turn allows the brain and body to rest.
There are a number of potential side effects that can occur when taking Ambien. Some of the milder effects may pass as the body adjusts to the medication, but if they persist, it is important to call the prescribing doctor. Severe or life-threatening side effects require immediate medical treatment.
Serious side effects that may require medical attention and care may include:
- Itching, hives, or rash
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat, or eyes
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Pounding heartbeat
- Problems with vision
Mild to severe side effects may occur in some people who take Lunesta. For some, the symptoms are mild and only occur when the patient is adjusting to the medication, but for others, they may persist. Moderate to severe side effects should be reported to the prescribing doctor, and the patient should seek immediate emergency care. Serious side effects may include:
- Itching, rash, and/or hives
- Swelling of the extremities, face, tongue, eyes, throat, and/or lips
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
Users of Ambien may experience a “waking sleep,” in which they engage in activities, such as driving, eating, having sex, engaging in conversation, or otherwise being active and ambulatory as if they are awake when they are in fact asleep. They often have no memory of what occurred the next morning. This can be extremely dangerous, and patients who believe that this is happening to them should contact their doctor.
Users of Lunesta have reported engaging in activities while under the influence of the drug, but waking without memory of those events. Behaviors can include making and preparing food, having sex, having conversations, driving a car, and more. If this occurs, patients are encouraged to contact the prescribing physician right away.
It is possible to abuse Ambien. Taking more than is prescribed, taking doses too close together, or using other drugs in combination with Ambien – including over-the-counter sleeping pills, prescription drugs, or illicit substances including alcohol – can put a person at extreme risk. Overdose is a possibility, as is fatality due to accident under the influence.
Abuse of Lunesta can occur if the person takes the drug outside the bounds of a prescription. That is, if the drug is taken without a personal prescription or if the patient takes more than prescribed, then they may be at an increased risk of overdose or accident under the influence. If the patient mixes Lunesta with alcohol, OTC sleep medications, painkillers, or other illicit substances, risk of medical emergency and/or fatality increases further.
Ambien addiction is rare, but it does occur. It is possible to feel both physically and psychologically dependent on the drug, feeling as if it is impossible to function without it despite negative consequences that may occur and risks that may develop. If this occurs, treatment is needed.
It is rare but possible to become addicted to Lunesta. Physical and psychological dependence (e.g., cravings) define addiction. If the individual is unable to moderate or stop using the drug despite negative consequences and risks, then treatment is recommended.
For those who are addicted to Lunesta or Ambien, medical detox followed by intensive therapeutic treatment with an addiction focus as well as a focus on holistic methods of managing the sleep disorder can help.
Prescription Drug Categories
Two medications commonly used to treat insomnia or sleep disturbances are Ambien and Lunesta. These were developed as safer alternatives to benzodiazepine medications like Ativan or Valium, which can become addictive after two weeks. These medications are sedative-hypnotics, meaning they slow the activity of the brain enough to allow the person to fall asleep; they do not force a person to fall asleep or pass out. Both medications, however, are associated with a potential for substance abuse.
This is the brand name for the sedative-hypnotic sleep medication, zolpidem.
What are the signs of Ambien addiction?
Ambien can be addictive for some people. Signs of addiction include escalating the dose without consulting a doctor; compulsively ingesting the drug, even when attempting to stop taking it; taking the drug for euphoric effects rather than as a medical treatment; needing more to achieve the original effect; lying about the dose or becoming defensive when asked about it; “doctor-shopping” to get more Ambien; worrying about the next dose and obsessing about taking Ambien; and maintaining a large supply of the drug.
What are Ambien’s side effects?
Ambien can cause several side effects even when used as prescribed. These include:
- Short-term memory problems
- Somnolence, or falling asleep during the day
- Impaired driving or other activities
- Abnormal thoughts or behaviors, including increased aggression, abnormal extroversion, hallucinations, worsening mood disorders like depression, agitation, or suicidal thoughts
- Parasomnias: walking, talking, eating, driving, or having sex while asleep
The most dangerous of these side effects are the parasomnias, especially sleep-driving. However, there are other, more common side effects which are less dangerous, including:
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Feeling “drugged”
- Nausea or appetite changes
Are there risks of long-term use?
People who take Ambien for a long time are at greater risk of tolerance, dependence, and addiction. These conditions can lead to withdrawal symptoms that may be very uncomfortable and lead to relapse or overdose.
Long-term abuse of the substance can lead to cognitive changes, including slowed reaction time and thinking. The person may sleep excessively due to exhaustion induced by the drug. They may be less able to drive, perform job activities, complete schoolwork, or perform other actions that require physical coordination.
People who struggle with long-term abuse of Ambien are also at risk of developing digestive problems and damaging their liver.
Like Ambien, Lunesta is a sedative-hypnotic used in the short-term treatment of insomnia. It was developed as a safer alternative to benzodiazepines; however, the drug can lead to addiction and side effects. Lunesta is the most popular brand name of the generic medication, eszopiclone.
Are there safer drug alternatives to Lunesta?
There are not many prescription alternatives to Lunesta that are safer or more effective. Ambien is a similar medication; benzodiazepines have been prescribed as short-term treatments for insomnia as well. These drugs are all very habit-forming and potentially addictive, so ultimately, a person must discuss their prescription with their doctor to determine if the medication is safe, especially if the person has a history of substance abuse.
Insomnia may have an underlying physical or psychological cause. If the person continues to suffer from insomnia after they have finished their Lunesta prescription, it is possible that an underlying mental or physical health issue is the cause.
Sometimes, over-the-counter sleep medications can be as effective as Lunesta, with less risk of dependence or addiction. Herbal supplements like Valerian root can relax a person enough to rest, but these substances can interact with many prescription medications. Other sleep aids may include antihistamines, which are also used to treat allergies, so do not take these drugs when also taking antihistamines for allergies or another condition.
Can you overdose on Lunesta?
It is possible to overdose on Lunesta, although there are not as many symptoms associated with overdose as with other drugs. The main two symptoms include intense drowsiness while awake; if the person is asleep, they may have overdosed if they cannot be woken up. Call 911 to get emergency medical attention for someone who may have overdosed on Lunesta.
Can Lunesta cause withdrawal symptoms?
When a person stops taking Lunesta, especially if they struggle with addiction to this medication, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. The most common symptom is rebound insomnia. Other symptoms include:
- Unusual dreams or nightmares
- Stomach cramps
- Muscle pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Seizures (very rare)