Lunesta (Eszopiclone) Side Effects, Addiction & Dangers
What Is Lunesta?
Lunesta, the brand name for generic drug eszopiclone, is a hypnotic, non-benzodiazepine prescription medication used to treat insomnia.
Much like Ambien, Lunesta can cause serious side effects, especially when paired with alcohol or when taken in larger-than-prescribed doses. The medication can be habit-forming and addictive.
It is very important for individuals who have struggled with addiction or drug abuse in the past to discuss these issues with their doctor before beginning a Lunesta prescription. This prescription drug can be so habit-forming that, in 2014, the Food and Drug Administration changed the recommended low dose of Lunesta from 2 mg to 1 mg. This change also had to do with some of the hypnotic, sleep-inducing side effects of the medication, which can linger into the next day.
Side Effects & Warnings
There are several potential side effects of taking Lunesta, especially if a person takes this medication for more than a few months. While doctors monitor their patients for side effects and symptoms, including addictive behaviors, it is important for people who receive a Lunesta prescription to discuss any concerns they have about side effects, both long-term and short-term, with their medical professionals.
People who do not plan to get more than seven hours of sleep should not take Lunesta, and those who regularly drink alcohol or take certain dietary supplements should not take this drug. It is important to let doctors know about any other prescription medications you are taking as well, because mixing this prescription with other drugs can be detrimental to organ systems like the liver, kidneys, or brain.
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Short-term Side Effects
The most common, short-term side effects of Lunesta include:
- Dry mouth
- Unpleasant taste on the tongue, typically bitter or metallic
- Drowsiness or difficulty waking up in the morning
- Cold-like symptoms, such as runny nose or cough
- Ongoing grogginess the next day
It is possible to have an allergic reaction to this medication, so it is important to discuss allergies with a doctor. More serious side effects include:
- Abnormal thoughts or behavior, such as aggression, confusion, hallucinations, severe depression, or suicidal thoughts
- Memory loss
- Somnambulism or other “sleepwalking” activities
Somnambulism is one of the more serious side effects. Individuals who take Lunesta may get out of bed and hold a conversation, leave the house, eat a large amount of food, or even engage in sexual activity while still asleep. This side effect can get worse when Lunesta is mixed with recreational, illegal drugs, or alcohol.
Another side effect of Lunesta, which can be worsened when mixed with drugs or alcohol, is the potential to not be fully awake or alert the next day. If a person takes Lunesta as a prescription, it is important to follow all the prescribing doctor’s recommendations, such as getting at least seven hours of sleep and taking only the smallest required dose, in order to reduce this possibility. However, if Lunesta is taken recreationally, or in combination with alcohol or recreational drugs, it is possible that the person will not wake up completely from sleep the next day. This puts the person in physical danger, particularly if driving or operating heavy machinery. Typically, the person suffering this side effect will feel alert and awake for the most part, but could still suffer sleep-related hallucinations or other effects of this hypnotic medication.
Sometimes, a person may feel hungover after taking Lunesta. This feeling can intensify if Lunesta is taken in too large a dose, with alcohol, or mixed with other recreational drugs. Headaches become worse or more common, as well as feeling dehydrated, fatigued, and depressed.
Generally, short-term side effects only occur in about 2 percent of the population, typically less. The potential for side effects increases when a person takes this medication for longer than necessary, without doctor supervision, in too high a dose, or in combination with recreational drugs or alcohol.
Long-term Side Effects
If a person takes this medication for a long time, or takes this drug in ways that are not as prescribed by a medical professional, the person could experience withdrawal when stopping use of the drug. Lunesta withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach cramps
- Nervousness, anxiety, irritability, or mood swings
- Shakiness or tremors
- Rebound insomnia
If a person takes Lunesta and wishes to stop, or the prescribing doctor thinks the person should stop, the doctor may create a plan to reduce the dosage slowly over time. This is called tapering, and it can wean the body off a potentially addictive medication while reducing the impact of withdrawal symptoms.
When Lunesta is taken as a prescription and supervised by a medical professional, when tolerance develops, the prescribing doctor can either switch the individual to another medication, or help the person stop taking Lunesta and try other insomnia treatments.
However, if a person abuses Lunesta for recreational purposes, or suffers from an addiction to Lunesta, there are other long-term side effects that could become serious. Memory loss can occur, in some instances even when the individual follows the prescribing doctor’s instructions. However, when taken in doses that are too large, amnesia can become a recurring problem. People who suffer Lunesta-related amnesia forget events while they are on the drug, either due to sleepwalking and related activities, or because the drug affects the brain directly and prevents the individual from properly forming memories. Amnesia could be a side effect of too large a dose, in which case people should speak to their doctors about lowering the dosage, or it could be a side effect of addiction or mixing this drug with alcohol or other drugs. Similarly, Lunesta can cause problems with cognitive function over time.
Psychological problems can develop with long-term use of Lunesta as well. Depression can get worse, suicidal thoughts may form, and anxiety or neurosis may be present. With very long-term abuse, the drug can cause hallucinations and paranoia.
Long-term use or abuse of Lunesta can also lead to a loss of coordination and fine motor control. Uncontrollable eye movements, called nystagmus, can begin, and muscles may twitch, shake, and become weak. In addition, the person may experience sensitivity to light, inflammation of the whites of the eyes (conjunctivitis), and have dry eyes. The person may also develop tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears that becomes progressively worse.
A person can experience increasingly poor reflexes along with other musculoskeletal problems such as inflamed joints, which become stiff or painful. Other parts of the body may suffer from inflammation as well, especially the lungs in individuals who suffer asthma or allergies. Inflammation in the lungs can decrease breathing capacity and make these conditions worse.
Because medications are filtered through the liver and kidneys when they are digested, long-term abuse or addiction to Lunesta can lead to liver and kidney damage. The likelihood of this is increased if the person suffers from liver disease or kidney disease already.
Are Lunesta’s Side Effects Reversible?
While short-term side effects are reversible, it is unclear to what extent long-term side effects can be reversed. If a person suffers bouts of amnesia due to Lunesta use or abuse, then the person will not be able to get those memories back. However, cognitive issues and mood swings can clear up after withdrawing from Lunesta.
Overdose on Lunesta is possible and is even more likely when mixed with alcohol or other drugs, especially those that cause drowsiness as well. Seek medical attention immediately if you believe you or someone you love me be experiencing an overdose. Overdose signs to look out for include:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
Is There Treatment for Lunesta Addiction or Abuse?
If a person suffers from an addiction to Lunesta, medical detox can help the person to safely withdraw from this medication and comprehensive therapy can address the reasons that led to ongoing abuse. In addition to therapy to deal with issues related to substance abuse and addiction, treatment for Lunesta abuse should also address issues with insomnia and sleep health. Every addiction treatment program should assess incoming clients for co-occurring mental health issues to ensure the best chances of a complete recovery for each individual.