Substance Use

What are Z-Drugs?

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What Are Z-Drugs?

Z-drugs, such as zolpidem (Ambien), are non-benzodiazepines that start with the letter “Z.” Truth be told, these substances are more notable because they’re often taken to treat insomnia — in other words, to catch some Zs (sleep). While sleep quality is essential to your physical and mental health, taking Z-drugs involves some increased risk of side effects, including injury and death.

Zinnia Health cares about your physical and mental health. That’s why we offer many therapeutic approaches to help you throughout the process. Get on the road to recovery by speaking with us about our drug addiction programs. We’re available 24/7, so give us a call at (855) 430-9439 any day or time.

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Examples of Z-Drugs

Medications designed to help you sleep can be bought over-the-counter (OTC) or prescribed by healthcare professionals. Prescription sleeping pills are much more potent, and their misuse can be problematic. Z-drugs (non-benzodiazepine) and benzodiazepines are the most prescribed drugs to treat insomnia.

The most common Z-Drugs in the US include:

  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)
  • Zolpidem (Ambien, Ambien CR, Edluar, and Zolpimist)
  • Zopiclone (Zimovane)

How Do Z-Drugs Work?

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute describes insomnia as a common sleep disorder where you have trouble falling, staying, or getting good sleep quality. The prevalence of insomnia is nearly 35% for adult Americans, based on stats from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Z-drugs are often prescribed to help those suffering from sleeping disorders.

Sleep aids that can only be purchased with a prescription work by decreasing activity in the brain, according to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). Z-drugs are hypnotic substances that do just that.

Sedative-hypnotic drugs (also known as depressants) slow down the activity in the brain, which is part of the central nervous system (CNS). This causes you to have a more calm and relaxed feeling. Potent medications like benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine hypnotize or sedate you so you can fall asleep and stay asleep for better quality rest.

How Long Do Z-Drugs Work?

Z-drugs are typically fast-acting sedatives. The duration of Z-drugs depends on the particular drug. According to a report on sedative-hypnotics, Z-drugs have a short or intermediate duration of action.

Z-Drugs Duration of Action

  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta): intermediate duration (for sleep onset or maintenance)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata): short duration (for sleep onset)
  • Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, and Zolpimist): short duration (for sleep onset or maintenance)
  • Zolpidem Extended Release (Ambien CR): intermediate duration (for sleep onset or maintenance)
  • Zopiclone Middle of the Night (Intermezzo – no longer available): short duration (sleep maintenance)

Compared to the use of benzodiazepines and other sleep medicine designed for short-term use, Z-drugs are often deemed safer for those who need to take them long-term. Still, when prescribing in clinical practice, healthcare professionals should allow Z-drugs to be taken several days to a couple of weeks up to a maximum of four weeks, which includes time to taper off.

That said, their short duration of action and drug tolerance may drive some people to use more or combine them with other drugs, which increases the risk of addiction and overdose.

Side Effects of Z-Drugs

The FDA approves non-benzodiazepine for the treatment of insomnia. Yet, prescribing them puts you at an increased risk of experiencing a long list of potential short-term and long-term effects.

Adverse Effects From Short-Term Use of Z-Drugs

  • Dizziness
  • Blackouts
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Impaired learning
  • Sleepwalking
  • Nightmares
  • Mood swings
  • Suicidal thoughts

Adverse Effects From Long-Term Use of Z-Drugs

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Low energy
  • Lack of motivation
  • Memory loss
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Poor sleep
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

In extreme cases, and when mixed with alcohol and other substances, you could overdose and lapse into a coma. As such, pharmaceuticals offer many options for treatment, but sometimes the adverse effects outweigh the benefits.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are often prescribed as anxiolytics for anxiety, hypnotics for sleep disorders, and sometimes in combination with antidepressants for chronic depression or antipsychotics for mental disorders.

Some of the most common benzodiazepine hypnotics include:

  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Nitrazepam (Mogadon)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)

While these substances are commonly prescribed, you can develop a tolerance over time. Drug tolerance means that your body gets used to the drugs, requiring you to take higher doses to work. In addition, you can become physically addicted to benzodiazepines and experience withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop taking them.

Are Z-Drugs Safer Than Benzodiazepines?

Z-drugs are often prescribed as a safer alternative to benzodiazepines, leading to less risk of drug tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal. Non-benzodiazepines act fast (within 30 minutes) and have a short half-life (about 1-7 hours), so they don’t stay in your system as long as other sleep medicines.

Non-benzodiazepines work similarly to benzodiazepines, but they have been considered the safer alternative to benzodiazepines. Unfortunately, some patients using benzodiazepines or Z-drugs display adverse effects and adverse events, including complex sleep behaviors like sleepwalking, sleep cooking, sleep driving, and even taking other medications while asleep.

As a result, some people have accidentally overdosed, fallen down, shot themselves, been burned, or exposed to extreme cold. Any of these sleeping incidents can lead to serious injury and death, especially in elderly patients with a greater risk of falls or those with various risk factors.

If you take Z-drugs, you may not have any next-day awareness that you were sleepwalking or other complex sleep behaviors. In addition, you’re at risk of experiencing this behavior, whether you’ve taken one dose or used it regularly.

Also, Z-drug users can be at risk of overdose when the drugs are taken with alcohol and other prescription medications or illegal drugs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) warns against mixing sleep medications with opioids.

Are Z-Drugs Addictive?

As with most hypnotic-sedative substances, Z-drugs have the potential to be addictive. That’s because your body begins to tolerate the drug, causing you to need more to get the same effect.

Based on an article published by Harvard Medical School, the following symptoms indicate an addiction to sedative drugs:

  • You crave the drug and can’t stop using it
  • You depend on the drug because of withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop
  • You continue to need the medication even though it causes physical, psychological, or interpersonal problems

If you or someone you know is struggling with sleep or drug use, you can depend on Zinnia Health. We have locations throughout the US, so you’re sure to find a rehab center near you. Reach out to us online or by phone at (855) 430-9439 to learn more about our inpatient, outpatient, detox, and other drug treatment programs

Do You Go Through Withdrawal When Stopping Z-Drugs?

Z-drugs and other sedative drugs or hypnotics used to help you sleep can all cause withdrawal symptoms once you stop taking them. Withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person and depend on the drug taken.

Typically, you may experience any of the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid pulse
  • Fast breathing
  • Abnormal blood
  • High fever
  • Seizures

These uncomfortable symptoms, including continued issues with quality sleep, can lead to you taking more frequent or higher doses of drugs. This is what can make Z-drugs dangerous.

What Is the Safest Z-Drug?

All Z-drugs work relatively the same; however, each can cause slightly different adverse side effects. In any case, there have been increasing reports of misuse, abuse, dependence, and death for people using Z-drugs.

The National Institute of Health published the following findings, suggesting that zaleplon may offer the lowest risk overall:

  • Zopiclone and zolpidem use involved the highest dependency risk
  • Zaleplon use involved the most misuse and abuse issues
  • Zopiclone use involved the most overdose adverse drug reactions
  • Zolpidem use involved the most withdrawal symptom issues

Choosing a safe Z-drug is challenging because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to insomnia. You must work closely with your primary care physician or other health care provider to determine which medication and therapeutic remedies are best for you. A medical professional will consider many factors, including co-occurring or dual diagnosis disorders.

Get Started With Treatment For Z-Drug Use

When it comes to prescribing sleeping medications, Z-drugs have been considered safer alternatives to benzodiazepines. However, both drugs work similarly, so there’s a high risk of adverse side effects when taking such drugs. Also, Z-drugs can be addictive, making quitting difficult because of the withdrawal symptoms.

If you or a loved one has a sleep disorder and uses Z-drugs, it may be time for some interventions and drug treatment. You could be at an increased risk of the harmful effects of drug addiction seen in young people and older people alike.

Zinnia Health has addiction experts standing by 24/7 to answer your call. Whether you have questions about substance use disorders or want to inquire about drug treatment programs, we’re here to help. Get in touch online or simply give us a call at (855) 430-9439 today. 

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