Posted on Feb 10, 2022, 4 p.m.
In the realm of drug addiction, it’s easy to focus on the dangers of opioids, stimulants, and benzodiazepines, the most talked-about drugs. These three drug categories make up the infamous drug epidemics of the past several decades. It’s easy to assume that all drug addiction falls into one of these three categories. But another category of drug addiction remains a danger, especially because the other drug types overshadow it. We’re talking about sedatives. Here’s what you need to know about these medications and the dangers they pose.
What Are Sedatives?
Understanding what sedatives are can be tricky. The term “sedative” is sometimes used as an umbrella term to describe various types of drugs, including benzodiazepines and barbiturates. The reason for this is that the widespread use of these drugs can include specific cases for treating insomnia. Generally, these drugs are known as central nervous system (CNS) depressants, while sedatives describe the class of medications known as Z-drugs.
These are nicknamed Z-drugs not only because of their names (zopiclone, eszopiclone, zaleplon, and zolpidem) but also because, unlike benzos and barbiturates, these drugs have a singular use, with official approval limited to insomnia treatment. These “Z names” are probably not familiar to you, but chances are, you are familiar with some of their more popular brand names, including Ambien. While these drugs work similarly to benzos, they have a different chemical structure and are generally considered safer drugs by comparison. However, this does not mean Z-drugs are harmless sedatives or that it is impossible to become addicted to them. Here are some dangers of using these sedatives and why their use for insomnia is intended only for short-term treatment.
Why Are Sedatives So Dangerous?
The progression of sedative drugs is a history of widespread abuse. Barbiturates were the first to hit the market, and they thrived for nearly a century until their widespread addictive effects and behavior disturbances gained attention. Over time, the use of barbiturates was phased out with the market debut of benzodiazepines. After their release, benzos soon became the most prescribed drug in the world. But despite this worldwide use and popularity, the same kinds of negative effects associated with barbiturate use were found among benzo users. Eventually, benzos were included among the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s black-boxed drugs—the most severe danger label representing the high potential for abuse and/or death. Since benzos are often mixed with opioids or stimulants, they remain a central part of the drug overdose epidemic in America.
In the 1990s, Z-drugs hit the market, perceived as a safer alternative to either of their predecessors. However, the FDA released warnings concerning these drugs as well, recommending lower doses because of the next-morning impairment they can cause. In addition to experiencing impairment, another concerning symptom of Z-drugs, such as Ambien, includes the potential for memory loss. This symptom seems to be based on various factors, such as age and metabolism, but younger and older users are the most susceptible.
As with other drugs, the dangers associated with sedatives greatly increase when mixed with other drugs. This is especially true when mixing Ambien and alcohol. In fact, studies are now finding that some of the more dangerous side effects associated with barbiturates or benzos are also experienced when mixing Ambien and alcohol, especially the high risk of overdose. Sleepwalking and even sleep-driving can occur when the Ambien and alcohol mix interrupts the sleep cycle while the drug’s sedative effects continue.
How to Treat Sedative Addiction
While these sedatives do not produce some of the same cravings as benzos or other drugs, dependency and addiction can still occur, along with increased symptoms of insomnia if the drug is stopped abruptly or tapered off too quickly. Unfortunately, this means that sedative addiction, just like other drug addictions, is a serious condition that must be handled with professional help.
As FDA warnings and studies continue to circulate, there is no reason to downplay the serious risk of using sedatives. Instead, there is every reason to seek help if you or someone you know has developed a dependency on these drugs.
This article was written by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.
Content may be edited for style and length.
Materials provided by:
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Guide to Benzodiazepine Addiction and Treatment. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). What Are the Differences Between Benzodiazepines? Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/differences/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Nembutal Abuse: Symptoms, Overdose Help & Treatment. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/sedatives/nembutal/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Sedative Addiction. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/sedatives/
NIH. (2017, September 1). Benzodiazepines and Z-Drugs: An Updated Review of Major Adverse Outcomes Reported on in Epidemiologic Research. Retrieved https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5694420/#:~:text=Zopiclone%2C%20eszopiclone%2C%20zaleplon%20and%20zolpidem,are%20not%20without%20potential%20harms.
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Ambien Addiction Guide. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/sedatives/ambien/
Medicine Net. (n.d.). Benzodiazepines vs. Ambien. Retrieved https://www.medicinenet.com/benzodiazepines_vs_ambien/article.htm#facts_on_benzodiazepines_vs_ambien
ABC News. (2018, May 30). What is Ambien and What Are its Known Side Effects? Retrieved https://abcnews.go.com/Health/ambien-side-effects/story?id=55530690
SAMHSA. (2019. August). 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Methodological Summary and Definitions. Retrieved https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHMethodsSummDefs2018/NSDUHMethodsSummDefs2018.htm
NIH. (2013, September 28). The History of Benzodiazepines. Retrieved https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24007886/
FDA. (2020, October 2). FDA Requiring Boxed Warning Updated to Improve Safe Use of Benzodiazepine Drug Class. Retrieved https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-requiring-boxed-warning-updated-improve-safe-use-benzodiazepine-drug-class
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Mixing Benzos and Opiates. Is it Safe? Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/and-opiates/
FDA. (2018, February 18). Questions and Answers: Risk of next-morning impairment after use of insomnia drugs; FDA requires lower recommended doses for certain drugs containing zolpidem (Ambien, Ambien CR, Edluar, and Zolpimist). Retrieved https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/questions-and-answers-risk-next-morning-impairment-after-use-insomnia-drugs-fda-requires-lower
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Why Does Ambien Cause Memory Loss? (& Other Side Effects) Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/sedatives/ambien/memory-loss/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Dangers of Mixing Alcohol With Ambien. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/alcohol/mixing-with-ambien/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Drug Rebound Anxiety: What Is It & How to Recover From or Avoid It. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/treatment-guide/rebound-anxiety/