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How Do Sleeping Pills Lead to Addiction?
When people think of drug addiction, they often imagine illicit drugs (like heroin or cocaine) or substance abuse. But addiction can happen even when drug use doesn’t result from someone trying to get high.
If you have trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly half of all Americans struggle to get good sleep.
Sleep medications have a high potential for causing dependency, meaning your body eventually needs them to sleep at night. Over time, dependency can lead to addiction.
For some, developing rebound insomnia influences their decision to continue using sleep medications even after they have been directed to stop.
Rebound Insomnia From Sleeping Pills Use
Rebound insomnia occurs when the body becomes reliant on sleep medication to sleep. If the user stops taking these sleep medications, their insomnia returns—and it is often worse than it was before they started taking sleep medicine.
Still, others may develop an addiction to sleep medication as their dependence grows into a habit they simply cannot seem to break even despite negative consequences. Thankfully, treatment for sleep medication addiction is easily accessible and doesn’t usually require checking in to a rehab center.
Signs of Sleeping Pill Addiction
If you are worried about your sleeping pill use and wondering if it has shifted into addiction, you can ask your healthcare provider about adjusting your dosage or stopping altogether.
There are plenty of solutions to help you cut back or discontinue your sleep medication use.
People addicted to sleeping pills may display symptoms such as:
- Requiring increased doses to fall asleep
- Feeling confused or detached
- Memory loss
- Experiencing withdrawal (such as increased insomnia or mood swings)
- Isolating yourself from friends and family
- Changing doctors to get more sedatives
- Trying to quit taking sleeping pills and failing
Sleeping Pill Addiction Withdrawal
Withdrawal from sleeping pills can produce a variety of unpleasant side effects. The most serious one is “relapse insomnia,” which can happen because your body is accustomed to getting a constant supply of sedatives to fall asleep.
When you stop using sleeping pills, it can be difficult to get through the withdrawal process, which typically lasts several weeks.
Some sleeping pills (benzodiazepines) can cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Talk to your doctor before quitting benzodiazepine to ensure you stay safe. A medical detox will help regulate even the mildest of withdrawal symptoms for better recovery.
Common sleeping pill withdrawal symptoms include:
- Drug cravings
- Increased heart rate
- Seizures and body spasms
- Hand tremors
Can You Overdose on Sleeping Pills?
Yes, excessive use of over-the-counter and prescription sleeping pills can lead to toxicity levels that could be fatal. Serious physical signs might be present when someone overdoses on sleeping pills.
Symptoms of a sleeping pill overdose include:
- Slow or dysfunctional breathing
- Excessive lethargy
- Abdominal pain after taking the pills
- Loss of appetite or constipation
- Excessive “drunk-like” behavior
Sleeping pill overdose can be much more likely if the user has mixed the medication with other drugs or alcohol.
If you suspect someone is experiencing a sleep medication overdose, call 911 immediately to report the overdose and stay with the victim until help arrives.
Types of Sleep Medication
Different sleeping pills work in different ways. Some sleep aids will silence the part of your brain that keeps you alert so you can more easily get to sleep; other pills cause initial drowsiness to help encourage falling asleep.
Over-the-counter sleep aids share the same potential issues as prescription sleeping pills. Over time, regular usage can lead to problematic health conditions, including addiction, which is why all types of sleeping pills are intended for short-term use.
Z-drugs are a sedative-hypnotic. They bind to the brain’s GABA receptors to promote relaxation and make falling asleep easier.
Z-drugs were introduced in the 90s as a safer alternative to benzodiazepines. However, time and research indicate that the negative side effects of z-drugs are not so different from that of benzodiazepines.
Common Z-drugs include:
- Zaleplon (Sonata®)
- Eszopiclone (Lunesta®)
- Zolpidem (Ambien®)
Many benzodiazepines are used as an anti-anxiety medication due to their sedative effect.
Benzodiazepines bind to GABA receptors like Z-drugs but carry a higher addiction potential.
In addition, mixing other drugs with benzodiazepines (such as opioids or alcohol) can be deadly, so users must exercise caution if they have a benzodiazepine prescription to help them sleep.
Common benzodiazepines include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax®)
- Temazepam (Restoril®)
- Triazolam (Halcion®)
This type of sleep medication works by helping to regulate a person’s circadian rhythm (i.e., their sleep-wake cycle).
These sleep medications are considered a safer alternative to many sleep medications due to their lack of side effects.
Common receptor antagonists include:
- Suvorexant (Belsomra®)
- Ramelteon (Rozerem®)
Barbiturates are very rarely prescribed as sleep aids anymore due to their side effects. However, due to their history as once-popular sleep aids, they are still worth mentioning alongside more current sleep medications.
Common barbiturates include:
- Pentobarbital (Nembutal®)
- Secobarbital (Seconal®)
This type of sleeping pill is an over-the-counter medication.
Antihistamines contain diphenhydramine, a habit-forming chemical that causes drowsiness by increasing dopamine in the brain.
Common antihistamines used as sleep aids include:
- Tylenol PM®
- Advil PM®
Other Types of Sleep Aids
In addition to traditional sleep medication, alternative substances may be used to help a person get to sleep.
For some, insomnia may be a symptom of an ongoing physical or mental health issue, such as depression. A doctor may prescribe antidepressants to treat the main issue, and the person’s insomnia may lessen without needing sleep aids.
Other individuals may prefer to use herbal supplements (i.e., valerian root, mugwort, passion flower, chamomile) to help them sleep.
However, you should still talk with your doctor before using any kind of alternative sleep aids to ensure they won’t interact with other medications or health conditions.
Side Effects of Sleeping Pills
Sleeping pills can have serious side effects when a user takes more than what is prescribed or continues to use them after being directed to stop.
Short-Term Side Effects of Sleeping Pills
Short-term side effects of sleeping pill use can vary between individuals, and these side effects may even be present when taking the medication as directed.
Short-term side effects of sleeping pills may include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Dry mouth
- Weight gain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Daytime performance problems
Note: While sleepwalking and hallucinations can occur, these side effects are considered very rare.
Long-Term Side Effects of Sleeping Pills
Several side effects can occur due to long-term use, particularly if the sleep medication is not being taken as directed.
Most sleeping pills are designed for short-term use due to the long-term impact they can have on one’s health.
These long-term side effects of sleep medication include:
- Impaired motor skills
- Lack of coordination
- Decreased blood pressure
- Face paralysis
- Damaged body organs
What Comprises Sleeping Pill Abuse?
Sleeping pill abuse occurs when sleeping pills are used in a way that is not prescribed by your doctor (or per the directions for over-the-counter sleep medication).
Sleeping pill abuse may involve:
- Taking too much at one time
- Continuing to use sleeping pills for an extended period
- Taking prescription sleep medications without a prescription
- Using sleeping pills for something other than directed (i.e., to get high, etc.)
Sleeping pill addiction can happen even if you aren’t actively trying to abuse the pills due to their habit-forming potential.
There is no shame in talking to your doctor about any concerns you have about your sleep medication usage, and there are many treatments and solutions available to help you cut back or quit if that’s what needs to happen.
Sleeping Pill Abuse and Addiction Statistics
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), sleeping pills misuse is highest among adults 18-25 years old. Among this age group, 60% report purchasing or getting sleeping pills from family members.
In 2018, a reported 1 million US adults reported misusing prescription sedatives.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reveals that 40 million people (or 12% of the U.S. population) have abused or misused prescription drugs, such as sleeping pills, in their lifetime.
Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment
Recovering from sleeping pill addiction is possible. It can take time and effort on your part, but with help from professionals and the support of family members, you can find the path to a world free of the risks and pain of this addiction.
Medical Detoxification for Sleeping Pills
Detoxification from sleeping pills doesn’t have to be painful or dangerous. A medical detox program can help protect your liver and kidneys while your body processes the drug out of your system.
You don’t usually need to detox from sleep medication at a treatment center. Your doctor can devise a treatment plan for your detoxification process, which may involve tapering off the medication and watching for concerning side effects.
Before deciding to quit taking sleeping pills—especially benzodiazepines—talk to your doctor first. Some side effects of withdrawal can be life-threatening, so a detox plan is essential for your safety.
Rehab for Sleeping Pill Addiction
Not everyone dealing with addiction to sleeping pills will need to sign up for a rehab program, but it is a treatment option.
Most outpatient treatment programs will provide appropriate care for minor to moderate sleeping pill addiction.
Alternatively, inpatient rehab (also known as residential rehab) may be best suited for someone with a severe sleeping pill addiction or someone with a problem with more than one substance.
Inpatient care for sleeping pill addiction will last between 30 to 90 days, depending on your individual needs, and many inpatient facilities can also provide medical care for those who need it.
Counseling and Therapy for Sleeping Pill Addiction
Sometimes substance abuse happens as a form of escapism, and if that’s the case for you, therapy is likely a fantastic choice as you recover from your addiction to sleeping pills.
One of the most common types of therapy used in treating addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT helps the individual address underlying issues that led to seeking substance use as a coping mechanism. It can also help people avoid relapse and further substance abuse down the road by replacing toxic and negative beliefs with healthier tools and ways of thinking.
Coping With a Loved One’s Sleeping Pill Addiction
When your family member or friend struggles with addiction, they need help. Treatment is available, and the sooner they get the help they need, the better their chances of recovery will be. Treatment works regardless of how long they have been abusing substances or which sleeping pills they use.
By choosing a treatment program wisely, your loved one can get on track with their sobriety and return to enjoying their lives without an addiction to sleep medication.
Find Help for Sleeping Pill Addiction Near You
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a free helpline and website to help you or your loved one find addiction treatment options in your area.
You can also discuss potential sleeping pill addiction treatment options with your doctor. Depending on the severity of your addiction, they can help you determine the path to recovery that’s best for you.
Sleeping Pill Addiction FAQs
Is it bad to take sleep medicine every night?
Long-term use of sleep medication can lead to addiction. Eventually, your body may become so used to having sleeping pills that it may rely on them to fall asleep. Only take sleep medication as prescribed by a doctor or as needed.
If you regularly feel you need sleep medication to help you get rest, you may need to speak to your doctor or healthcare provider about your disrupted sleep to help you find a long-term solution.
What are the most abused sleeping pills?
The most abused sleeping pills are Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata. These medications are known as Z-drugs and are classified as nonbenzodiazepines.
However, they also carry a higher risk of developing an addiction than other sleep medications and should only be taken under medical supervision.
Are there natural sleeping pills?
Natural sleep aids do not cause withdrawal or addiction after use. There are many non-addictive alternatives to sleeping pills, such as melatonin. Many products also use antihistamines, which produce a drowsy effect.
What are the most abused sleeping pills?
The most abused sleeping pills are Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata. These medications are known as Z-drugs and are classified as nonbenzodiazepines. However, they also carry a higher risk for developing an addiction than other sleep medications and should therefore only be taken under medical supervision.