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The Real Risk of Sleeping Pill Addiction
Sleeping pills such as Ambien are available by prescription to assist individuals with sleep disorders like insomnia. Over-the-counter sleep medications can also help people get a restful night’s sleep. However, the danger of dependence and addiction can sneak up on people for whom insomnia is a real issue. If you find yourself stuck on prescription sleeping pills, there are ways to overcome them through targeted rehabilitation and detox.
Types of Sleeping Pills
Sleep aids can be used to help people when they have trouble sleeping. Both over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids can be broken down into two general categories: benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepines are a prescription drug known as a sedative-hypnotic, which causes a sedative and relaxing effect on the brain. This sedation and hypnotic make benzodiazepines popular for treating mental health issues like anxiety. However, benzodiazepines can also be prescribed for short-term treatment of sleep issues.
Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax or Restoril, are habit-forming and can cause major side effects during withdrawals. Therefore, they should only be used as sleep aids under the direction of your healthcare provider.
Other prescription sleep aids, and over-the-counter sleep medication, can be broken down into a few subcategories.
These sleep medication sub-categories are as follows:
Known as Z-drugs, this sedative-hypnotic category is only available through a prescription. They are only used to treat insomnia and can be addictive if taken for long periods. Z-drugs may also present dangerous side effects such as memory loss, sleepwalking, and other unconscious behaviors.
- Ambien (Zolpidem)
- Lunesta (Eszopiclone)
- Sonata (Zaleplon)
Certain antihistamines create drowsiness by increasing the brain’s dopamine. However, antihistamines can also be habit-forming and shouldn’t be used long-term.
- Tylenol PM
- Advil PM
Receptor antagonists are named so because they block a chemical in the brain that causes wakefulness. This new category of sleep medication has fewer side effects than z-drugs.
Sometimes sleep problems such as restlessness or waking up frequently during the night are the side-effects of underlying causes such as depression or other mental health disorders. Antidepressants can sometimes be prescribed as sleep aids to treat a larger issue.
Unfortunately, extended sleeping pill use can lead to dependency and addiction. When your body gets used to the regular influx of sleep medication, it can depend on those chemicals to help you get to sleep.
One very common withdrawal symptom from sleep medication is known as rebound insomnia. If you abruptly stop taking sleep aids after your body has become dependent on them, you could experience insomnia that is more severe than your original insomnia. It can take up to several weeks for your body to return to normal and regulate sleep on its own again.
Other sleeping pill withdrawal symptoms include:
- Excess sweating
- Faster heart rate
- Cravings for sleep medication
- Nausea, vomiting
However, a rehab program for sleeping pill abuse and addiction can help you during and after the withdrawal process. In many cases, a doctor or similar medical professional may assist you with tapering your sleep medication dosage to lessen the withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment facilities are available in both inpatient and outpatient capacities, depending on your needs and level of addiction.
Detox from Sleeping Pills
The first step in the treatment process is detoxification, also known as detox. Detox occurs naturally as your body eliminates any remaining sleep medication chemicals from its system and works on getting back to its normal functioning.
There are a few factors that can impact the length and severity of your detox process, including:
- Dosage of sleep medication
- Length of time you used sleep medication
- Underlying health conditions that may contribute to sleep issues (like depression)
However, most people can expect the overall sleeping pill detox timeline to be similar to the one below.
Sleeping Pill Detox Timeline
Detox: Days 1-3
Withdrawal symptoms typically begin within the first 24 to 72 hours (1-3 days). Side effects may include anxiety or restlessness, irritability, and mood swings.
Those with a more severe substance use problem with sleeping pills, may also experience nausea and vomiting during these early stages.
Detox: Days 4-10
After the first few days, insomnia is likely to return and can often be worse than it was for you originally (rebound insomnia). Anxiety may persist as well.
Tremors, dizziness, and excess sweating are likely the most intense during this second phase.
Recovering individuals may also begin to experience cravings for sleep medication.
Detox: Days 11-17
After the first week and a half, many physical symptoms will begin to lessen. However, anxiety and insomnia may persist; depression may also become more prevalent.
Detox: Day 18+
After the first few weeks, symptoms will begin to fade significantly. Some users may experience long-term symptoms known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) if they were heavy sleeping pill abusers.
As mentioned above, you can seek assistance from an addiction treatment center to help you through the detox process and beyond.
Sleeping Pill Treatment and Rehab
Many people are under the false impression that a rehab center is strictly a place where people will go for drug addiction and stay for a month or more. While this is true of inpatient treatment providers, not all drug rehab is that intensive.
If you or a loved one is seeking guidance and support to handle a sleeping pill addiction, there are many different types of treatment providers that you can choose from.
Medical detox is a medically supervised detoxification program that occurs at the beginning of most treatments. It is available at an inpatient level for severe addiction, but in many cases is perfectly safe to experience in an outpatient capacity.
Most symptoms of withdrawal from sleeping pills are not life-threatening. However, medical detox can provide you with guidance and support (including prescriptions to taper your medication) that can help lessen your withdrawal symptoms.
For individuals with a severe addiction to sleeping pills (and potentially other drug use), inpatient rehab may be the best option. Inpatient treatment centers typically require a minimum 30-day commitment, where the patient will live at the rehab facility for the duration of their addiction care.
Inpatient rehab provides the highest level of care available for sleeping pill addiction along with the most structured daily schedule.
Outpatient rehab is often the treatment type of choice for those with mild to moderate sleeping pill addiction.
Outpatient sleeping pill rehab exists in two main levels of care, beginning with Partial Hospitalization Programs. A Partial Hospitalization Program offers daytime rehab treatment for sleeping pill addiction. Patients attend Partial Hospitalization programs from 3 to 7 days a week, depending on their specific needs, for roughly 4 to 8 hours a day.
Alternatively, an even less-intensive rehab program is an Intensive Outpatient Program, also known as IOP. Patients receiving care from an IOP only go for a few hours a week to help them address their addiction to sleeping pills.
Regardless of the type of addiction center you choose, all programs offer a variety of behavioral therapies to help recovering addicts avoid relapse in the future and tackle the issues that may have led to addiction in the first place.
Therapies Used in Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment
Behavioral health is a key factor in the treatment of a sleeping pill addiction, and a variety of therapies are offered at different treatment facilities. The following examples are some of the most common therapy types used to treat addiction to sleeping medication.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of “talk therapy” designed to build better-coping mechanisms and habits.
Through individual or group therapy, patients recovering from sleeping pill addiction will work with a therapist to uncover possible reasons for their insomnia. Together, you and your therapist will build better habits around your sleep routine.
Psychotherapy is essentially an umbrella term for different types of counseling that involve introspection. During treatment for sleep medication addiction, psychotherapy can help patients address any underlying causes for their addiction.
Sleep training is a newer method of helping re-train the adult brain to fall asleep more easily. In a controlled environment, patients are encouraged to fall asleep. Once sleep is achieved, the patient is awoken and then allowed to fall back to sleep again.
Each time the patient is awakened and allowed to fall back asleep, the brain is “trained” to get better at falling asleep more quickly.
Rebuilding Healthy Sleep Habits
Outside of rehab for sleep medication addiction or abuse, individuals that struggle with insomnia or other sleep disorders have other holistic methods they can try to induce a good night’s sleep.
While any medical advice should always come from your physician, the following health information can be something you can discuss with your doctor.
Research indicates that some healthy sleep habits include:
- Set a consistent sleep schedule: Try to get to bed at the same time each night, even on weekends. Include a set wake-up time at first to help your body adjust to this new circadian rhythm.
- Regular bedtime routine: Having a set routine before bed can help trigger your brain to know it’s time to start winding down. This routine should look the same each night, in relatively the same order.
- Regular exercise: Not only does regular exercise help tire you out physically, but exercise also increases the amount of restorative sleep you get.
- Eating a healthy diet: Heavy, rich, or fatty foods take longer to digest and can cause wakefulness at night. Spicy or greasy foods can also cause heartburn, which can prohibit a restful night.
- Limit caffeine and avoid nicotine: Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants that can keep you awake long after you lie down to go to sleep.
- Keep naps short: Long naps can disrupt your circadian rhythm. Naps can also make it much harder to fall asleep at your regular bedtime if taken too late or too long.
- Avoid screens before bed: The blue light emitted from our electronics (computers, smartphones) has been shown to disrupt our circadian rhythm, making our brains think the sun is still out and disrupting its normal “time-for-sleep” process. Get some blue-blocking glasses if screen time cannot be completely avoided before bed.
With practice and conscientious behavior, you can improve your sleep quality once and for all. improving your overall sleep quality. Check out the masterclass from Matthew Walker on sleep habits and how to improve sleep quality.
Natural Sleep Aids
For centuries, people have relied on natural means to help them sleep. If you decide to try any of these all-natural sleep supplements, be sure to talk to your doctor first. Some of these natural ingredients may not be safe for nursing or pregnant women, for example.
Some very popular natural sleep aids include:
- Sleepytime Tea
- Magnesium Threonate
Ready to End Your Addiction to Sleep Medication?
If it’s time to find a treatment center for yourself or a loved one, you can speak directly with your doctor or visit the SAMHSA treatment center locator to find what options are closest to you.