Sleeping Pill Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources

Last Medical Reviewer On: March 29, 2024
Updated On: Nov 1, 2023
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Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Medical Review by:

Dr. Po Chang Hsu MD, MS

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    Sleeping pills are psychoactive drugs prescribed to treat insomnia. While these pills can be helpful, they also have the potential for addiction and abuse.

    What Are Sleeping Pills?

    Sleeping pills, which include a range of substances that can cause sedation or drowsiness, vary in their potential for addiction and are classified under different schedules depending on their abuse potential. While some sleeping pills are classified as Schedule IV substances under the Controlled Substances Act, indicating a lower potential for abuse compared to Schedule II and III substances, not all sleeping pills fall under this category. The classification and potential for addiction depend on the specific drug and its properties.

    While sleeping pills do not exhibit the same level of addiction potential as substances like heroin, long-term use can lead to the development of both psychological and physical dependence. The addiction profile of sleeping pills is distinct from that of many illegal drugs, but this does not mean they are without risks. Dependence on sleeping pills can result from prolonged usage, underscoring the importance of medical oversight during treatment.[1]

    How Many People Take Sleeping Pills?

    A recent study revealed that in 2020 alone, 8.4% of people in the United States took sleeping pills every night or almost every night in the last 30 days.[2] While not everyone who takes sleeping pills will become dependent, taking them for long periods may increase the risk.

    How Are Sleeping Pills Taken?

    Most sleeping pills must be swallowed whole and not chewed. Taking the pill allows it to slowly release into your body as it gets broken down by your stomach acid. Misusing it involves taking it in other ways to release more of the drug simultaneously.

    A person with a sleeping pill addiction will sometimes crush and snort the pills or inject them into their bloodstream. This will create a feeling of euphoria, but it is also very dangerous. Taking sleep medications in this way has a high risk of overdose.

    Common Sleeping Pills Quick Reference

    Generic Name Brand Names DEA Schedule Administration
    zolpidem Ambien®, Zolpimist®, Intermezzo®, Edluar® Schedule IV Oral
    doxepin Silenor®, Prudoxin®, Zonalon® Silenor®: Not Scheduled; Prudoxin® and Zonalon®: Schedule IV Oral
    ramelteon Rozerem® Not Scheduled Oral
    Zaleplon Sonata® Schedule IV Oral
    eszopiclone Lunesta® Schedule IV Oral

    Side Effects of Common Sleeping Pills

    Side Effects of Ambien®

    Ambien® is one of the most common sleeping pills on the market. Its generic name is zolpidem, and it is marketed under other brand names, such as Zolpimist®, Intermezzo®, and Edluar®.

    Common side effects of Ambien® include dry mouth or an odd, metallic taste in the mouth. Some people may experience prolonged side effects, such as feeling tired the day after taking the pill. Less common side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, weakness, back pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

    Side Effects of Silenor®

    The generic name for Silenor® is doxepin. Other brand names for this medication are Prudoxin® and Zonalon®.

    While Silenor® is a sleeping pill, it is also an antidepressant and can be used to treat nerve pain and anxiety. The side effects include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, dizziness, lightheadedness, dry mouth, and mouth sores. There is also a topical form that can treat dermatitis.

    Side Effects of Rozerem®

    Rozerem® (the brand name for ramelteon) is primarily prescribed to treat insomnia. It is a melatonin receptor agonist, which means it binds to receptors in your brain to mimic the effects of melatonin to promote sleepiness.

    Side effects of Rozerem® include body aches and pains, muscle weakness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty breathing, and depression.

    Side Effects of Sonata®

    Zaleplon (Sonata®) is a sleeping pill prescribed for short-term insomnia treatment. Sonata® works by interacting with certain brain regions that help calm and relax the body. It enhances the effects of a natural chemical called GABA, which helps to regulate brain activity and promote sleepiness.

    Common side effects of Sonata® include drowsiness, headache, dizziness, nausea, dry mouth, coordination difficulties, memory problems, and mood changes.

    Side Effects of Lunesta®

    Lunesta® (the brand name for eszopiclone) belongs to a class of medications known as nonbenzodiazepine hypnotics. This medication acts on GABA receptors to promote sedation and relaxation, making it easier for those with insomnia to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

    Side effects of Lunesta® may include drowsiness, headache, dry mouth, an unpleasant taste in the mouth, dizziness, problems with coordination or memory, and changes in mood or behavior.

    Statistics on Sleeping Pill Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    A 2022 study involving 338 participants found that 26.63% misused their sleeping pill prescriptions.[3]

    Many people may borrow sleeping pills from their friends or relatives if they have trouble sleeping or sleep disorders. However, using these pills without a prescription can be dangerous.

    Taking sleeping aids in any manner not aligned with a healthcare provider’s instructions, such as altering the dose, frequency, or method of administration, can lead to serious health risks and adverse effects. It’s important to adhere strictly to the prescribed guidelines to minimize the risk of overdose, dependence, and other negative outcomes.

    Effects of Sleeping Pill Abuse

    Many people don’t realize they have an addiction to sleeping pills until they start having cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Short-term drug use might not have pronounced symptoms, but those symptoms will become more pronounced as time passes. A person addicted to sleeping pills is likely always to be tired.

    Individuals misusing sleeping pills may experience significant physical and mental changes, including difficulties with concentration and memory. In some cases, this misuse can escalate to behaviors such as attempting to acquire prescription drugs without authorization, including taking them from friends or family members.

    Can You Overdose on Sleeping Pills?

    It is possible to overdose on sleeping pills when you misuse them. Overdosing is more likely when you snort or inject the medications. It is also more likely when you mix them with alcohol or hypnotic drugs.

    Mixing these substances will depress the nervous system and slow heart rate and breathing. This leads to a loss of consciousness and can be fatal.

    Overdose prevention programs are available in most US states. In Tennessee, the Regional Overdose Prevention program has specialists located statewide. New Jersey’s government prevention program provides resources about drug overdoses and how to help yourself or a loved one when an overdose is suspected.

    Signs and Symptoms of Sleeping Pill Overdose

    An individual who is experiencing a sleeping pill overdose will likely be unresponsive. They may have a very faint and slow heart rate, and their breathing may be very shallow.

    They may experience nausea, vomiting, confusion, and abdominal pain if conscious. A sleeping pill overdose can be fatal if the person isn’t treated in time.

    It is crucial to call 911 as soon as possible. Stay with the person until medical services arrive.

    Dangers of Long-Term Sleeping Pill Use

    Sleeping pills can be habit-forming. Once you get used to them, you may struggle to stop taking them. However, long-term use can lead to long-lasting consequences. These include memory loss, rebound insomnia, sleepwalking, sedative effects, cravings, and more. Some people may suffer permanent changes to the brain and neurotransmitters, such as GABA.

    Taking Sleeping Pills with Other Drugs

    Mixing sleeping pills with other drugs can be potentially dangerous and should be done with caution, if at all. Specific drug interactions can vary depending on the specific sleeping pill and the other substances involved.

    However, there are some general considerations to remember before taking sleeping pills with another substance.

    Excessive Sedation

    Sleeping pills from all drug classes (such as benzodiazepines, nonbenzodiazepines, or sedating antidepressants) can have sedative effects. Combining multiple sedating medications can increase the risk of excessive sedation, drowsiness, and impaired coordination.

    Central Nervous System Depression

    Many sleeping pills and certain other drugs, such as opioids, tranquilizers, or alcohol, can depress the central nervous system (CNS). Mixing these substances can lead to severe CNS depression, resulting in slowed or shallow breathing, decreased heart rate, extreme drowsiness, or even coma.

    Increased Risk of Toxicity

    Sleeping pills and other medications may be metabolized by the same enzymes in the liver, leading to potential drug interactions. This can affect the levels and effectiveness of either or both medications and may increase the risk of side effects or toxicity.

    Speak with your doctor or pharmacist before combining sleeping pills with other drugs, and inform your prescriber of any medications, supplements, or illicit substances you might be taking.

    Sleeping Pill Addiction and Abuse

    Both over-the-counter and prescription sleeping medications can be addictive. While sleeping pills aren’t as addictive as opioids, it can still be difficult to stop taking these drugs. Prescription sleep aids can change how a person looks and behaves once dependence occurs.

    Signs of Addiction to Sleeping Pills

    Those who have a drug addiction are likely to steal pills from the medicine cabinets of their friends and family. They may steal money to buy sleeping pills illegally. Some may go to different doctors to get various prescriptions. Others may crave these pills and forge prescriptions to get them.

    Sleeping Pill Addiction and Mental Health

    Sleeping pill addiction and mental health are closely connected, as individuals may rely on sleeping pills to cope with sleep disturbances caused by underlying mental health conditions.

    Sleeping pills have the potential for dependence and addiction, making comprehensive treatment essential. Gradual tapering of medication under medical supervision and therapies to address insomnia and underlying mental health concerns are advised.

    Developing healthy sleep habits and exploring alternative treatments can also aid recovery. Seeking professional help is important for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

    Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment

    Proper healthcare can help those with addictions get the treatment they need. Outpatient and inpatient treatment involves therapy and sometimes medication-assisted treatment at a treatment center. Treatment often ranges from one month to a year. Partial hospitalization is another excellent option, as is an intensive outpatient program.

    Therapies Used in Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment

    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
    • Psychotherapy
    • Behavioral Therapy
    • Experiential Therapy
    • Group Therapy

    These therapies can help you address underlying concerns, such as mental health issues or a trauma history, that may be contributing to your addiction. Combined with detoxification and specialized medications, therapy helps put you on a path toward sustainable recovery.

    Dual Diagnosis for Co-Occurring Disorders

    It is not uncommon for patients suffering from insomnia to also struggle with mental health concerns like anxiety or depression. While sleeping pills can help these disorders, their use can also lead to substance use disorder. When mental health and substance use challenges are present together, treating each disorder is important to ensure true holistic healing.

    Sleeping Pill Withdrawal Management Treatment

    Detox is often an essential part of recovery in the earliest stages of your journey. Each individual’s experience will be unique, but withdrawal and detox treatment typically lasts a few days to a week. Ongoing treatment, such as therapy, should pick up where detox left off to ensure lasting success.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Does Everyone Get Addicted to Sleeping Pills?
    How Can You Sleep Better Without Sleeping Pills?
    What Side Effects of Sleeping Pills Should You Be Concerned About?

    Are you or a loved one struggling with Sleeping Pill addiction?

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