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

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

    What Are Sleeping Pills?

    Sleeping pills are Schedule IV substances that cause light sedation or drowsiness and make it easier to fall and/or stay asleep. They are less addictive than Schedule III and II substances but still have substantial potential for addiction.

    Sleeping pills aren’t addictive in the same way that heroin or other substances, or street drugs. However, those who take them for long periods can form both a psychological and physical dependence.[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.[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® Schedule IV Oral
    ramelteon Rozerem® Schedule IV 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 having a 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 and is a melatonin receptor agonist. This means it binds to receptors in your brain in such a way that it mimics 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 parts of the brain that help to 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] One of the most common forms of misuse is self-prescription. 

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

    Taking sleeping aids in any way other than as prescribed can have serious consequences. 

    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 to always be tired. 

    Many may suffer physical and mental changes as well. They may have difficulty concentrating or remembering things. They may try to steal prescription drugs from a friend or loved one

    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 on your own. 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. 

    Drugs Used in Sleeping Pill Withdrawal Management

    Medications to reduce nausea and pain are often provided to those going through withdrawal symptoms and prevent them from becoming too severe. Clonidine is a pill administered orally to increase overall relaxation in the body, which can serve to decrease uncomfortable symptoms of opioid withdrawal, but can decrease blood pressure too drastically. Another medication that is used to manage withdrawal symptoms is lofexidine, which is also administered orally and reduces symptoms with a less of an impact on blood pressure.

    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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