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

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On November 13, 2023

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Sleeping pills are over-the-counter or prescription designed to help those with insomnia fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Some are also used to treat anxiety. It is possible to develop a sleeping pill addiction, especially when misused.

What Are Sleeping Pills?

Sleeping pills are prescription or over-the-counter medications that induce drowsiness and relaxation to treat insomnia or other sleep disorders. These drugs are sedatives and help you fall or stay asleep. In some cases, they may also be prescribed to treat anxiety or panic disorders.

Common sleeping pills include Benzodiazepines or “benzos” (Valium®, Xanax®, etc.), Non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics (“z-drugs” like Ambien®, Sonata®, Lunesta®, etc.), and low-dose trazodone antidepressants (Desyrel®, Oleptro®, etc.).

Even though these may be prescribed medication, it is still possible to form a dependence. A sleeping pill addiction is unique from other substance use disorders and forms both a psychological addiction as well as a physical one.[1]

Your mind will become dependent, and your body may exhibit physical symptoms due to use or withdrawal. You may develop a habit of taking sleeping pills every night until you realize you can’t go without them.

Side Effects of Ambien® (Zolpidem)

Ambien® is a powerful sedative-hypnotic drug that induces sleep but is not a benzodiazepine. People who use this drug may experience side effects such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, falling, and fatigue.

It is a Schedule IV drug, meaning it does not have a very high risk of addiction. However, it is still important to be cautious when taking any medication and only take it as prescribed. Common names for this drug include Intermezzo, Edluar, chill pills, and tranks.

Side Effects of Halcion® (Triazolam)

Halcion® is another prescription medication given to treat insomnia. It is a triazolobenzodiazepine, which is a derivative of benzodiazepines. It can cause a variety of side effects, such as drowsiness, memory loss, sleepwalking, headaches, an upset stomach, and paranoia.

As a partial benzodiazepine, this drug is also a Schedule IV controlled substance due to the potential for abuse and addiction. Those who use Halcion may refer to it as planks, downers, French fries, and candy.

Side Effects of Sonata® (Zaleplon)

Similar to Ambien®, Sonata® is not a benzodiazepine but instead a sedative-hypnotic and another Schedule IV drug. It is meant to be used for short periods to temporarily treat insomnia.

The side effects of Sonata® vary but can include numbness in the extremities, vision problems, weight loss, and a lack of motor coordination. Other names for this drug include nerve pills and totem poles.

How Are Sleeping Pills Taken?

Most sleep medications are pills meant to be swallowed whole. This allows your stomach to slowly break them down so that small amounts of the pill’s total dose are released throughout the night.

An addiction to sleep medications often occurs when someone misuses them. Misusing these drugs may involve snorting or injecting them after they are crushed into a fine powder. This could easily cause more severe side effects and substance use disorder.

Statistics on Sleeping Pill Use, Misuse, and Addiction

In 2020 alone, 8.4% of people in the United States used sleeping pills every night or almost every night.[2] Most people who take sleep-inducing medication do not misuse them or become addicted. However, the subset that does become addicted often becomes so due to misuse.

Some may take more sleeping pills than they should. Others may take different pills at once, such as Lunesta®, opioids, antidepressants, non-benzodiazepine sedatives, and other prescription drugs. This can lead to addiction, overdose, and other dangerous consequences.

Effects of Sleeping Pill Abuse

Once you become dependent on sleeping pills, you may experience cravings or an inability to sleep without them. When you don’t have the medication, you may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

You may also feel fatigued throughout the day and experience headaches, nausea, and stomach pain, among other health conditions.

Can You Overdose on Sleeping Pills?

Yes, it is possible to overdose on sleeping pills when they are misused. It is more likely and highly dangerous when you mix them with alcohol or other sleep aids or depressant substances. Both will intensify the suppression of the nervous system and can cause you to pass out, go into a coma, or die.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleeping Pill Overdose

A person who has overdosed on sleeping pills will likely be unresponsive. If they are still conscious, they may be ready to faint, and they may feel very nauseous, dizzy, and confused. If they are passed out, their breathing and heart rate may be dangerously low.

What to do if you suspect someone is overdosing on sleeping pills

An overdose of prescription drugs or a mix of substances can be fatal. You must find medical help as soon as you notice someone who has overdosed. Medical services can give the person the treatment they need to recover before their condition gets any worse.

Dangers of Long-Term Sleeping Pill Use

Sleeping pills can severely alter the way your brain works. Some people develop depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, and paranoia after taking these pills for many years. Others may have suicidal thoughts or may turn to other forms of drug addiction.

Mixing Sleeping Pills with Other Drugs

Sleeping aids should never be mixed with alcohol. This can impact the brain’s GABA receptors and the natural production of melatonin. It may also cause seizures, fainting, coma, and overdose. Prescription sleep aids should not be mixed with other sedatives, either, including over-the-counter options.

Sleeping Pill Addiction and Abuse

Sleeping pills are abused more among certain groups of people, such as medical students, who often experience very high levels of stress and can’t sleep on their own.[3] Those who often experience stress have trouble sleeping and staying relaxed throughout the day. Taking sleeping pills without a prescription or in any amount or route other than prescribed can be dangerous and lead to more serious health risks.

Signs of Addiction to Sleeping Pills

As a disclaimer, the short-term use of sedatives for sleep disorders is unlikely to result in addiction. But when you use them for many years and find that you can’t go without them, you may be addicted. Other signs of addiction include cravings, withdrawals, and irritation when you’re not taking sleep aids. Rebound insomnia may also occur when you don’t take them.

Sleeping Pill Addiction and Mental Health

Sleeping pills make people drowsy, depressed, and often paranoid. Some people may have suicidal thoughts, while others may become panicked if they’re unable to get their medication. The longer you take sleeping pills, the more likely they will cause cognitive decline and other mental health issues.

Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment

Substance use disorders and prescription medication addiction can be challenging to navigate alone. Going through detox at a medical rehab facility is the best way to overcome a substance use problem.

Substance use disorder treatment often begins with detox to remove harmful substances from the body and reach a healthy level of stabilization. Once a natural state has been restored, treatment continues in the form of residential rehab or intensive outpatient programs, depending on the severity of your disorder.During treatment, participants will receive evidence-based addiction treatment, individual therapy, group therapy, skill development training, and relapse prevention strategies to support ongoing recovery and lasting sobriety. The cost will vary depending on each participant’s unique needs but may be covered by your health insurance

Therapies Used in Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment

Talk and behavioral therapies are critical components of substance use disorder treatment. They offer valuable insights and practical resources to identify, address, and overcome mental health and substance use concerns. Some highly effective modalities include:

  • Art Therapy
  • Accelerated Resolution Trauma Therapy
  • Boxing & Body Movement
  • CBT Therapy
  • DBT Therapy
  • Family Dynamic Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Individual Therapy
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Relapse Prevention Therapy
  • Spiritual Therapy

Dual Diagnosis for Co-Occurring Disorders

Insomnia is a very common co-occurring disorder for those who have developed a substance use disorder related to sleeping pill abuse. Also common are anxiety and depression. Dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders addresses and treats both mental health and substance use concerns simultaneously for true holistic healing.

Sleeping Pill Withdrawal Management Treatment

As harmful toxins leave the body and natural systems are restored, there may be uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Managing the early stages of detox and withdrawal requires an integrated approach. By leveraging both medical interventions and mental health treatment, patients can be safely stabilized and begin recovery with support and increased comfort.

Drugs Used in Sleeping Pill Withdrawal Management

In some cases, medication-assisted treatment is beneficial for treating a sleeping pill addiction. Clonidine is a common solution to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. OTC pills like Tylenol may also be administered to make patients more comfortable.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Strong Are Sleeping Pills?

The strength of the sedative effects will depend on the dosage. Most are strong enough to help people fall asleep and stay asleep during the night. Misusing these drugs may cause a person to overdose and fall into a coma. 

Are Sleeping Pills Very Addictive?

Sleeping pills are not as addictive as opioids and other similar medications. But it is still important to talk to your healthcare provider before taking them. 

Who Takes Sleeping Pills?

Those with insomnia or sleep disorders usually take sleeping pills. However, they are also prescribed to those with anxiety or panic disorders.

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Sources
Sources:

[1] By the way, doctor: Are sleeping pills addictive?. Harvard Health. (2014, March 9). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/By_the_way_doctor_Are_sleeping_pills_addictive on May 19, 2023.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, January 25). Products – data briefs – number 462 – january 2023. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db462.htm on May 19, 2023.

[3] Alasmari, M. M., Alkanani, R. S., Alshareef, A. S., Alsulmi, S. S., Althegfi, R. I., Bokhari, T. A., Alsheikh, M. Y., & Alshaeri, H. K. (2022, December 20). Medical students’ attitudes toward sleeping pill usage: A cross-sectional study. Frontiers in psychiatry. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9807662/ on May 19, 2023.