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

Medically Reviewed By

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

On April 15, 2024

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 usually psychological.[1]

Side Effects of Ambien® (Zolpidem)

Ambien® (zolpidem) is a powerful sedative-hypnotic drug that induces sleep and is classified as a non-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 is considered to have a lower risk of abuse and dependence compared to drugs in higher schedules. 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.

Halcion® (triazolam) is a type of benzodiazepine and 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 treat insomnia temporarily.

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 can occur, particularly when they are misused. 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 in the past 30 days.[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 worsens.

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

It is strongly advised not to mix sleeping aids 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 often 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, while short-term use of sedatives for sleep disorders carries a lower risk of addiction, it is still possible for dependence to develop even in short-term scenarios, particularly if misused. Long-term use of sleeping pills, especially when you find that you cannot go without them, may indicate an addiction. 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 can cause side effects such as drowsiness and, in some cases, may contribute to feelings of depression or paranoia. 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 aims to address and treat both mental health and substance use concerns simultaneously to facilitate comprehensive and holistic healing.

Sleeping Pill Withdrawal Management Treatment

As harmful toxins leave the body and natural systems are restored, withdrawal symptoms may be uncomfortable. 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.

If you or someone you love is struggling with a sleeping pill addiction, reach out to our Manhattan Rehab Center. Ascendant New York is here to help, offering drug rehab support to all five boroughs within New York City.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Strong Are Sleeping Pills?

The effectiveness of sleeping pills varies based on the type and dosage. While they are generally designed to be strong enough to help individuals with difficulties falling or staying asleep, their effects can differ significantly among users. Misusing these drugs may cause a person to overdose and fall into a coma. 

Are Sleeping Pills Very Addictive?

While sleeping pills typically have a lower potential for addiction compared to opioids, they can still be addictive, especially if misused or taken over a long period. It is still important to talk to your healthcare provider before taking them. 

Who Takes Sleeping Pills?

Sleeping pills are commonly prescribed for individuals with insomnia or other sleep disorders. They may also be used to help manage symptoms of anxiety or panic disorders in certain cases.

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[1] By the way, doctor: Are sleeping pills addictive?. Harvard Health. (2014, March 9). Retrieved from 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 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 on May 19, 2023.