Sleeping pills are sedatives with potential for abuse. Abusing sleeping pills can lead to abnormal behavior, extreme drowsiness, and amnesia (blackout).
Sleeping Pill Abuse & Addiction
Sleeping pills are habit-forming controlled substances which may lead to abuse and dependence. People with a history of substance abuse and mental illness are at higher risk of experiencing the dangers of sleeping pill abuse and addiction and may require treatment.
What Are Sleeping Pills?
Sleeping pills, also called z-drugs, belong to a class of drugs called sedative-hypnotics. Sedative-hypnotics produce feelings of calm and relaxation, and also include benzodiazepines and barbiturates. Sleeping pills are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, meaning they slow down brain activity.
Sleeping pills are prescription drugs normally prescribed for treating insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep) and other sleep disorders. Insomnia is very common among people, and about a third or more of all Americans report suffering from insomnia or poor sleeping habits. Because of the risk of addiction and abuse, doctors generally recommended other measures to prevent lack of sleep before prescribing sleeping medications.
The most commonly used sedative-hypnotics include:
- Ambien (zolpidem)
- Lunesta (eszopiclone)
- Sonata (zaleplon)
Sleeping pills are generally only used for a short period of time and should be taken exactly as directed, which is typically right before bedtime. Taking sleeping pills at other times of day is suggestive of abuse. Abuse occurs when a person takes more sleeping pills than directed, takes another person’s prescription, or takes sleeping pills over long periods of time.
Sleeping pills can be abused by swallowing or snorting crushed tablets. Common street names for sleeping pills include Forget-me-pill, Mexican Valium, Roofies, and Rope. Most sleeping pills are DEA controlled substances with potential for abuse.
Buying sleeping pills off the street, or using more than directed, is likely to lead to abuse and addiction. When a person takes too many sleeping pills too often, they’ll likely show various signs and symptoms of abuse.
Signs And Symptoms Of Sleeping Pill Abuse
Many sleeping pills cause a person to feel sleepy or sedated the next day. A person abusing sleeping pills is likely to seem off-balance, drowsy, or dizzy. Abusing sleeping pills will also likely increase certain side effects. Side effects of sleeping pills may include:
- coordination problems
- decreased mental alertness
- drugged feeling
- dry mouth
- euphoria (feel-good feeling)
- a headache
- memory problems
- slurred speech
Because sleeping pills can be habit-forming, misusing or abusing sleeping pills can lead to physical and psychological dependence. A person is likely to crave sleeping pills at any time of day, potentially making the pills their top priority. They may neglect basic hygiene and other responsibilities like work or school.
Other signs of drug-seeking behavior include compulsively using sleeping pills, constantly craving them, and continuing to use them despite harm to themselves or others. A person suffering from sleeping pill addiction may appear isolated, potentially losing interest in their favorite activities.
Taking too many sleeping pills may result in adverse effects. If a person takes sleeping pills but stays awake, they may experience hallucinations, anxiety, and abnormal thoughts and behaviors. The more sleeping pills a person takes, the more likely they are to experience the dangers of sleeping pill addiction.
The Dangers Of Sleeping Pill Addiction
Sleeping pills are sometimes combined with other substances or alcohol to enhance the feel-good feeling of euphoria. This is extremely dangerous because alcohol is likely to increase the effects of sleeping pills, which can lead to serious, and potentially life-threatening, side effects.
Mixing sleeping pills with other substances and alcohol may cause breathing problems, which is one of the main causes of death during an overdose. The chances of overdose are increased when a person mixes sleeping pills with other substances, but an overdose can also occur when a person takes too many sleeping pills. Symptoms of overdose may include:
- slowed breathing
- slowed heartbeat
An overdose should be treated as an emergency, and 9-1-1 should be contacted immediately. If untreated, overdosing on sleeping pills can be fatal.
Another danger of sleeping pill addiction is having amnesia, or no recollection of doing activities like driving, eating, talking on the phone, or having sex. There have been reports of people on sleeping medications who get out of bed and engage in an activity they are unaware they’re doing. This serious side effect is more likely when a person mixes sleeping pills with alcohol.
Taking too many sleeping pills may cause strange or unusual behavior and thinking. A person taking sleeping pills may be unduly aggressive or outgoing, show signs of worsening depression, and experience an increase in suicidal thoughts and behavior. In extreme cases, a person may show complex and bizarre behaviors that seem completely out of character and unexpected.
Although there are many dangers to sleeping pill addiction, it may be hard for a person to stop. When discontinued, a person is likely to experience symptoms of withdrawal.
Sleeping Pill Withdrawal And Detox
Once a person develops a physical or psychological dependence to sleeping pills, the body is likely to undergo a period of adjustment which causes sickness and discomfort when they stop use. This period is called withdrawal, and symptoms are likely to occur if a person has taken sleeping pills for over two weeks.
Symptoms of withdrawal may include:
- insomnia (difficulty staying or falling asleep)
- mood changes
- panic attacks
- stomach pain
- uncontrollable crying
Withdrawal symptoms may be worse if a person suffers from mental illness or dual diagnosis. Though unlikely, sedative-hypnotics like sleeping medications may cause withdrawal symptoms, like seizures, similar to alcohol withdrawal. If symptoms are severe, a person may require a medically supervised detoxification, or detox.
A medically supervised detox takes place in a professional setting like a hospital or inpatient treatment center. The goal of medical supervision during detox is to get a person ready for further treatment while managing, observing, and relieving symptoms of withdrawal. A medically supervised detox is likely to provide safety, comfort, and support when symptoms become painful and unbearable.
A medically supervised detox is not a cure for addiction but allows a person to prepare and be drug-free for future treatment. If a person does not receive further treatment following detox, they risk relapse and further drug use. Once a person goes through detox, they should enter a treatment program immediately afterward.
Treatment For Sleeping Pill Abuse And Addiction
Treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) usually involves a combination of medications and behavioral therapy. Currently, there are no government-approved medications for treating sleeping pill addiction.
However, a process called tapering may be effective in certain settings. Tapering is the process of gradually decreasing the dosage of a sleeping medication, or other sedative, in order to wean a person off dependence and avoid symptoms of withdrawal. Tapering is only effective under medical supervision.
Behavioral therapy is the most common form of addiction treatment. The ultimate goal of behavioral therapy is to change a person’s thinking and attitudes towards drugs. Therapy may consist of one on one counseling, group sessions, or other more intensive therapies like dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
There is no right form of treatment for everyone, and effective treatment should be highly individualized to best serve a person’s needs. It’s a common misconception that a person needs to desire to stop taking sleeping pills to get help, but most rehab facilities are equipped with professionals trained to motivate people to fight addiction and engage in treatment.
Inpatient rehab is likely the best course of action for someone suffering from sleeping pill addiction because the facility may offer everything a person needs to overcome addiction: detoxification and withdrawal support, access to medications, behavioral therapy, treatment for other physical or mental health conditions, and peer support.
Call now for more information on treating sleeping pill abuse and addiction.
MedlinePlus—Medicines for Sleep
National Institute on Drug Abuse—Commonly Abused Drug Charts: CNS Depressants
U.S. Food and Drug Administration—Lunesta Medication Guide