Addiction To Sleeping Pills
Although people successfully treat short-term insomnia with sleeping pills, many become dependent on them. The numbers aren’t in their favor. Approximately 38 million prescriptions for Ambien (a common sleeping pill) were written between 2006 and 2011.
With such rampant accessibility, and a perceived blessing from medical professionals, it’s no wonder so many people fall prey to the power of sleeping pills.
Many people wrongly assume they can’t get addicted to sleeping pills, and some people even claim to have gotten this information from their doctor. Yet some people find themselves unable to sleep without the help of a sleeping pill. As tolerance increases, many find that they need to take larger dosages to obtain the desired effect.
A lot of people don’t realize they’ve become dependent, or possibly addicted, until they stop taking their medication. They may then begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms, a telltale sign of both dependence and addiction.
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Other signs that sleeping pill use has gotten out of control include:
- Having several failed attempts to quit.
- Getting cravings.
- Seeing more than one doctor for prescription refills.
- Continuing to take the pills despite negative consequences.
Addiction can develop and then manifest in various behaviors, such as when an individual increases their dose without consulting a physician or exhibits consistent cravings and desires to use their drug of choice.
When sleep does not come easily or is interrupted, patients may take more of their [sleep] medication than is prescribed. This may occur even though the medication guides… contain clear instructions to the patient to take the product exactly as prescribed.
Understanding Sleeping Pills
Sleeping pills fall into a category of drugs known as Sedative-Hypnotics. This category also includes Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines, like Xanax. Unlike other drugs in this category, sleeping pills are non-Benzodiazepine Hypnotics. They are commonly known as “Z-Drugs” since they induce sleep.
Some of the most common sleeping pills include:
Although most non-Benzodiazepine sleeping pills have different molecular makeups, they all have similar effects. Sleeping pills bind to the same GABA receptors in the brain as Benzodiazepines, but they are believed to have fewer side effects.
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Sleeping Pill Effects And Abuse
Most doctors only prescribe sleeping pills for short-term use. Doctors prescribe them for cases of severe insomnia and not necessarily on a strict dosage schedule. These drugs are fast-acting and can often be used on an as-needed (PRN) basis.
Unfortunately, many people begin using sleeping pills anytime they have trouble sleeping or face something in life that makes them feel anxious.
When Sedatives are used in a way not prescribed by a doctor, it is considered abuse. At higher doses, sleeping pills produce the same drowsy, feel-good effect as their highly addictive counterparts, Benzodiazepines. Sleeping pills can also produce hallucinatory effects when an individual takes the drug but fights the urge to sleep.
Other effects of sleeping pills include:
- Reduced anxiety
- Dreamless sleep
- Lack of coordination
Sleeping pill abuse has also escalated among high school and college students just looking to have a good time. The drugs can exacerbate the effects of an alcohol buzz or cause a similar feeling on their own. Among young people still living at home, access to a prescription (of their own or belonging to their parents) is often all too easy.
The effects of sleeping pills on brain function can manifest as early as the first time the drug is taken.
Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to the effects and recovery gets harder. Often, recovering sleeping pill addicts will suffer from “rebound insomnia,” or a compounded insomnia that is even worse than it was before they started taking sleeping pills. This is a common side effect and should not be used as a reason to continue taking sleeping pills. Fortunately, medically assisted detox can help minimize this and other symptoms of withdrawal.
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Common Drug Combinations
Many people don’t heed the warning labels on their pill bottles that advise against mixing sleeping pills with alcohol. Taking sleeping pills like Ambien with alcohol can be a deadly combination.
The Sedative effects of sleeping pills are amplified by alcohol, increasing the likelihood of a fatal overdose. Yet those who have a severe addiction (and a concurrent tolerance) may use alcohol to bump up the potency of their sleeping pills.
Other drugs often taken with sleeping pills include:
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Sleeping Pill Abuse Statistics
In 2012, 21% of those abusing sleeping pills had thoughts of suicide related to their drug use.
In 2011, there were 30,149 emergency room visits due to nonmedical use of the sleeping pill Ambien.
In 2013, nearly 9 million Americans regularly used sleeping pills to help them sleep at night.
Breaking The Addiction
Breaking an addiction to sleeping pills can be hard without the right treatment and support. If you or someone you love is struggling to overcome an addiction to sleeping pills, help is available. Contact a treatment provider for more information on treatment options.
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Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience