What Is a Sleeping Pill Addiction?

person holding a pill in their hand

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For anyone that experiences trouble sleeping, sleeping pills are a common recommendation to achieve a good night’s rest. These pills are also handy for anyone prone to waking in the middle of the night, as certain sleeping pills can assist with staying asleep as well.

However, for all the help provided, a major downside to some sleeping pills is that users tend to become dependent on their effects. This is particularly true when they are taken for too long, or in very high doses.

This guide will explore the effects of sleeping pills, as well as signs that might signal a problem with these aids. It will help you understand the hazards of these medications, particularly when used in combination for other sedative medications, to become aware of symptoms of a sleeping pill overdose, and the appropriate steps to take if you are misusing these medications.

How Do Sleeping Pills Work?

For the 1 in 7 Americans with long-term sleep insomnia, as well as those that experience other sleep difficulties, over-the-counter sleeping pills, and prescription medications can be helpful.

There are several types of both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription sleeping medications. OTC medications that are commonly recommended included antihistamine-based products such as melatonin. In terms of prescribed medications, there are non-habit forming agents that are prescribed to help with sleep, such as certain antidepressants. The other category of prescription sleep aids, are the benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Klonopin, or benzodiazepine-like drugs such as zolpidem (Ambien) or zopiclone (Zimovane), otherwise known as ‘Z drugs.’

These are the types of sleep medications that have the potential for tolerance, dependence, and misuse (abuse). To achieve drowsy and relaxing effects, these sleeping pills activate activate the GABA system, a major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system. This means that sedative pills are essentially able to slow down the brain, producing tranquilizing effects.

Sleeping pills have been known to reduce incidents of waking from slumber and can increase deep sleep in users. 

These pills are often taken as needed, meaning only when it is suspected that there will be difficulty getting a full night’s rest. However, they can sometimes be prescribed to be taken every night and for extended periods of time.

Signs of Sleeping Pill Addiction

For anyone taking benzodiazepines or the Z drugs at a high enough dose for a long enough period of time, dependence can develop. Dependence can be physiological and psychological. Physiological dependence is marked by withdrawal symptoms when the medication is stopped. Psychological dependence reflects a perceived need that one cannot manage without the medication.

When stronger doses are required to fall asleep, it could reveal that tolerance has built up with the drug, and that physiologic dependence has developed.

Misuse of these medications is different. Some people who are prescribed these sleeping pills take more than prescribed or use the medication for other purposes than just sleep. This behavioral pattern may reveal an addiction, or what is now referred to as a substance use disorder.


With overuse of these medications, the following signs and symptoms may be observed:

  • Garbled speech
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory challenges
  • Unsteady movements
  • Mood swings
  • Itching
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Odd dreams and nightmares
  • Hallucinations
  • Drowsiness during waking hours

When observing someone that misuses sleeping pills, a common finding is the urge to use these pills at all hours of the day, even before nighttime. The need to use pills maybe for the euphoric effect, and not to produce sleep. This habit can also cause a fixation with the night to permit the use of pills.  People that abuse sleeping pills will typically run out faster than the average person because of their persistent use.

Dangerous Interactions With Sleeping Pills

It is important to observe caution when using sleeping pills to promote good sleep. This is especially true in cases where other substances may be introduced into the body at the same time as the prescribed sleeping medication. 

The following substances can produce negative results in the body when combined with a sleeping pill.

Alcohol

When alcohol is consumed, it can cause drowsiness and affect thinking. Sleeping pills also produce similar effect. When these two substances are used together excessively, the sedation can become extreme, potentially involving respiratory suppression and even death.

If combined, their outcome can produce an intense reaction in the body known to cause trouble with concentration and carrying out tasks.

Painkillers

While painkillers (like opioids) can help the body manage pain, combining them with benzodiazepine can be dangerous. They both have effects on level of alertness, cognition, and respiratory function. When the two are excessive, it can also lead to overdose.  

Signs and Symptoms of Sleeping Pill Overdose

In cases where sleeping pills are consumed beyond the prescribed limit, there is a potential risk of experiencing an overdose. Early symptoms of this might include:

  • Speech becomes slurred 
  • Breathing changes occur
  • Changes in emotions and thinking

It is important to seek immediate medical assistance if these emerge. Severe cases of sleeping pill overdoses can result in death.

How to Manage Sleeping Pill Addiction

Sleeping pills can often be a helpful tool for those who have trouble sleeping. However, misuse of these medications can be deadly. If an addiction to these medications emerge, the following methods maybe considered:

Tapering

To help the body properly detoxify from sleeping pills, gradually reducing the dosage is generally done. This process is known as tapering, and may be carried out with or without additional medications.

To ensure that this process is handled safely and effectively, it’s recommended that tapering be carried out under active medical supervision.

Professional Advice

For people struggling with whether they might have a problem with prescription sleeping medication, speaking with your doctor is the first step. They can recommend strategies and treatments to help you safely overcome this.

Therapy

Techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy can help to manage cravings for sleeping pills, if present, and can help examine problematic thoughts and behaviors that might be contributing to your problematic use.

A Word From Verywell

Enjoying a good night’s rest is something we all hope for. When used correctly, sleeping pills can be just that extra help we need to promote healthy rest. However, if abused and used in excess, this can have negative consequences. To manage a problem with sleeping pills, it is important to seek professional help.

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7 Sources
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