Addiction Drug Use Prescription Medications Can You Overdose on Sleeping Pills? By Buddy T Buddy T Facebook Twitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial process Updated on April 19, 2023 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Michael Menna, DO Medically reviewed by Michael Menna, DO Michael Menna, DO is a board-certified, active attending emergency medicine physician at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Sergey Mironov/Moment/Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Are Sleeping Pills? Signs of a Sleeping Pill Overdose Causes of Overdose Emergency Treatment Dependence, Addiction, and Withdrawal Long-Term Treatment Frequently Asked Questions What is the most important information I should know about sleeping pills? Sleeping pills such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines can be addictive and may lead to overdose, particularly when taken in excess quantities or combined with other substances.Do not take sleeping pills with opioid medications or other depressant substances, including alcohol. Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have consistently increased since 1999, reaching nearly 92,000 in 2020. Sleeping pills, including barbiturates and benzodiazepines, are among the chief causes. In fact, benzodiazepines alone have accounted for nearly one in seven of these deaths, often when combined with opioid drugs such as OxyContin (oxymorphone) and Vicodin (hydrocodone). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, benzodiazepine overdose deaths increased by 22% between 2019 and 2020. In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added a boxed warning on all benzodiazepines to caution people about the serious risks of addiction, abuse, drug interactions, and potential adverse effects. Treatment for Opioid Addiction What Are Sleeping Pills? Sleeping pills are depressant medications. They act upon the central nervous system to slow down the body’s function. They are classified as "sedative hypnotics," and are prescribed to ease anxiety or enable sleep. The two main types of sedatives are barbiturates and benzodiazepines. Some of the more commonly prescribed barbiturates include: Luminal (phenobarbital)Nembutal (pentobarbital) In recent years, benzodiazepines have supplanted barbiturates as the sedative drug of choice. Among the most commonly prescribed are: Ativan (lorazepam)Halcion (triazolam)Klonopin (clonazepam)Librium (chlordiazepoxide)Tranxene (clorazepate)Valium (diazepam)Xanax (alprazolam) Signs of a Sleeping Pill Overdose Symptoms of an overdose of sleeping pills are similar to those of an overdose of alcohol, which is also a depressant. Slowing of brain function initially affects voluntary functions. When a person overdoses, the drug can begin to affect involuntary functions, such as breathing and heart rate. Symptoms include: Bluish tinge to the lips, fingers, and skin (cyanosis)Difficulty breathingDizziness or fainting spellsInability to think or respond normallyIncreasing coldness of the skinSlowed respirationSlowed heartbeatSlurred speechUnconsciousnessUnsteadinessVomitingShockComa If you suspect someone has overdosed on sleeping pills, call 911 immediately. Keep the person awake and talking if possible until help arrives. If the person is unconscious, place them in the recovery position—on their side, with one leg forward of the other—and wait for help. Causes of Overdose As sleeping pills work by depressing the central nervous system, the overuse of the drugs can slow body functions to such a degree as to cause unconsciousness, respiratory failure, and death. An overdose may be a deliberate suicide attempt. However, not all suicide attempts succeed as vomiting is common when the drug is taken in excess. If this happens, the person may survive but experience brain injury due to the lack of oxygen. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. By contrast, an accidental overdose can occur if someone takes too much of a sedative by mistake or combines it with other drugs that enhance the sleeping pills' depressive effects. From 2002 to 2015, the rate of overdose deaths involving the combined use of sedatives and opioids has doubled. Today, the majority of sedative-related overdose deaths occur for this reason. Accidental overdoses can also happen if a person becomes dependent on sleeping pills but, over time, become less responsive to the drug. In a desperate attempt to get sleep, they may end up taking too many. Older adults are at a greater risk of overdose from sleeping pills due to decreased drug metabolism rates. In some cases, a person who has been taking sleeping pills recreationally may begin to inject the drug. They may miscalculate the dosage, which can lead to overdose. The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Medications Emergency Treatment for Sleeping Pill Overdose People who have overdosed on sleeping pills will be admitted to the hospital and monitored closely, usually in intensive care. Treatment may involve some or all of the following: A stomach pumpAdministration of activated charcoal to absorb the excess drugMedications to flush the drug through the bowels or urinary tractAdministration of intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and stabilize body functionsA respirator if breathing has been impairedDialysis to better clean the bloodMedications to stabilize heart functionPsychiatric care, including short-term monitoring to minimize the risk of suicide In some instances, the medication Romazicon (flumazenil) will be administered. It acts as a benzodiazepine antagonist to help reverse benzodiazepine binding and inhibit the activity of substances that act on benzodiazepine receptor sites. Flumazenil carries some risks, however, and routine use is not recommended. It should not be used in cases where there is a mixed/unknown substance overdose or the individual has a prolonged QRS interval or seizure disorder. It is typically used in limited settings, such as to treat accidental benzodiazepine overdoses in children or to reverse the effects of sedation following a medical procedure. In cases where co-occurring opioid use is also involved, a medication called naloxone can be administered to reverse the opioid overdose. Generally speaking, people can recover from a sleeping pill overdose if treatment is started early. Unless a person has experienced prolonged oxygen deprivation, the effects of the overdose tend to last only as long as the drug remains in the system. Dependence, Addiction, and Withdrawal Sleeping pills such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines can also be addictive. This risk is greater when a person takes more than their prescribed dose or if they combine sleeping pills with other substances. Dependence and withdrawal can also happen even when people take their medication exactly as prescribed. People may also experience symptoms of withdrawal if they reduce their dose or stop taking the medication. Around 60% of people who take benzodiazepines longer than six months experience mild withdrawal symptoms, while 40% experience moderate to severe symptoms. Symptoms of withdrawal may include: AnxietySleep difficultiesIrritabilityTremorsHeadachesMuscle spasmsHyperventilationNausea or vomitingRapid heart rateDepressionDeliriumSeizures Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be life-threatening, so you should only stop taking benzodiazepines under the direction and supervision of your doctor. Your doctor may recommend gradually tapering your medication over a period of time. Long-Term Treatment If you believe you have an addiction to sleeping pills, treatments are available that can help. The right treatment for you may depend on a variety of factors, including the underlying causes of your sleeping difficulties. Treatment for substance addiction often focuses on psychotherapy, but medications may also be prescribed to help manage symptoms. Types of therapy that your doctor or therapist might recommend include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), and group therapy. Support groups and 12-step programs can also be important sources of encouragement and information about recovery. Your doctor may also recommend treatments to help you deal with underlying mental health conditions that can contribute to sleep disturbances, such as anxiety and depression. This might involve psychotherapy, medications, and lifestyle modifications. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. How Long Does Withdrawal From Benzodiazepines Last? Frequently Asked Questions Are sleeping pills and sedatives the same thing? "Sleeping pill" is an informal term for "sedative." Both have the same effects on the body: depressing the nervous system. Is it dangerous to combine sleeping pills with alcohol? Yes, it's dangerous. Since both are depressants, combining these substances can produce unconsciousness, breathing difficulties, seizures, coma, and even death. What are the side effects of sleeping pills? Using sleeping pills for a long period can cause forgetfulness, mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and liver dysfunction or failure. 12 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Food and Drug Administration. New safety measures announced for opioid analgesics, prescription opioid cough products, and benzodiazepines. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Overdose death rates. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Remembrance increasingly includes lives lost to overdoses involving benzodiazepines. Food and Drug Administration. FDA requiring boxed warning updated to improve safe use of benzodiazepine drug class. Weaver MF. Prescription sedative misuse and abuse. Yale J Biol Med. 2015;88(3):247-256. Merk Manual: Professional Version. Sedatives. Kleinman RA, Weiss RD. Benzodiazepine-involved overdose deaths in the USA: 2000-2019. J Gen Intern Med. 2022;37(8):2103-2109. doi:10.1007/s11606-021-07035-6 Vukcević NP, Ercegović GV, Segrt Z, Djordjević S, Stosić JJ. Benzodiazepine poisoning in elderly. Vojnosanit Pregl. 2016;73(3):234-238. An H, Godwin J. Flumazenil in benzodiazepine overdose. CMAJ. 2016;188(17-18):E537. doi:10.1503/cmaj.160357 National Institute on Drug Abuse. What is naloxone? Hood SD, Norman A, Hince DA, Melichar JK, Hulse GK. Benzodiazepine dependence and its treatment with low dose flumazenil. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2014;77(2):285-94. doi:10.1111/bcp.12023 Brett J, Murnion B. Management of benzodiazepine misuse and dependence. Aust Prescr. 2015;38(5):152-5. doi:10.18773/austprescr.2015.055 By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. 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