A person may form a sleeping pill addiction, like addictions to other prescription drugs, without being aware they are at risk of addiction. For many, prescription drugs are perceived as safe and harmless.
Used effectively, sleeping pills can help many find temporary relief from sleep troubles. When abused, sleeping pills can and often do lead to abuse and addiction, which can result in damaging effects on an individual’s health.
Treatment for sleeping pill addiction can help individuals taper off the use of sleeping pills, seek alternative methods to treat sleep troubles, and help alter behavior and thought patterns to remain substance-free.
What Are Sleeping Pills And How Are They Abused?
There are two types of sleeping pill prescriptions: benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines. Both fall into the sedative-hypnotic drug category and have similar reactions.
When people refer to sleeping pills, they are usually referring to non-benzodiazepine pills, also called z-drugs.
Benzodiazepine sleeping pills include:
- triazolam (Halcion)
- estazolam (Prosom)
Non-benzodiazepine sleeping pills include:
- eszopiclone (Lunesta)
- zaleplon (Sonata)
- zolpidem (Ambien)
Sleeping pills are prescribed in pill or tablet form. When abused, the drugs may be crushed and snorted or dissolved into a solution for faster onset of effects.
Since sleeping pills are prescription drugs, any use of them other than prescribed usage is considered abuse.
Prescription drug abuse may include:
- taking more than prescribed
- changing method of administration (i.e. crushing and snorting)
- increasing the frequency of dosage
- taking another person’s sleeping pill prescription
- giving away your sleeping pill prescription
How Does Sleeping Pill Abuse Lead To Addiction?
Some people may be unaware they are forming an addiction to a sleeping pill prescription. Sleeping pills are typically prescribed for short-term use—to help individuals get back on a normal sleep schedule, not as a long-term solution.
However, some individuals find it difficult to quit use of sleeping pills after the prescription runs out, having formed a habit of falling asleep only when taking the medication. People with chronic sleep troubles may abuse sleeping pills to find some relief, believing this to be a harmless practice.
With time, they may find themselves unable to sleep at all without a sleeping pill or may experience intensified sleep trouble symptoms when not using sleeping pills. When this happens, they have formed a mental reliance, or addiction, to sleeping pills.
Signs And Symptoms Of A Sleeping Pill Addiction
Sleeping pills produce both sedative and hypnotic effects—these effects are responsible for helping a person relax enough to fall asleep and remain asleep.
A person taking sleeping pills will likely experience mild sedation, deep relaxation, and a lack of coordination. They can also feel dizzy and lightheaded. If they begin abusing sleeping pills, they may begin experiencing these effects at enhanced rates.
Other signs and symptoms of a sleeping pill addiction include:
- dry mouth
- drowsiness during the day
- seeking sleeping pills even after the prescription ends
- needing sleeping pills to fall or stay asleep
- using sleeping pills to self-medicate other issues, like anxiety or depression
- slurred speech
- uncharacteristic euphoria
- lack of focus
- memory changes
Why Do People Abuse Sleeping Pills?
Sleeping pills are among millions of prescriptions which are abused every year in the United States. There are many reasons individuals may abuse sleeping pills, such as believing them to be safer than other illicit drugs.
For many, abuse of sleeping pills is tied to personal factors. Chronic sleep troubles can prompt a person to seek long-term solutions. After receiving some relief with a sleeping pill prescription, they may be wary of trying to seek sleep without the drug.
Others may begin abusing sleeping pills once they realize it produces calming effects. Mental health issues can plague individuals with harrowing symptoms. Sleeping pills may seem like an opportunity to step away from these troubles.
Sleeping pills may also be mixed with other drugs to enhance the effects of both substances. Combining sleeping pills with other drugs of abuse may be the most dangerous way to abuse them, but no abuse of sleeping pills comes without side effects.
Side Effects Of Sleeping Pill Abuse
As a central nervous system depressant, abuse of sleeping pills looks much like alcohol abuse.
Short-term side effects of sleeping pills may include:
- lack of attention
- odd or inappropriate behavior
- lowered inhibitions
- mood changes
- effects to decision-making abilities
Risks Of Long-Term Sleeping Pill Abuse
Abusing sleeping pills long-term can lead to addiction, which can have an impact on all areas of a person’s life.
As addiction develops, a person may become obsessive about seeking and using sleeping pills. They may neglect everyday responsibilities, perform poorly at work or school, or behave out of character in order to maintain the addiction.
Other risks of long-term sleeping pill abuse include:
- physical dependence (benzodiazepines): this results in physical withdrawal symptoms which can be dangerous, such as stopped breathing or heart rates, seizures, or coma
- rebound sleep disorder symptoms: when stopping sleeping pills, sleep issues may come back worse than before taking the medication
- allergic reactions: this can include depressed breathing, chest pain, nausea, and skin swelling
Signs And Symptoms Of A Sleeping Pill Overdose
One of the greatest risks of long-term sleeping pill abuse is the risk of overdose. Sleeping pills have changed over the years, with new formulas produced to make the pills less harmful, even when abused.
Yet frequently abusing sleeping pills can cause the drugs to build up within the body to excess. This means a person may have chemicals from the sleeping pills in their body when they take more, which can lead to overdose.
Non-benzodiazepine sleeping pills are rarely fatal when taken alone, but benzodiazepine sleep aids can lead to overdose, especially if mixed with other drugs.
In any case, if a sleeping pill overdose or intoxication is suspected, it is best to seek medical attention right away.
Sleeping pill abuse in high and frequent doses can lead to parasomnia or a condition in which the person sleepwalks or engages in other physical behaviors while asleep, which can be dangerous.
Sleeping pill overdose symptoms can include:
- breathing troubles: individuals may experience slowed or stopped breathing, which can be fatal if not treated
- extreme lethargy: sleeping pills are intended to induce sleep, but if a person has trouble functioning when they shouldn’t, they may be at risk of overdose
- odd behaviors: people who are overdosing on sleeping pills may appear intoxicated, or be extremely clumsy, uncoordinated, or have trouble with physical functioning
- stomach troubles: this can manifest as stomach cramps, digestion issues, constipation, nausea, or vomiting
Treatment Programs For Sleeping Pill Abuse And Addiction
Sleeping pill abuse and addiction can be treated in a number of ways. The most effective treatments for prescription drug use is medication-assisted treatment in an inpatient environment.
Residential Rehab Programs For Sleeping Pill Addiction
Individuals who quit the use of sleep medications will likely experience withdrawal symptoms and rebound insomnia. For those using benzodiazepines, withdrawal can be dangerous.
Inpatient rehab programs allow 24-hour care and medical monitoring to ensure individuals withdraw safely and with access to support when needed.
Medications may be used to help individuals taper off the use of sleeping pills, such as long-acting benzodiazepines.
Within medication-assisted treatment programs, medications are combined with behavioral therapy and counseling for a well-rounded approach to treating sleeping pill addiction.
Continuing Care For Sleeping Pill Addiction
Once a person completes a rehab program for sleeping pill addiction, they can begin their life in recovery. To better prepare for relapse and lasting recovery, individuals can seek continuing care in a number of formats.
Outpatient programs, therapy, individual counseling, and 12-step support groups are just some of the available types of aftercare to help those in recovery from sleeping pill addiction.
To learn more about sleeping pill addiction, or to find a rehab program that meets your needs, contact a treatment specialist today.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — Misuse of Prescription Drugs
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Prescription Drug Abuse
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health — Prescription Sedative Misuse and Abuse