Sleeping Pill Abuse And Addiction: Signs & Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on September 21, 2022

Prescription sleeping pills are Schedule IV controlled substances. The risk of addiction is low with short-term use, but these drugs are abused often. A sleeping pill addiction can build slowly, but is a dangerous condition that could lead to fatal overdose.

Sleeping Pill Addiction And Treatment Options

Sleeping pills can be addictive. The risk and nature of the addiction will depend entirely on the type of medication you are prescribed for your sleep disorder.

If you begin taking a higher dose or increasing the frequency of your dose without the express instruction of your healthcare provider, that is considered drug abuse.

These behaviors may indicate a need for treatment, especially if you are unable to stop.

How Sleeping Pill Abuse Leads To Addiction

The pathway to addiction usually begins with drug tolerance resulting from long-term use. Sleeping pills are unique in that they are not all strictly addictive.

Your experience will depend on the type of sleeping pills you use, how long you use them, ways you take them or abuse them (i.e. for longer than prescribed), and other factors.

Types Of Sleeping Pills

There are a number of sleeping pills on the market, with varying levels of risk for abuse and side effects.

Benzodiazepine Sleeping Pills

It isn’t uncommon for benzodiazepines to be used as a sleep aid thanks to their sedative effects.

Examples include:

  • triazolam (Halcion)
  • estazolam (Prosome)
  • flurazepam (Dalmane)
  • temazepam (Restoril)
  • quazepam (Doral)

All benzodiazepines have the potential to cause physical dependence.

Non-Benzodiazepine Sleeping Pills

Non-benzodiazepine sleeping pills, also called z-drugs, are more commonly prescribed to avoid the addictive properties of other sedative-hypnotics.

Examples include:

While these drugs are not addictive in the traditional sense, they have been linked to psychological dependence.

Side Effects Of Sleeping Pill Misuse

If you use sleeping pills in a way that is not prescribed by a healthcare professional, you are more likely to experience negative side effects.

The side effects of sleeping pills often include:

  • dry mouth
  • drowsiness
  • slurred speech
  • memory loss
  • cognitive impairment
  • sleepwalking

Signs Of A Sleeping Pill Addiction

The earliest sign of a prescription drug addiction is an increased tolerance for the drug. If your prescribed dose is no longer having the same effect, speak with your doctor.

You should also pay attention to any changes in your mood and behavior. Mood swings and disruptions in your normal patterns are all signs that you may have an addiction.

Risks Of Long-Term Sleeping Pill Abuse

Abusing sleeping pills over a long period of time can lead to dependence.

Depending on the type of sleeping pills you use, you may notice physical withdrawal symptoms including cravings. Alternatively, you may simply notice increased trouble sleeping.

Continuing to use sleeping pills despite the symptoms of addiction can result in negative consequences, including daytime drowsiness, lack of focus, skin swelling, and respiratory depression.

Can Abusing Sleeping Pills Lead To Withdrawal Symptoms?

Abusing sleeping pills can cause withdrawal symptoms if you are using a benzodiazepine.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal is serious to the point of requiring a taper for detox. Even with a taper at a rehab center, withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be very unpleasant.

Some of the most common benzo withdrawal symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • sleep disturbance
  • tremors
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • headaches

If you are severely abusing your sleeping pills and do not taper your doses, you may be at risk of seizures, psychosis, and death.

Can You Overdose On Sleeping Pills?

You can overdose on sleeping pills if you take a higher dosage or engage in additional forms of substance abuse.

With sleeping pills, extreme respiratory depression is the primary concern, but some specific prescriptions can also cause hallucinations and suicidal thoughts in higher doses.

Detoxing From Sleeping Pill Addiction

If you are using a benzodiazepine as a sleeping pill, it’s necessary to go through a detoxification (detox).

Benzodiazepines typically require a taper to avoid life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. A qualified detox program will ensure that your safety is protected through that process.

If you are using a non-benzodiazepine sleeping pill, you may be able to detox on your own. Unfortunately, that is not usually the case.

Learn more about sleeping pill detox.

Treatment Options For Sleeping Pill Abuse

Sleeping pill abuse isn’t uncommon. It’s a condition that affects millions of people, and you don’t need to be ashamed of your need for individualized health care.

A qualified addiction treatment center will help you through an inpatient or an outpatient detox process. The approach will depend on the type of sleeping aid you use and the severity of your dependence.

Given the mental health issues that accompany addiction, you should strongly consider taking part in cognitive behavioral therapy to counter the negative effects of your substance use.

Sleeping Pill Misuse FAQs

Sleeping pills are some of the most common prescription medications among Americans. Here are answers to some commonly asked questions regarding sleeping pill addiction.

Sleeping pills are not generally addictive with occasional use. Most cases of sleeping pill addiction result from months if not years of regular use.

With that said, research suggests that some people may be more prone to addiction. All addictive prescription medications should be treated with caution.

Benzodiazepines are physically addictive, meaning your brain is dependent on the chemical changes caused by the drug.

Withdrawal symptoms result from this dependence because your brain does not function properly without the drug.

By contrast, non-benzo sleeping pills are not physically addictive. Instead, you may experience mental reliance.

This type of dependence may make sleeping virtually impossible without your medication, but you will not generally experience any physical symptoms otherwise.

You can develop a tolerance to sleeping pills. Your brain is highly adaptive, and it will learn to counteract the effects of the drug to maintain homeostasis.

To avoid the development of tolerance and addiction, you should never deviate from the instructions on your prescription.

If you notice a loss of efficacy, talk to your healthcare provider immediately.

Most sleeping pills are Schedule IV controlled substances. They require a prescription but have a relatively low risk of dependence with proper use.

You can fatally overdose on sleeping pills if you take too high of a dose or combine them with other forms of drug use, including alcohol.

Sleeping pills are depressants, and there is a risk that you will stop breathing.

Find An Addiction Recovery Program Today

If you or a loved one is addicted to sleeping pills, t now is the time to find sleeping pill addiction treatment. It is impossible to know when your addiction will go too far, so don’t take the risk.

Find an addiction recovery center today by calling our helpline for more information.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on September 21, 2022
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