Sleeping Pill Addiction

If you’re having trouble sleeping, you aren’t alone: nearly half of Americans struggle to get good sleep. But while prescription sleeping pills provide an effective solution for catching more Zs, they also come with the risk of developing physical dependence or addiction.

Prescription Sleeping Pills

Sleeping pills are medications designed to treat sleep problems like insomnia. There are different types of sleeping pills and each type works differently. For instance, some sleep aids will silence the part of your brain that keeps you alert so you can more easily get to sleep; other pills cause initial drowsiness to help encourage falling asleep.

Common types of sleeping pills include:

  • Nonbenzodiazepines (Sonata, Lunesta, Ambien)
    This type of sleep medication—commonly known as Z-drugs—is known as a sedative-hypnotic. By chemical structure and mechanism of action, Z-drugs are closely related to their benzodiazepine cousins. Medications such as zaleplon, zolpidem, and eszopiclone work by binding to the brain’s GABA receptors to promote relaxation and make falling asleep easier.
  • Benzodiazepines (Restoril, Halcion, Xanax)
    Many benzodiazepines are used as an anti-anxiety medication due to their sedative effect. Benzodiazepines work by binding to GABA receptors like Z-drugs but are far more addictive.
  • Antihistamines (Tylenol PM, Advil PM, Benadryl)
    This type of sleeping pill is an over-the-counter medication. Antihistamines contain diphenhydramine, a habit-forming chemical that causes drowsiness by increasing dopamine in the brain.
  • Receptor Antagonists (Belsomra, Rozerem)
    Common drugs under this category include suvorexant and ramelteon and are considered a newer, safer alternative to many sleep medications due to their lack of side effects.
  • Antidepressants (Desyrel, Silenor)
    Antidepressants are sometimes effective in treating insomnia because disrupted sleep can be a symptom of depression. This type of medication includes trazodone and doxepin, though it should be noted that doxepin is FDA-approved while trazodone is not. It’s worth noting that both Desyrel and Silenor are older antidepressants and are not often used for depression anymore. Rather, they are prescribed for their sedative side effect.

Side Effects of Sleeping Pills

Doctors typically prescribe sleeping pills for short-term use. These drugs act fast and can be used on an as-needed basis. However, sleeping pills can also have serious side effects when a user takes more than what is prescribed or continues to use them after being directed to stop.

Short-Term Side Effects

Short-term side effects of sleeping pill use can vary between individuals, and these side effects may even be present when taking the medication as directed.

Short-term side effects may include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth
  • Weight gain
  • Headache
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Constipation
  • Daytime performance problems
  • Addiction

Sleeping pills may also cause hallucinatory side effects or blackout when taken in high doses and the person fights the urge to sleep. Sleepwalking can also occur but it is considered very rare.

Long-Term Side Effects

Most sleeping pills are designed for short-term use. Several side effects can occur as a result of long-term use, particularly if the sleep medication is not being taken as directed.

These long-term side effects include:

  • Impaired motor skills
  • Lack of coordination
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Face paralysis
  • Damaged body organs
  • Depression
  • Blackouts

Over time the brain will get used to the effects of sleep medication. This can also cause something called “rebound insomnia,” which is exactly what it sounds like. After using sleep aids for so long your brain eventually becomes dependent on them to achieve sleep. If you take those sleep aids away, your insomnia will return and will often feel more severe than before.

While long-term side effects are serious, it isn’t too late to seek help. Speak with your doctor or healthcare professional if you are concerned about possible side effects that you might be experiencing as a result of taking sleep medication.

Effects of Sleeping Pills With Other Drugs

You should not combine sleeping pills with any other medication without a doctor’s approval. Sleeping pills are designed to help you fall asleep. Therefore, mixing them with any other drug presents a serious risk to your health and safety.

For example, alcohol is a depressant and can cause sedation. Mixing alcohol with sleeping pills can easily lead to unconsciousness and put the user at risk of choking or asphyxiation.

Sleeping Pill Abuse and Addiction

Sleeping pill abuse occurs when sleeping pills are used in a way that is not prescribed by your doctor. This includes taking too much at one time, continuing use for an extended period, or taking sleep medications without a prescription.

Sleeping pills share the same concerns as other over-the-counter sleep aids: over time, usage can lead to health issues including addiction.

Sleeping pill addiction can happen even if you aren’t actively trying to abuse the pills due to their habit-forming potential. There is no shame in talking to your doctor about any concerns you have about your sleep medication usage, and there are many treatments and solutions available to help you cut back or quit if that’s what needs to happen.

How to Know If You Are Addicted to Sleeping Pills

People addicted to sleeping pills may display symptoms such as:

  • Requiring increased doses to fall asleep
  • Feeling confused or detached
  • Memory loss
  • Experiencing withdrawal (such as increased insomnia or mood swings)
  • Isolating yourself from friends and family
  • Changing doctors to get more sedatives
  • Trying to quit taking the pills and failing

If you are worried about your sleeping pill use and wondering if it has shifted into addiction, you can speak with your healthcare provider about adjusting your dosage or stopping altogether. There are plenty of solutions to help you cut back or discontinue your sleep medication use.

Sleeping Pill Withdrawal

Withdrawal from sleeping pills can produce a variety of unpleasant side effects. The most serious one is “relapse insomnia,” which can happen as the result of your body being accustomed to getting a constant supply of sedatives to fall asleep.

When you stop using sleeping pills it can be difficult to get through the withdrawal process, which typically lasts several weeks.

Some withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Drug cravings
  • Hallucinations
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures and body spasms
  • Vomiting
  • Hand tremors

Some of these withdrawal symptoms are life-threatening depending on the sleep medication being abused, but a medical detox will help to ensure a safe withdrawal and regulate even the mildest of withdrawal symptoms for a better recovery.

Sleeping Pill Overdose

Excessive use of over-the-counter and prescription sleeping pills can lead to toxicity levels that could be fatal. Serious physical signs might be present when someone overdoses on sleeping pills—even from over-the-counter sleep medication.

Such symptoms include:

  • Slow or dysfunctional breathing
  • Excessive lethargy
  • Abdominal pain after taking the pills
  • Loss of appetite or constipation
  • Excessive “drunk-like” behavior

Sleeping pill overdose can be much more likely if the user has also mixed the medication with any other drugs or with alcohol. If you suspect someone is experiencing a sleep medication overdose, call 911 immediately to report the overdose and stay with the victim until help arrives. 

Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment

Recovering from sleeping pill addiction is possible. It can take time and effort on your part, but with help from professionals and the support of family members, you can find the path to a world free of the risks and pain of this addiction.

Sleeping Pill Detox

Detoxification from sleeping pills doesn’t have to be painful or dangerous. A medical detox program can help protect your liver and kidneys while your body processes the drug out of your system.

Sleeping Pill Treatment Programs

Battling an addiction to sleeping pills is often no easy task. However, with the help of highly trained counselors alongside proven substance abuse rehabilitation, leaving your addiction behind for good is possible.

There are professional sleeping pill treatment options that can help people break free from this powerful addiction. Such options include both inpatient and outpatient programs which can vary in intensity and time commitment based on your unique lifestyle and level of addiction.

It is important to consult your physician or healthcare provider before beginning this process so that you can experience the best results possible.

Sleeping Pill Abuse Statistics

Sleeping pill addiction is widely documented by trusted statistical research. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), sleeping pills misuse is highest among adults 18-25 years old. Among this age group, 60% report having purchased the drugs themselves or got them from family members.

In contrast, the most common age group to take prescription sleep meds is the 40- to 80-year-old age range. Statistically, women take sleep medications more than men; white people take more sleeping pills than Black individuals.

In 2018, a reported 1 million US adults reported misusing prescription sedatives.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that 40 million people have abused or misused prescription drugs such as sleeping pills in their lifetime. That’s about 20% of the U.S. population.

Coping With a Loved One’s Sleeping Pill Addiction

When your family member or friend struggles with addiction, they need help. Treatment is available and the sooner they get the help they need, the better their chances of recovery will be.

Regardless of how long they have been abusing substances or which sleeping pills they use, treatment works. Help is available and by choosing a treatment program wisely, your loved one can get on track with their sobriety and get back to enjoying their lives without an addiction to sleep medication.

Sleeping Pill Addiction FAQs

Is it bad to take sleep medicine every night?

Long-term use of sleep medication can lead to addiction. Eventually, your body may become so used to having sleeping pills that it may rely on them to fall asleep. It is best to only take sleep medication as prescribed by a doctor or on an as-needed basis.

Are there natural sleeping pills?

Natural sleep aids do not cause withdrawal or addiction after use. There are many non-addictive alternatives to sleeping pills, such as melatonin.

What are the most abused sleeping pills?

The most abused sleeping pills are Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata. These medications are known as Z-drugs and are classified as nonbenzodiazepines. However, they also carry a higher risk for developing an addiction than other sleep medications and should therefore only be taken under medical supervision.

Reviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Addiction Guide and ensures the quality of our website’s content and messaging.

Written by:

Content Manager

Jessica Miller is a USF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She has written professionally for over a decade, from HR scripts and employee training to business marketing and company branding. In addition to writing, Jessica spent time in the healthcare sector (HR) and as a high school teacher. She has personally experienced the pitfalls of addiction and is delighted to bring her knowledge and writing skills together to support our mission. Jessica lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband and two dogs.

6 references
  1. NIDA. 2021, April 13. What is the scope of prescription drug misuse?. Retrieved on 2021, November 14, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/what-scope-prescription-drug-misuse

  2. Pagel, J. F., & Parnes, B. L. (2001). Medications for the Treatment of Sleep Disorders: An Overview. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 3(3), 118–125. https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v03n0303

  3. Weaver M. F. (2015). Prescription Sedative Misuse and Abuse. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 88(3), 247–256. Focus: Addiction: Prescription Sedative Misuse and Abuse (nih.gov)

  4. Duff-Brown, B. (2018, March 5). Taking painkillers with sleeping pills is an increasingly risky business. Scope. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2017/03/14/taking-painkillers-with-sleeping-pills-is-an-increasingly-risky-business/

  5. Swain, E. (2021, September 29). Sleeping Pills (Withdrawal Symptoms & Detox Process). Addiction Group. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://www.addictiongroup.org/treatment/detox/sleeping-pills/

  6. Budnitz DS, Shehab N, Lovegrove MC, Geller AI, Lind JN, Pollock DA. US Emergency Department Visits Attributed to Medication Harms, 2017-2019. JAMA. 2021;326(13):1299–1309. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.13844

Contact Us

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, there is help available. Get in touch today and let us guide you to the recovery option that’s right for you.

  • Receive customized guidance
  • Get up-to-date information
  • Find the treatment that’s right for you

Talk to an advocate now

"*" indicates required fields

Hidden
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.