Sleeping Pill Addiction

The Little-Known Dangers of These Common Medications

When it comes to developing an addiction to sleeping pills, women tend to be a bit more at risk than men.

A 2013 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually found that around 5% of adult women used these sedating medications compared to around 3% of men. That may not seem like a lot at first but when you consider the fact that that’s a difference of over 9.5 million people, the disparity becomes a bit more dramatic.

But how dangerous can it be to become addicted to prescription sleep aids? Do they cause physical dependency? And if you do actually become addicted, what then?

We’ll dive into all these questions and more in this comprehensive guide to sleeping pills addiction.

Sleeping Pills: How Do They Work?

We’ve all felt the heavy drag of a day at the office after a sleepless night. Your senses feel dulled, your eyes are on fire, and more than anything else, you just want to crawl back into bed. While this might be a rare occurrence for some, others used to have to deal with these effects on an almost daily basis.

sleeping pill addiction

Now, however, there are prescriptions sleep aids. These modern marvels not only can help you fall asleep quicker, they can also keep you asleep throughout the night. But not all sleep pills are the same. In fact, there are two main categories of prescription sleep aids used today: benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines.

Also known as benzos, benzodiazepines are a powerful class of drugs that can end up being particularly addictive and especially dangerous. This class of drug is also used to treat anxiety conditions with the most commonly recognized brands being Xanax and Ativan.

Similar to alcohol, benzodiazepines calm the mind by interacting directly with the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-Aminobutryic acid, also known as GABA. This unique chemical interacts with the neurons in the brain to suppress electrical excitation and essentially calm the mind down.

Hypnotics/sedative-hypnotics are actually the overarching category of drugs that benzodiazepines belong to. However, benzodiazepines have become so popular that they’ve been split off into their own separate group. Non-benzodiazepines are the other sedative-hypnotics that were left behind. These also interact with GABA but tend to activate receptor sites that have to do more with sleep than anti-anxiety like benzos.

This also makes non-benzos far less likely to cause an addiction than benzodiazepines, though it doesn’t eliminate the chances of addiction entirely.

Sleeping Pill Addiction Defined

Before getting into the ins and outs of sleeping pill addiction, it’s important to first take a minute to truly understand what addiction really is. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is:

A chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain –they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.

 This, however, is not the same as physical dependency. Physical dependency is caused by the body adapting to the continual presence of a certain substance. These changes cause the body to physically adapt to its presence and decrease the impact the substance has.

These changes are what cause tolerance – needing to take higher amounts or potencies in order to feel the same effects. Tolerance is also one of the main factors in the development of uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms when that habitual substance use is taken away (also known as withdrawals).

Addiction, then, is about compulsive drug-seeking behaviors that continue despite the addict understanding the negative consequences that will result. Physical dependency, on the other hand, is simply the presence of tolerance and withdrawals after using a substance for a period of time.

Though physical dependency is common in addiction, it isn’t necessary. And equally important to realize is that just because you’re physically dependent doesn’t mean you’re addicted.

The short answer here is no – not all sleep aid medications are in fact addictive in the traditional sense of the word.

Looking strictly at physical dependency there are a number of (mostly prescription) sleep aids that you can end up building a tolerance to. And when it comes to addiction, drugs that have a higher risk of physical dependency will often carry a greater chance of developing an addiction.

There are a few additional factors that can influence the addictive potential of a sleep med. Using it in combination with other drugs like alcohol or opioids, for instance, can dramatically increase the sedation achieved. But doing so can also increase your risk of developing an addiction while also risking your life at the same time.

Taking these drugs in an improper way (e.g. snorting, injecting) can also increase the risk of addiction as well as a variety of dangerous side effects.

Abusable & Addictive Sleep Medications

 Since not all sleep medications have the ability to lead to physical dependence (and, thus, increase the likelihood of addiction) it’s important to know just which brands can cause dependency.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a couple of major brands that you might need to watch out for in this regard. They include:

A benzodiazepine sold under the brand name Prosom, estazolam is a sleep aid that both helps you fall asleep and also helps you stay asleep.

A non-benzodiazepine (specifically a cyclopyrrolone), Lunesta (more technically known as eszopiclone) also has the dual function of bringing on sleep and helping to maintain it.

Belonging to the addictive benzodiazepine (benzo) class of drugs, Restoril (a.k.a. temazepam) also helps you stay asleep while also inducing it.

The brand name for the compound triazolam, Halcion is another type of benzo that only helps you fall asleep.

Similar to Lunesta, Sonata is another type of non-benzodiazepine (specifically a pyrazolopyrimidine) that’s made of the compound zaleplon and helps you fall asleep.

(Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist) – Zolpidem is a non-benzodiazepine (specifically a imidazopyridine), that both helps you get to sleep and allows you to stay asleep.

Hooked On Sleep Aids: Long- and Short-Term Effects

In the short-term, abusing sleeping pills can have a variety of detrimental minor problems. They can cause a host of side effects such as:

  • Burning or tingling in the extremities
  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Balance difficulties
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Gas
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Impairment the next day
  • Concentration problems or confusion
  • Stomach pain or tenderness
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Unusual dreams
  • Weakness

In the long-term though, the problems might become more severe. For example, many of these drugs have been known to cause what are called parasomnias. These behaviors are characterized by moving, walking, talking, or performing other actions despite being unaware that you are performing them. Think of it like sleepwalking, but with more complex behaviors.

Parasomnias may include actions like eating, making phone calls, and even driving a vehicle. These parasomnias can lead to problems that range from unintentional weight gain and forgotten conversations all the way to fatal car crashes.

Long-term abuse of sleep medications can be problematic when combined with other sedatives like alcohol, opioids, or other benzodiazepines. These drugs also have a sedating effect and when taken together, can lead to dangerous drops in respiration that can lead to brain damage, coma, and even death.

Benzodiazepines, in particular, can be especially dangerous and long-term abuse of this class of drugs has been connected with permanent brain damage, the results of which may include short-term memory loss, behavioral abnormalities, and other cognitive dysfunctions.

Sleeping Pill Withdrawals

Just as the different classes of sleep meds tend to bring on the Zs in different ways, so too do these separate classes have differing withdrawal symptoms as well.

We’ll break them down one by one below but, in general, some of the most common withdrawal symptoms for sleeping pills include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Shivering
  • Circulation problems

The symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal are widely considered to be some of the most unbearable. According to benzodiazepine expert Professor Heather Ashton of the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University, the most common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Excitability
  • Headache
  • Insomnia and other sleep disturbances
  • Pain/stiffness
  • Increased anxiety
  • Tingling, numbness, altered sensations
  • Agoraphobia and social phobia
  • Weakness
  • Perceptual distortions
  • Depersonalization
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Intrusive memories
  • Tremors
  • Hypersensitivity
  • GI problems (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing
  • Urinary difficulties
  • Skin rashes
  • Over-breathing

While not as painful as detoxing from benzodiazepines, withdrawing from hypnotics like Lunesta and Sonata can be difficult to get through without help. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms according to Mental Health Daily include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Crazy dreams
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Memory problems
  • Nausea
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Withdrawals may develop in patients that have been taking sedative-hypnotics like Ambien for more than 2 weeks. According to MedlinePlus, the most common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Shakiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Stomach and muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Flushing
  • Tiredness
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Nervousness
  • Panic attacks
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Uncontrollable shaking or a part of your body
  • Seizures

Rehab for Sleep Aid Pills: What to Expect

If you think you may be addicted to sleep pills like Ambien, Lunesta, or any other prescription sleep aid, you may need to start seeking out a sleep med rehabilitation center to help you kick the habit for good.

Choosing to partner with a rehab facility is instrumental for a full recovery. These programs connect you with addiction professionals that can help ensure the greatest chances of your eventual recovery using evidence-based treatments and proven industry knowledge.

A rehab facility will also provide you with valuable support groups as well as tools and strategies that can give you the life skills you need to cope with the overwhelming cravings associated with addiction.

Sleep aid rehab will also help you get to the root cause of your addiction. While physical dependency is undoubtedly an enormous factor when it comes to why you become dependent in the first place, there’s often other underlying reasons that influence why you actually develop an addiction.

Whether it’s a hidden mental illness, recurrent depression or anxiety, or a personal trauma that you never quite healed from, rehabilitation will help you bring these issues to the surface and teach you healthy, drug-free ways of coping with them.

Teaching patients how to incorporate self-care into their routine is also an important factor in a successful recovery. Maintaining your sobriety takes a dedication not just to a drug-free life, but also to your own specific needs. And with the right rehab program, you’ll learn exactly how to do just that.

As you can see, there’s a lot involved in an effective sleeping pill rehab program. And finding one that tackles addiction from every side can be tough. But once you finally do, you can be sure that it will be instrumental in keeping you from going down the road to relapse.

Where to Find Help If You Can’t Stop Abusing Sleep Medications

If you think you or someone you know has a prescription sleeping pill problem, it’s crucial that you seek out professional help immediately. While some of these drugs may seem harmful on the surface, the truth is that many sleep medications (benzos in particular) have been linked to serious health complications as well as dangerous behaviors.

However, finding a rehab facility that has the expert knowledge to treat prescription pill addiction can be tough, especially when you’re looking for a facility that specializes in treating women.

That’s where Women’s Recovery comes in.

Our expert staff will help every step of the way through your recovery, from starting your intensive outpatient program to following up with sober living options to keep you focused on your full recovery.

So, whether you’re looking for more information on sleeping aid addiction or simply want to ask a few questions about the recovery process, feel free to contact us today.

You’ll be so happy you did.