The Facts About Sleeping Pill Addiction

young woman struggling from a sleeping pill addiction in Chicago where she seeks help from CRC Institute for sleeping pill addiction help
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When you think about the number of hours in a day and how many of those hours you sleep, you realize that sleep makes up about one-third of our lives. It is powerful, important, and rejuvenating. Yet, for many, sleep can be quite elusive, as well. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, about 50 – 70 million Americans suffer from sleep-related issues. Further, studies suggest that about 70% of Americans struggle with sleep at least one night a month. 

We are often told how important it is to sleep. So, when we do not get those recommended seven hours, we often start to look for a quick fix. Many turn to prescriptions known as sleeping pills. While they may be quite effective, they also can be addicting. There is a lot to understand and consider before using sleeping pills, during the time you are taking sleeping pills and, of course, once you think that you may have a problem with being addicted to them. 

What Are Sleeping Pills?

Sleeping pills are medications that are prescribed as short-term solutions for insomnia and other sleeping disorders. They are known as hypnotic drugs and closely resemble sedatives. While they can be very helpful, their prolonged and unmonitored use may have significant risks and side effects and can lead to sleeping pill addiction and abuse. 

Sleeping pills, which are effective in inducing and sustaining sound sleep, are known as sedative-hypnotics. There are several types of these hypnotics that a doctor may recommend based on the nature of the sleeping disorder. Below are five FDA-approved hypnotic medications that are commonly used as sleep aids:

  •   Benzodiazepines
  •   Orexin receptor agonist
  •   Nonbenzodiazepine receptor agonists
  •   Melatonin receptor agonists
  •   Antidepressants

The Prevalence of Sleeping Disorders

A good night’s sleep is one of the essential components of sound health and mental well-being. However, a recent study indicates that only 38% of adults in the U.S. wake up feeling well-rested. On average, 60 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders every year, giving an insight into the increased prevalence of sleeping pill addiction and abuse in the country, which is why it is important to understand how sleeping pills work.

The revenue of over-the-counter sleeping pill medications has increased dramatically over the years. This trend indicates that people are becoming increasingly dependent on sleeping pills to overcome sleep problems that may adversely affect their mood and overall health. As stressors come and go, one’s relationship with sleep often becomes challenged. For example, during the recent pandemic, there was increased reliance on sleeping pills due to increased health concerns regarding COVID-19 and following social isolation and job stress.

Prescription pills are not necessarily harmful, but their uncontrolled use can lead to drug addiction that may require professional help. While prescription pills can help regulate your sleep cycle, many people don’t understand how quickly their medication abuse can become a full-fledged addiction.

How Do Sleeping Pills Work?

Stress is an inevitable part of life, and one of the most common results of it is disrupted sleep patterns. Most adults need about seven hours of sleep to function optimally. Unfortunately, recent studies indicate that Americans’ demanding schedules of work, family, and play have led to limited sleep. As a result, their overall health and mood are negatively impacted.

Promising TV ads on sleeping pills claim to help one achieve an excellent night’s sleep, and many people end up relying on over-the-counter medication and prescription pills to induce a much-desired night of uninterrupted sleep. When taken correctly, sleeping pills are a reliable tool to cure sleeping disorders, but they need to be used cautiously and properly.

Sleeping pills work to stimulate the effects of sleepiness on the brain. Certain medicines alter the GABA receptors in the brain that regulate one’s level of alertness. These drugs work primarily to encourage sleep. They also report lesser side effects as compared to benzodiazepines. However, the relatively safer GABA medications also have specific side effects such as memory disturbance, hallucinations, and behavioral changes, stressing the importance of careful dosage.

Side Effects of Sleeping Pills

People harbor the misconception that prescription sleeping pills do not have any side effects when the truth is that all sleeping pills, like all medications, come with their share of possible reactions. A drug can affect each person differently; however, you will not know if you will experience any specified side effects until you have started the medication.

The most common side effects of sleeping pills include:

  •   Memory impairment
  •   Weakness
  •   Drowsiness
  •   Dizziness
  •   Burning sensation in hands, arms, legs, and feet
  •   Dry mouth
  •   Changes in appetite
  •   Excessive weight gain or weight loss
  •   Headaches
  •   Diarrhea
  •   Gas
  •   Constipation
  •   Heartburn
  •   Uncontrollable shaking of a body part
  •   Stomachache
  •   Difficulty keeping balance

Can You Get Addicted to Sleep Medicine?

a bottle of sleeping pills spilling over to show how easy it can be to develop a sleeping pill addiction

Sleeping pills are commonly used for treating insomnia and promoting restorative sleep. However, many people tend to become dependent on them. This pattern starts with the ease and comfort that these prescription pills provide.

When you cannot fall asleep at the end of the day, tossing and turning in your bed, sleeping aids can provide you with instant relief by depressing the nervous system and inducing drowsiness. This escape seems easier than alternative treatments. Unfortunately, sleeping pills are heavily advertised and easily procurable, making it common to fall prey to the medications’ power.

So what exactly causes sleeping pill addiction? Doctors state that sleeping pills are variably addictive. People do not crave them the same way a drug addict would crave, say, heroin. Sleeping pills cause more psychological dependence among users, causing them to believe that they cannot fall asleep without taking medication. This effect is not just psychological. When people stop taking sleeping pills after use over a prolonged time, they could experience a rebound effect, which means they become even more wakeful and restless at bedtime. This counter effect will create a need for sleeping pills, leading to possible sleeping pill addiction and abuse.

While it is okay to use these sleeping aids to control short-term insomnia, prolonged use may create pill addiction. Over time, many people find it hard to sleep without taking a pill, which is the first sign of drug addiction. Then, as their tolerance increases, they switch to larger doses for the medication to remain effective, leading to the burgeoning threat of prescription pill addiction.

Many people don’t realize that they have become addicted to sleeping pills until they start experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Hence, it is essential to know that sleeping pill addiction is very real and can affect you. Therefore, one needs to be self-aware and open to considering addiction counseling and recovery.

Safety Measures for Prescription Pills

If all methods of getting a good night’s rest have been exhausted, prescription pills may be your only solution. However, sticking to the doctor’s advice is mandatory to avoid falling prey to sleeping pill addiction and abuse.

Here are five tips that will help with the responsible intake of sleeping pills:

  • Seek medical evaluation

A person living with insomnia must consult a doctor to help gauge the cause of their sleeping disorder. Do not self-prescribe medication as addiction and dependency is a possible consequence of unsupervised pill intake.

  • Carefully follow medication guides

Always follow the guidelines of sleeping pills. Do not prolong or increase intake without consulting a medical professional.

  • Keep a lookout for side effects

Do not ignore any symptoms you may experience after taking a sleeping pill, as this may indicate that you are developing pill addiction.

  • Avoid alcohol

Avoid intake of alcohol with sleeping pills as alcohol exacerbates the effect of these sedatives. The combination of alcohol with certain sleeping aids could lead to dire consequences.

  • Seek help when necessary

Even if you did not intend to prolong the use of sleeping pills, these sedatives could be addictive. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of any physical or psychological signs so you know when to seek help before any irrevocable incident occurs.   

How To Tell if Someone Has A Sleeping Pill Addiction

woman laying in bed next to a bottle of sleeping pills as she battles a sleeping pill addiction

Sleeping pills are habit-forming medications that can have grave consequences if consumed excessively or over a significant period of time. Prescription drugs are only viable for treating insomnia and other sleeping problems as short-term alternatives. A doctor will often taper off the prescriptions, preventing complete dependency on the medication.

Addiction to sleeping pills is possible if a user takes these sedatives in a way not prescribed by a professional doctor or pharmacist. The more significant concern here is that people who develop an addiction do not realize this until they stop taking the pill. They recognize the severity of the situation only when they start experiencing withdrawal symptoms, a sign of pill addiction. 

The common signs of a sleeping pill addiction include:

  •   Inability to fall asleep without the pill
  •   “Doctor Shopping” — visiting more than one doctor for prescription pills
  •   Increasing dosage or frequency of sleeping pills without consulting a doctor
  •   Repeated failed attempts to quit
  •   Cravings for sleep medication
  •   Taking pills even when not required
  •   Memory loss
  •   Significantly disrupted sleep patterns and appetite
  •   Withdrawal symptoms

Addiction may manifest itself in various ways, so it is essential to keep a lookout for the signs above so you can seek help if necessary. If not treated, withdrawal symptoms indicate a more severe condition that will likely develop into substance abuse. 

Risk factors for severe withdrawal symptoms from sleeping pills:

  •   Increasing dosage without consulting a doctor
  •   Prolonging the use of medication without consulting a doctor
  •   Older age
  •   History of drug abuse
  •   Having other medical or psychiatric problems

People addicted to sleeping pills will likely experience moderate symptoms upon quitting. In severe cases, the symptoms can even be life-threatening.

Moderate Withdrawal Symptoms:

  •   Anxiety
  •   Depression
  •   Body spasms
  •   Irritability
  •   Confusion
  •   Sweating
  •   Rebound insomnia
  •   Hand tremors
  •   Nausea
  •   Vomiting
  •   Elevated heart rate

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms:

  •   Extreme sweating
  •   Delirium with hallucinations
  •   Severe and rapid fluctuation of vital signs
  •   Seizures and psychosis

Sleeping Pill Withdrawal Timeline

The duration of sleeping pill withdrawal varies from person to person, depending on several risk factors listed above. Commonly, the first symptoms start manifesting within the first 24-72 hours of quitting. These usually include confusion, irritability, and memory loss.

Within the next 4-10 days, a sleeping pill addict may experience an inability to fall asleep and increased drug cravings. Physical signs like sweating, tremors, and increased heart rate start to appear.

Within 11-17 days, psychological symptoms may start to peak. For example, a pill addict may experience anxiety and depression.

Over the next few-week time period, PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms) may occur and could last up to 18 months.

Detriments of Sleeping Pill Addiction, Abuse, and Overdose

Although less common, people who use sleeping aids may develop parasomnias, a sleeping disorder that includes sleepwalking, sleep-eating, sleep-sex, sleep-driving, and other potentially dangerous activities that could be fatal to the user and those around them. Auto accidents, self-harm, suicides, and crimes have also been reported as a result of drug abuse due to impaired judgment and coordination. Oftentimes, there is no recollection of the actions performed during this dream-like state.   

There have been reported sleeping pill overdose cases, giving insight into the severity of using sleeping pills.

Signs of sleeping pill overdose include:

  •   Abnormal behavior
  •   Excessive lethargy
  •   Abdominal pain
  •   Irregular breathing

An overdose of sleeping pills could be quite dangerous as you would likely be unable to function properly or seek timely help. While death from the use of modern sleeping agents is less probable than its predecessors, it is still possible. A 10 mg dose is typically prescribed for the common sleeping pill Ambien. A user enters overdose limitations at a dosage of 600 mg, with a high possibility for dire consequences. However, death has been reported at lower doses, which is why pill addiction needs to be addressed and treated at a proper sleeping pill addiction rehab facility.

Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment

Addiction and abuse of sleeping pills have become increasingly common, and many individuals have even lost their lives. Sadly, without professional assistance, sleeping pill addiction is challenging to overcome. Quitting the habit abruptly can also make things worse in the long run, which is why it is best to search for proper treatment plans for sleeping pill addiction. If you or someone you care about are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms detailed above, you should consider seeking immediate help. 

Sleeping pill addiction recovery is carried out in an inpatient or outpatient setting. It is best to let an addiction professional determine the advisable level of care. An inpatient setting is when the person is admitted into rehab under constant medical and psychological supervision. Due to the care and observation these patients receive, rehab centers are considered the best treatment plans for sleeping pill addicts. Outpatient rehabs require patients to visit a few times a week. They may be a more suitable option for people who are not yet experiencing severe symptoms or have already been through an inpatient setting and just need help to readjust to everyday life. However, in both cases, medical attention is necessary.

CRC Institute is Here to Help With Your Sleeping Pill Concerns

Sleeping pill addiction and abuse could be detrimental to your health, and even the earliest signs and symptoms should not be ignored or treated on your own. Treatment for pill addiction is possible and effective and can help you recover from this problem faster than you could imagine. If you or someone close to you requires treatment for a sleeping pill addiction, Chicago Rehab Center is here to help.

Reviewed by Dr. Beth Dunlap

Dr. Beth Dunlap, a board-certified addiction medicine and family medicine physician, is the medical director at CRC Institute, where she is responsible for overseeing all the integrated medical services at the Institute. Beth completed medical school, residency, and fellowship at Northwestern University, where she continues to serve on the faculty as a member of the Department of Family and Community Medicine. She has extensive experience in addiction medicine at all levels of care, and her clinical interests include integrated primary care and addiction medicine, harm reduction, and medication-assisted treatment.

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