Not being able to go to sleep or stay asleep is a problem that plagues many people. It can become such an issue, causing anxiety, depression, irritability, poor decision-making, accidents, and injuries, that people become desperate to be able to sleep soundly and without interruption. As a result, many people with insomnia or other sleep problems turn to sleep medications for help.
While some people are able to treat short-term sleeping issues with medication, many become dependent on sleeping pills. And the prevalence of use is ever increasing. In the five years from 2006 until 2011, over 38 million prescriptions for sleep medication were written. With such accessibility, it is no wonder that so many users become dependent on the medications.
Because sleep medication is prescribed by doctors, many people assume that it is safe and not addictive. Unfortunately, that just isn’t true. Consequently, many people find that after starting sleep medications, they cannot sleep without their help, or they need to increase the dosage to be able to sleep.
What are Sleeping Pills?
Sleeping pills were created to encourage drowsiness in people who have difficulty sleeping. They are categorized as sedative-hypnotics. This category also includes barbiturates and benzodiazepines. However, sleeping pills are non-benzodiazepine hypnotics. They are also called “z-drugs” as they prompt sleep.
Although sleep medications have a different molecular makeup than benzodiazepines, they have a similar effect on the brain. They bind to the same receptors (known as GABA receptors) as benzodiazepines, aiming to control the part of the brain that affects the ability to focus and relax. Sleeping pills are considered safer than benzodiazepines because they have fewer side effects. But that doesn’t mean that they are completely safe.
Signs and Symptoms of Sleeping Pill Abuse
For many people who take sleep medication, dependency or addiction begins with they start increasing their doses to be able to sleep. Many people do this without consulting their doctor, even though they have been warned that it isn’t safe to do so. When a person requires more of the medication to be able to fall asleep, it is an indication that they are becoming physically dependent on the sleep drug.
Many people don’t even realize that they have become dependent on sleeping pills until they cease taking them. Suddenly, not only can they not sleep, but they begin to suffer from withdrawal symptoms – a sure sign of addiction.
Substance misuse of sleeping pills is different. There are some individuals who are prescribed sleep drugs and take more of the medication than is prescribed for recreational purposes. This behavior may indicate the presence of an addiction, commonly called a substance use disorder.
When someone is overusing or abusing sleeping pills, certain signs and symptoms may be noticeable, including:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Drowsiness during the daytime (or waking hours)
- Garbled or slurred speech
- Memory loss
- Trouble with concentration
- Mood swings
- Unsteady movements
- Nightmares or odd dreams
When someone is misusing sleep medications, one of the most common indications of the abuse is that they take them at all times of the day, not just at bedtime. They are using them for the euphoric effect they produce, not to sleep. There may also be a fixation with nighttime to legitimize the use of the drugs. People who are addicted to sleeping pills usually run out of their prescription faster than someone who takes them as prescribed because of their persistent use.
Addiction to sleeping pills often includes some or all of the following signs:
Other signs and symptoms of addiction to sleeping pills include:
- Failing to be able to quit taking the medication, even after many attempts
- Craving sleeping pills
- Continuing the medication even though they have suffered negative consequences
- Experiencing memory loss from the medication
- Doctor shopping (seeing more than one doctor for prescriptions) for the medication
Effects of Sleep Medication Abuse
Typically, doctors only prescribe sleep medication for short-term use and only for severe cases of insomnia. The medications are fast-acting, and they are often used on an as-needed basis. Unfortunately, many people begin using the drugs anytime they have trouble falling asleep or even when they are just worried that they aren’t going to be able to sleep. It’s also common for people with sleep medication prescriptions to take the medication when life situations cause them anxiety or stress.
When medication is used in ways other than how the doctor prescribed it, it is considered abuse. When used in higher doses, sleep medication produces the same drowsy, feel-good effects as the highly addictive benzodiazepines. They can also produce hallucinations when someone takes them but fights sleep.
Other sleep medication effects include:
- Decreased anxiety
- Lack of coordination
- Dreamless sleep
Unfortunately, sleep medication abuse has escalated as people have begun to use them recreationally. They can intensify the effects of alcohol or cause similar feelings as an alcohol buzz when taken alone. They are becoming increasingly popular among young people still living with parents whose pills can easily be taken.
Sleep medication can affect brain function as early as the first dose is taken. Over time, the brain becomes used to the effects of the medication, and recovery becomes harder. It is common for people recovering from sleeping pill addiction to have “rebound insomnia,” which is a compounded insomnia that is worse than what they had before taking the medication to start. This is a very common side effect and shouldn’t be used as an excuse to continue taking sleep medication. Medically supervised detox is recommended for sleep medication addiction and can help minimize insomnia and other withdrawal symptoms.
When Sleeping Pills are Combined with Other Drugs
Many people who take sleep medication prescriptions don’t pay attention to the warning labels that advise them not to mix the medication with alcohol. Doing so can be a fatal combination. The sedative effect of sleeping pills is intensified when taken with alcohol, which increases the risk of a fatal overdose. But those with a severe addiction often use alcohol to increase the potency of the sleep medication.
Other drugs that are commonly combined with sleep medication include:
- Opioid pain medication
Finding Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment in Fresno
Breaking addictions from sleep medication is often difficult without professional treatment and support from a certified drug rehab center. Fortunately, there is help available for sleep medication addiction. Detox in a medical facility makes withdrawal more comfortable and safer, and inpatient or outpatient drug rehabilitation is helpful in getting sleep medication addicts on the road to recovery. In treatment, they will learn new coping skills, receive the tools and techniques they need to prevent relapse, and participate in individual and group therapies to resolve underlying issues that may have contributed to their addictions.
If you or a loved one is struggling with sleeping pill use or abuse, there is help out there for you. The first step is asking for it.