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Sleeping Pill Addiction: Signs and Withdrawal

Everyone needs quality sleep, but a large population finds the need for help falling or staying asleep. That large population begins with 38,000,000 people receiving prescriptions for Ambien between 2006 and 2011. Sleeping pills are only a short-term treatment for insomnia, as sleep experts believe no one should take sleeping pills longer than 3 weeks at a time. Unfortunately, sleep dysfunction continues beyond the 3-week window, which unintentionally can lead to sleeping pill addiction. 

The Centers for Disease Control refers to a study that states in 2020, 8.5 % of adults used sleep medications every day or most days in the past 30 days. Another statistic is that 4% of adults aged 20 and over report over-using sleeping pills in the last 30 days because of sleep disruptions or trouble falling asleep. Taking a sleep aid can build tolerance and quickly cause dependence and addiction. Those with a prescription for sedative-hypnotics or sleeping pills often misunderstand their addictive quality. 

Sleeping Pills: Brands

Sedative hypnotics include barbiturates and benzodiazepines, like Xanax, but other sleeping pills are non-benzodiazepines. The chemical composition of sleeping pills differs from that of benzos; they have similar effects. Sleeping pills bind to the GABA receptors in the brain, just like benzos, without as many side effects. Typically, people continue to take these medications beyond the short-term intention and become addicted unknowingly. 

Common brands of sleeping pills include the following brands:

  • Ambien (Zolpidem)
  • Sonata (Zaleplon)
  • Lunesta (Eszopiclone)
  • Edluar (Zolpidem)
  • Quviviq (Daridorexant)

How They Work

Sleeping pills work on the GABA receptors in the brain that control alertness and relaxation. Targeting the GABA receptor that controls sleep promotion, sleeping pills have fewer side effects than other drugs and typically metabolize before morning.

Because of this selective receptor target, people believe them safer than benzodiazepines, with less chance of addiction. Unfortunately, people think there is no chance of addiction and that it is safe to take beyond the short-term. 

Side effects of sleeping pills can include any of the following:

  • Reduction of anxiety
  • Sleep without dreams
  • Loss of coordination
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Hallucinations

Brain function begins to depend on receiving the drug, and tolerance can form. Tolerance builds, which requires a higher dosage to obtain the same drowsy effects. Many people do not realize that tolerance is building and dependence is developing. If people stop taking the sleeping pills or skip a day or 2, withdrawal symptoms may occur. 

Signs of Sleeping Pill Abuse

Research reveals that high school and college students misuse sleeping pills and sometimes mix them with alcohol, believing they are not harmful. Some have access to their parent’s prescriptions. Although this is becoming problematic, adults misuse their prescriptions by taking more than the prescription advises or using sleeping pills for reasons other than sleep issues. 

Many believe in altering prescription advice to take sleeping pills for reasons other than sleep disruptions. Anxiety, facing a challenging problem, or restlessness are common reasons for taking sedatives, besides their sleeping troubles. Sleeping pills can have a desirable feel-good effect when taken in a higher dose. This effect can lead to unintentional abuse and an addiction problem. 

Signs and symptoms of sleeping pill abuse include the following:

  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination and unsteady gait
  • Unusual euphoria

Sleeping Pill Abuse Side Effects

The side effects of sleeping pills, with misuse or abuse, are not very well known and can be deadly in some cases. Long-term usage of sleeping pills can produce more intense side effects. An unfortunate dilemma is that sleeping pills seem so innocuous and safe that when symptoms occur, there is a disconnection as to the cause. Awareness of potential adverse side effects of sleeping pill abuse is advisable if presently taking prescription sleep aids. 

Dangerous effects of sleeping pill abuse can include:

  • Seizures
  • Depressed breathing
  • Allergic reactions
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea 
  • Swelling
  • Development of parasomnias
  • Coma or overdose

Common effects of long-term sleeping pill abuse include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Unusual dreams
  • Reliance on pills to sleep
  • Itching and swelling
  • Cravings to take the pills for other reasons than to sleep
  • Making excuses to take more sleeping pills
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Blood pressure fluctuations
  • Depression

Sleeping Pills and Alcohol

It is never advisable to mix alcohol with sedative or hypnotic medications. The combination of 2 depressants is a severe risk. Sleeping pills taken with alcohol increase the sedating effects of both substances. Drinking a drink of alcohol and then taking sleeping pills can negatively affect memory and induce sleepwalking. It is possible to eat, talk to someone, or drive the car without any recollection after drinking alcohol and then taking sleeping pills. 

Side effects of drinking alcohol and then taking sleeping pills include:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Impairment of motor control
  • Slowed heart rate and low blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Unusual behaviors
  • Memory problems
  • Overdose or death

Sleeping Pill Withdrawal

Addiction to sleeping pills can lead to dangerous or life-threatening symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms vary in intensity for each case. A medical detox in a professional facility monitors mental and physical well-being throughout the process. Medical detox in a professional environment is always the safest method of detoxification. 

Sleeping pill withdrawal symptoms can include the following:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Circulation problems
  • Shivering and body spasms
  • Seizures or delirium
  • Irritability
  • Depression or confusion
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hallucinations

Sleeping Pills and Polydrug Use

Polydrug use disorders are dangerous alone, but adding sleeping pills can be deadly.  Mixing sleeping pills with alcohol, opiates, antidepressants, or antihistamines could depress the central nervous system to an extreme, causing difficulty breathing. Impaired breathing and circulation can lead to deadly results. Opioids are particularly dangerous because of their sedative effects. 

Get the Help You Deserve for Sleeping Pill Abuse

Those struggling with sleeping pill abuse or addiction in Tennessee can find opportunities for professional treatment through Tennessee Valley Recovery. The compassionate and understanding staff is familiar with the challenges of detox and recovery from a substance use disorder. Offering a variety of therapies and services for a complete detox and treatment plan, a sober lifestyle can begin as soon as possible. 

Contact us to connect with one of the professional treatment specialists today.