sleeping pill addiction

No Rest: 8 Signs of an Addiction to Sleeping Pills

By some estimates, 68% of American adults struggle with sleeping at least once per week. 

Those numbers reveal that having trouble sleeping is a big problem in the US. And that problem is all too often treated with highly addictive sleeping pills.

What is meant to be a temporary solution to the problem, many people who take sleeping medication can accidentally become addicted. What’s worse, many people don’t realize they have a problem until it’s too late.

If you think you or a loved one might be addicted to sleeping pills, keep reading to find out the warning signs.

Are Sleeping Pills Addictive?

Sleeping pills are a class of drug known as sedative-hypnotics. A group that includes benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and various hypnotics, these drugs are meant to induce and/or maintain sleep. The most common sleeping pills are Ambien (zolpidem), Sonata (zaleplon), and Lunesta (eszopiclone).

Because they’re obtained by prescription through a doctor, many people believe that sleeping pills are safe. As in, they are led to believe that you can’t get addicted to them. But that assumption is incorrect.

Of course, sleeping pills can help with sleep issues like insomnia. However, they’re meant to be a short-term solution to a sleeping problem. When taken for too long or taken incorrectly, they can lead to dependence and addiction.

Some people don’t realize they’ve developed a dependence or addiction to their sleeping medication until it’s too late. Often, they find that they’re unable to sleep without the pill. Other times, they need to increase their dosage to obtain the same effects.

8 Signs of an Addiction to Sleeping Pills

Not being able to sleep without the medication or self-medicating and upping a prescribed dose is usually the point that people realize they’re addicted to their sleeping medication. But there are other signs to watch for as well. We’ll go through each of these in more detail below so you can help yourself or a loved one before the issue gets out of hand.

1. Withdrawal Symptoms

Some people don’t know that they’ve become addicted to their sleeping pills until they stop taking them. When they try to lower their dosage or stop using the medication altogether, they experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms is a sure sign of physical dependence and often a sign of addiction, too.

Withdrawal happens when the body has become reliant on the external source for sleep. When you stop giving your body that source, your body has to rebalance itself both physiologically and mentally. 

Withdrawal symptoms can last for longer than a month, depending on the extent to which the sleeping medication was abused. There are mild symptoms such as anxiety and sweating, but there are also severe symptoms like seizures.

For this reason, detoxing from sleeping medication can be extremely dangerous for some users. A medically assisted and supervised detox is the safest way to get off sleeping pills.

2. Not Being Able to Quit

If you’ve tried unsuccessfully time and time again to get off your sleeping medication, that’s a sign of physical dependence and potential addiction. 

As mentioned, your brain adjusts to receiving an external chemical to help it get to sleep. The longer you’ve used that external source to sleep, the more accustomed your brain becomes and the harder it is to quit. One of the biggest hinderances to quitting sleeping medication is what’s known as rebound insomnia.

Rebound insomnia is a withdrawal symptom that’s specific to sleeping pills. It means that, when you stop taking the medication, your insomnia comes back worse than it was before you started taking the pills. This is a major cause of relapse in people who are dependent on sleeping medication.

3. Cravings

Craving a drug means that you need the drug more than you actually want it. Craving your sleeping medication is an important warning sign of addiction. It means that using sleeping medication has had an effect on the neurochemistry of your brain. 

4. Seeking Sleeping Pills Outside Your Primary Physician

Not being as impacted by the same amount of the drug means your body has developed a tolerance. Tolerance means that your body needs more of the drug for the same effect. 

When you’re abusing your sleeping pills or upping your dose without a doctor’s guidance, your physician may not prescribe you more pills to match that need. This leads some people to seek prescriptions from other doctors or to buy drugs on the street.

Not only is this behavior illegal, but it’s also a sign of a bigger problem. If you start seeing more than one doctor, or you seek sleeping medication illegally, it’s likely that you’ve developed an addiction.

5. Ignoring Negative Consequences of Using

Side effects of abusing sleeping pills include:

  • Drowsiness during the day
  • Loss of memory
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Itching and swelling
  • Unusual dreams or dreamless sleep
  • Difficulty with coordination
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth

On the more dangerous side of these side effects are depressed breathing and seizures. Over time, the build-up of the substance in the body can cause irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure as well. The more sleeping medication is abused, the more likely these side effects are.

Another major symptom of addiction is continuing to use despite the appearance of negative side effects and consequences in your personal, family, and work life. If you’re aware of these negative consequences and continue using your sleeping medication, you might have a problem. 

6. Suicidal Thoughts

People who abuse sedatives like sleeping pills have a high rate of suicidal thoughts. If you’re noticing suicidal thoughts, this could be a sign of dependence and/or addiction and you should seek medical help as soon as possible.

7. Using Sleeping Pills Not as Prescribed

When a doctor prescribes sleeping pills for insomnia or other problems with sleeping, they don’t usually prescribe them on a strict dosage schedule. Instead, they’re meant to be taken on an as-needed basis – and only for a short period.

But many people who use sleeping pills will take them anytime they can’t sleep. Others will use them to treat symptoms completely unrelated to sleep (i.e. to reduce anxiety). When sleeping medication is used in a way other than what’s prescribed, it’s considered abuse. 

8. Using Sleeping Pills for Fun

Some people even use sleeping pills as a recreational drug. They take the drug to produce lightheadedness, hallucinations or feelings of euphoria. Taking sleeping pills that aren’t prescribed to you, or at doses not prescribed to you, is another sign of abuse.

Getting the Support You Need

Although sleeping pills can be obtained legally through a doctor’s prescription, they’re also substances with a high potential for abuse. Abusing sleeping medications can lead to both physical dependence and addiction. While some people don’t know they’ve developed a problem until they try to get off their pills, looking for these 8 signs can help you identify the issue sooner.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a sleeping medication addiction, your health and safety depend on professional and medical assistance. Contact us today to find out how we can help.

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About the Reviewer: Chris Barnes

Chris BarnesChristopher Barnes has worked in health care for over thirty years. He is a graduate of Alabama State University where he earned a double Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work and Psychology in 1982. Christopher Barnes is currently the Director of Clinical services at The Discovery House where he has been employed for the past five years. Because of his extensive experience in health care & substance abuse he has an excellent rapport with constituents, clients, and other professional organizations in the counseling/social service community.