Sleeping pills like Ambien can be highly effective for treating short-term insomnia, but sleeping pill addiction is one of the unfortunate by-products for many who end up misusing or abusing this medication.
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Can Sleeping Pills Be Addictive?
With 38 million Ambien prescriptions written from 2006 to 2011, according to this study, and NSDUH data showing 500,000 people abusing sleeping pills in the United States, it’s time to address the myth that sleeping pills are non-addictive.
If you have been taking sleeping pills and find yourself unable to drop off without one, you could already be addicted. The same might be true if your tolerance is building and you find yourself needing to take more pills to sleep.
For many people, it’s not until they try to stop taking sleeping pills that it becomes clear they are addicted. This typically manifests in the form of adverse withdrawal symptoms, a sign you are already dependent on this medication.
Per CDC data, Ambien is the most widely used hypnotic medication in the United States, but only 23% of patients follow safety recommendations for Ambien laid down by the FDA.
Sleeping pills are classified as sedative-hypnotics. This is a class of drug that also includes:
Sleeping pills are non-benzodiazepines, though, despite being hypnotics. These medications are commonly labeled Z-drugs for the way they induce sleep.
Three of the most widely prescribed sleeping pills are:
- Zolpidem (Ambien)
- Zaleplon (Sonata)
- Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
While non-benzodiazepine sleeping medication has a different molecular structure to that of benzos, the effects induced are nevertheless similar. Sleeping pills attach to the same GABA receptors in the brain targeted by benzos, although they tend to trigger fewer side effects.
How can you tell, then, if you’re becoming addicted to sleeping pills?
Signs of Sleeping Pill Addiction
Here are some of the most common sleeping pill abuse symptoms:
- Tolerance building so you need more sleeping pills to achieve the same effect
- Using sleeping pills every time you want to sleep
- Craving sleeping pills
- Increasing your dosage without consulting your healthcare provider
- Taking the pill but resisting the urge to sleep to better feel the effects
- Trying and failing to discontinue use
- Experiencing memory loss
- Doctor shopping so you can refill multiple prescriptions
- Using someone else’s prescription
- Purchasing black market sleeping pills
- Continuing to use sleeping pills despite mounting negative consequences
Sleeping Pill Abuse
When sedatives like sleeping pills are used in a way other than prescribed by a doctor, this is considered sleeping pill abuse.
If you take higher doses of sleeping pills, this can bring about the same euphoric effects as the addictive benzo class of drug. When you take sleeping pills and then resist the urge to sleep, this can trigger hallucinatory effects.
Other common sleeping pill abuse side effects include:
- Dreamless sleep
- Reduced anxiety levels
- Impaired coordination
The abuse of sleeping pills is prevalent among high school students and college students seeking a high from the medication rather than a sound night’s sleep.
Sleeping pills can start impacting brain function after the very first use. As you continue to use sleeping pills, your brain becomes increasingly accustomed to the effects, making recovery tough. Many people addicted to sleeping pills find they experience rebound insomnia once they stop taking the medication. This common side effect results in a compounded form of insomnia even worse than before taking the medication. With medical detox, this can be largely mitigated.
Once addicted to sleeping pills, you can expect any or all of the following side effects:
- Increased likelihood of accidents
- Suicidal thoughts
- Impaired decision-making
- Organ damage
- Accidental overdose
- Breaking the law to obtain sleeping pills
- Buying pills on the black market
- Trying other drugs
One of the other common issues with sleeping pills is using them in combination with alcohol. This can be a potentially deadly combination. Alcohol amplifies the sedative effects of sleeping pills, increasing the chance of a fatal overdose.
It can take time for an addiction to sleeping pills to develop. Typically, people start taking the medication as prescribed, but then some begin abusing the pills for their intoxicating effects.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of sleeping pill addiction:
- Suffering withdrawal symptoms if you don’t have access to sleeping pills
- You find it hard to imagine sleeping without pills
- You become defensive if others question your sleeping pills consumption
- You have tried manipulating your healthcare provider into prescribing more sleeping pills
- You find yourself doctor shopping to obtain more pills
- When you try to reduce your intake of sleeping pills, you find this hard to maintain
- You enjoy the groggy effects induced by sleeping pills
- You have noticed changes to your habits or personal hygiene
Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating sleeping pill addiction. The nature of treatment depends on the type of sleeping pills, the length of time you’ve been using it, and how much you have been taking.
If you are unable to stop using sleeping pills with your doctor’s help and a tapered reduction, you may benefit from our prescription drug treatment program. With medication-assisted treatment as appropriate and a combination of counseling and psychotherapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), as well holistic therapies and relaxation techniques, you can start sleeping like a baby again without fearing the scourge of sleeping pill addiction.
To kickstart your recovery, reach out to our addiction hotline at 866.330.9449.