Sleeping pills are used by millions of Americans every year to induce sleep and get a better rest. Despite common misconceptions, however, sleeping pills aren’t a risk-free drug, and they’re not meant to be taken for the long term. In fact, it is possible to become addicted to sleeping pills, and can lead to a whole host of physical and psychological problems. Here’s what you need to know about sleeping pills to keep yourself safe.
Some common brand names for sleeping pills include:
Addiction to Sleeping Pills
In the five years between 2006 and 2011, American doctors wrote about 38 million prescriptions just for Ambien, which is one of the most popular sleeping pills on the market. The problem is that these pills can be addictive, and it’s not uncommon for people to realize they have a problem only when they start to experience withdrawal. Moreover, overdosing on certain classes of these drugs can be fatal.
What Are Sleeping Pills?
Sleeping pills are part of a larger class of drugs known as sedative-hypnotics, to which barbiturates and benzodiazepines also belong. There are two main categories of sleeping pills available: those that are benzodiazepine-based and those that are non-benzodiazepine. Traditionally, sleeping pills have been made with benzodiazepines, and these include drugs like Xanax and Valium. These drugs are only meant as a short-term measure because long-term use can lead to addiction and health problems. Many modern sleeping pills, therefore, are non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, but they still carry risks.
Statistics on Sleeping Pill Abuse
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 70 million Americans live with sleep disorders, and about 4 percent (2.8 million) of them use pills to fight sleepless nights. In total, however, about 9 million Americans use sleeping pills, and that number is increasing all the time.
Effects of Abuse and Overuse
Some of the most common effects of prolonged sleeping pill use and abuse include:
- Depressed breathing
- Daytime drowsiness and inability to sleep without the pills
- Dizziness and being lightheaded
- Coordination and memory loss
- Itching, burning, and tingling of the extremities
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Dry mouth and throat
- Appetite changes
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Unusual dreams
- Heartburn, stomach pains, or gas
- Parasomnias, which are abnormal sleep-related activities
Signs of Abuse
There are plenty of recognizable symptoms you can be on the lookout for, especially problems with memory and concentration. Other signs of addiction or abuse include trying to quit but being unable to, and seeking prescriptions from multiple medical professionals. Physical signs include slurred speech, lack of coordination, and having an unsteady gait.
Common Drug Combinations
Sleeping pills are often taken in conjunction with other medications and drugs, and this is where abuse can become dangerous. Alcohol and sleeping pills are a particularly fatal combination, but some people also take sleeping pills with painkillers, antidepressants, and other benzodiazepines.
Withdrawal Symptoms and the Detox Process
Sleeping pill withdrawal can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting, and this can lead to dehydration if you’re not careful or being monitored. Other symptoms include spasms, delirium, anxiety or depression, hallucinations, tremors, sweating, and more. Most of the physical symptoms subside within two weeks, though some of the psychological symptoms can persist for several.
Quitting Sleeping Pills and Rebound Insomnia
Another problem that some people face when getting off sleeping pills is called rebound insomnia. This is a period during which your insomnia returns as the drugs leave your system, and the inability to sleep is often worse than it was before the pills. Rebound insomnia is only temporary and typically doesn’t last longer than a few weeks.
Treatments Available for Sleeping Pill Abuse
The most effective treatment for sleeping pill addiction is a medically supervised detox period, followed by inpatient or outpatient treatment at an addiction facility. Not only will this process help you get clean, but it can also help you identify the underlying cause of your initial sleep disorder, and help you understand how to avoid a relapse in the future.
Although sleeping pills are often prescribed by well-meaning medical professionals, these drugs do still carry risks. Sleeping pill addiction is a genuine problem, as are side effects of the drugs themselves and interactions with other substances. Often, people rely on sleeping pills as a long-term solution when these drugs should only be used temporarily, and recognizing the signs of abuse and addiction could save a life.