Sleeping Pill Addiction: Abuse Signs, Effects & Treatment

Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment Guide

Sleeping pills are sedatives that reduce stress, change the pace of your breathing, and help you sleep. They are most commonly used for insomnia or for those who have taken part in a long-term shift work schedule.

Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment

Sleeping pills can cause physical dependency if used for more than a few weeks. When an individual stops taking them altogether, withdrawal symptoms kick in. Rebound insomnia is also a possible side effect of sleeping pills. When the person attempts to sleep without any sleeping pills, they may experience more and longer periods of sleep than usual. It could lead them to take more and more sleeping pills as time goes on, leading to addiction.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the percentage of adults who use prescription medication to sleep increases with age and education. Another survey conducted by Consumer Reports in 2015 for drug use and health reports that 18% of survey respondents stated they take sleep medication daily, and 41% admitted to using them for more than a year.

How Do Sleeping Pills Work?

When a person takes a prescription sleeping pill like eszopiclone, the medication reaches the brain and begins to work on the GABA receptors. As sleeping pills bind to GABA receptors in the brain, it reduces the activity of excitatory neurons. It causes a calm feeling that leads to sleepiness. Not all sleeping pills work in this same way. Some act as sedatives and hypnotics, while others as muscle relaxants or anticonvulsants.

There are several types of both over-the-counter and prescription sleeping medications. These can be grouped into the following categories:

• Hypnotics: These medications bring the patient to a state of consciousness where sleep becomes the only option. An example of a hypnotic is zolpidem, also known as Ambien. It typically works on GABA receptors and can cause drowsiness, confusion, or dizziness.

• Sedatives: These drugs can decrease brain activity and have a calming effect on the central nervous system. They are prescribed for people who have trauma-related stress or have undergone surgery.

• Antiepileptics: These medications are used to treat epilepsy and are often prescribed for those who have refractory seizures. These drugs may affect sleep, movement, and muscle function.

Commonly Abused Sleep Medication

Below are some of the more commonly abused sleeping pills:

• Ambien
• Sonata
• Lunesta
• Xanax
• Valium
• Ativan

Dangerous Interactions with Sleeping Pills

Sleeping pills can be dangerous when taken with other medications or narcotics. In some cases, the interaction of two or more drugs causes an increased risk for side effects or even death. These substances can produce negative side effects when combined with a sleeping pill.


When painkillers like opioids are taken with a sleeping pill, the patient’s breathing can become severely compromised. This combination can cause major risks like respiratory failure and even death. They increase the risk of serotonin syndrome. This syndrome is characterized by symptoms that typically include restlessness, confusion, fever, sweating, and muscle stiffness.


When alcohol is taken with a sleeping pill, it can lead to the following side effects:

• Changes in blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate
• Impaired coordination and balance
• Paranoia
• Increased aggression
• Depression
• Delirium and suicidal thoughts

Sleeping Pill Addiction

After being asleep for a long period, waking up can be highly disruptive, especially if it happens too often. It can result in problematic symptoms such as disorientation, memory loss, and even fatigue, affecting your ability to work and contributing to other anxiety-related issues, such as irritability or depression.

Sleeping pill addiction is a severe illness that can cause overwhelming problems if not treated. Dealing with this type of problem requires a strong recovery plan, including seeking the services of a qualified mental health professional.

Signs of Sleeping Pill Addiction

When taken according to label instructions, the medications used to treat sleep disorders and insomnia are generally considered safe. Still, they can have severe side effects if you abuse them or take more than recommended amounts. Some of the signs of sleeping pill addiction include:

• Garbled speech
• Difficulty concentrating
• Forgetfulness
• Mood swings
• Itching
• Dizziness
• Anxiety
• Odd dreams and nightmares
• Confusion and hallucinations

Side Effects of Sleeping Pills Abuse

Like any other medications, sleep medications can also be misused and have side effects. The side effects differ depending on the drug being used. As with different types of medication abuse, the more you take, the greater your risk of experiencing side effects. Some of these side effects include:

• Changes in appetite
• Constipation
• Diarrhea
• Balance problems
• Dizziness
• Daytime drowsiness
• Dry mouth or throat
• Gas
• Headache
• Heartburn
• Stomach pain or tenderness
• Uncontrollable shaking
• Unusual dreams
• Weakness

Signs of Sleeping Pills Overdose

Some signs and symptoms may indicate you or someone you know has overdosed on sleeping pills. These symptoms depend on whether one is taking prescription medications or over-the-counter sleeping pills. For example, an overdose of a prescription sleep medication typically will require immediate medical attention, while over-the-counter sleep pills may not result in immediate emergency care. If any of this is the case, it is essential to get medical help immediately. Symptoms of sleeping pills overdose include:

• Breathing issues
• Changes in heart rate or blood pressure
• Irregular heartbeat
• Seizures
• Coma

How to Avoid an Overdose

Overdose on sleeping medication can be fatal, and in many cases, the symptoms may not become evident until a few hours after an individual has taken the drug. If you are taking sleeping pills or a sedative, the following tips can help reduce the risk of an overdose.

• Take medications in the recommended dosage.
Older adults may need a lower dose than younger ones.
• Do not drink alcohol or any other impairing substance while on medication.
• Tell your physician about any over-the-counter medications you take.
• Consider some counseling sessions to address issues contributing to your insomnia.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleeping Pills Withdrawal

Withdrawal is another risk with sleeping pill abuse or overdose. Because these medications can be habit-forming, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. Some of the symptoms of withdrawal generally include:

• Restless sleep
• Nightmares
• Depression
• Anxiety
• Body spasms
• Seizures
• Delirium
• Drug cravings
• Hand tremors
• Increased heart rate

Withdrawal Timeline

Withdrawal from sleeping pills will depend on the amount and type of medication taken and how long it has been used. A mild to moderate withdrawal can begin a few hours after your last dose. Generally, if anyone is addicted to sleeping pills, you can expect them to experience withdrawal symptoms in the following manner:

• 1 to 2 days: Individuals with sleeping pill addiction may experience mild symptoms, including restlessness, sleepiness, and irritability.

• 3 to 5 days: The symptoms will worsen as this is the main withdrawal phase. Symptoms can include indigestion, intense nausea, insomnia, hallucinations, and intense cravings.

• 5 to 14 days: The intensity of the symptoms will start to fade, as well as the time it will take to get rid of them.

• After two weeks: Most of the symptoms will have subsided, and you will begin to feel more like your usual old self. If you still have symptoms like depression, you might be suffering from acute withdrawal symptoms and should see a therapist.

Detoxification Process

If you are taking sleeping medication for a valid medical condition and suddenly start developing the signs and symptoms of an addiction, it is time to get professional help. Individuals with an addiction need to engage in a detoxification program to help them recover safely in a supervised environment. Treatment includes some or all of the following:

• Administration of activated charcoal to absorb the excess drug
• Medications to flush the drug through the bowels or urinary tract
• Administration of intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and stabilize body functions
• Dialysis to better clean the blood
• Medications to stabilize heart function
• Psychiatric care

Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment

A person eventually breaks free from the grip of sleeping pill addiction. Healthcare professionals may treat both the physical and mental components of this type of drug addiction. Treatment plans are individualized and designed to address each client’s specific needs and combine methods that help people learn coping skills to replace their dependency on sleeping pills.

Doctors often use psychotherapy, individual counseling, and group therapy to help patients deal with their insomnia and improve the quality of their lives. Many people who rely on sleeping pills also battle depression, anxiety, and stress that can worsen their condition. Admitting the problem is the first step, which can be difficult for some patients. But it’s an essential step that lets doctors treat melatonin deficiency by directing them to find a doctor or psychiatrist with expertise in treating sleep disorders.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs are the treatment of choice for many people with insomnia. In an outpatient program, patients receive in-person therapy between checkups and can continue their treatments at home.

The main benefit of outpatient care is that patients can still work or focus on school while receiving therapy, which helps them find better ways to cope with sleep problems without resorting to drugs. Outpatient programs include individual therapy and group therapy. The treatment program can be set up to meet the patient’s needs. Patients can choose from various weekly, daily, or 30-minute sessions. Clients may visit the center for varying lengths of time, ranging from five days to a maximum of 28 days.

12-Step Programs

Twelve-step programs are usually free or low-cost self-help groups that require no medical treatment or medication. The program relies on peer support, mutual aid, and group consciousness to help people recover from their addiction.

The 12 steps help people realize that they have a problem and admit it. Some measures include recognizing their addiction, how it has affected their lives, why they need help, and how they will handle their addiction. This program comprises attending meetings on addiction and recovery and participating in a 12-step program. It is meant to help people cope with short-term and long-term recovery from addiction.

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient programs offer more intense treatment options for clients who need more individualized therapy. Many people choose inpatient treatment to avoid withdrawal symptoms during their treatment and to reduce the risk of relapse after they leave the program. The rehab program is designed to treat the symptoms of withdrawal and addiction. The program will have a daily schedule that is beneficial for patients who need help to balance their physical and mental health with their sleep cycle.

Withdrawal Therapy

Withdrawal therapy helps people overcome cravings for sleeping pills during treatment. It teaches patients how to manage withdrawal symptoms and cope with chronic insomnia without drugs. The treatment can be done in a rehab center or hospital.

This addiction treatment aims to help people deal with insomnia and learn to manage their condition long-term. After leaving the facility, clients can also receive follow-up care and support through support groups, counseling, and therapy sessions.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT helps people understand how their thinking impacts their problems, such as how they think about sleep, feel about insomnia, and react to their sleep problems. Clinical studies show that CBT is the most effective form of addiction treatment.


Doctors may prescribe medications to help treat sleep-related problems. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can help relieve sleeplessness and depression that exacerbate insomnia. Your doctor may recommend these types of prescription medication to provide temporary relief until you overcome your dependence on sleeping pills.

Contact an Addiction Treatment Center Today

A sleeping pill addiction is an often-dangerous condition that requires professional help. Sleeping pills can be addictive and have a high potential for abuse. While some people may wish to stop taking sleeping pills without professional help, addiction treatment professionals advise against such behavior because there is a greater chance of success with the proper treatment.

If you or someone you love has been suffering from sleepiness during the day and an inability to fall asleep at night, call on a professional addiction specialist. Reach out for help and speak with a treatment provider today. If untreated, it can be a dangerous situation, as it could lead to a prescription drug habit that may eventually lead to legal or physical consequences.

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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