Although people successfully treat short-term insomnia with sleeping pills, many become dependent on them. The numbers aren’t in their favor. Approximately 38 million prescriptions for Ambien (a common sleeping pill) were written between 2006 and 2011.
With such rampant accessibility, and a perceived blessing from medical professionals, it’s no wonder so many people fall prey to the power of sleeping pills.
Many people wrongly assume they can’t get addicted to sleeping pills, and some people even claim getting this information from their doctor. Yet, some people find themselves unable to sleep without the help of a pill or they need to increase their dose to fall asleep.
A lot of people don’t realize they’ve become addicted until they stop taking their sleeping medication. All of a sudden they begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms, a telltale sign of addiction.
Other signs that sleeping pill use has gotten out of control include:
Having several failed attempts to quit.
Getting cravings for sleeping medications
Seeing more than one doctor for prescription refills
Continuing to take pills despite negative consequences
Experiencing frequent memory loss from the pills
For many, an addiction to sleeping pills starts when they begin upping their doses. This often happens without the guidance of a physician.
When sleep does not come easily or is interrupted, patients may take more of their [sleep] medication than is prescribed. This may occur even though the medication guides…contain clear instructions to the patient to take the product exactly as prescribed.
- The Drug Abuse Warning Network Report, August 2014
Understanding Sleeping Pills
Sleeping pills fall into a category of drugs known as sedative-hypnotics. This category also includes barbiturates and benzodiazepines like Xanax. Unlike other drugs in this category, sleeping pills are non-benzodiazepine hypnotics. They are commonly known as “z-drugs” since they induce sleep.
Although most non-benzodiazepine sleeping pills have different molecular makeups, they all have similar effects. Sleeping pills bind to the same GABA receptors in the brain as benzodiazepines, but they are believed to have fewer side effects.
Sleeping Pill Effects and Abuse
Most doctors only prescribe sleeping pills for short-term use. Doctors prescribed them for cases of severe insomnia and not necessarily on a strict dosage schedule. These drugs are fast-acting and can often be used on an as-needed basis.
Unfortunately, many people begin using sleeping pills anytime they have trouble sleeping or face something in life that makes them feel anxious.
When sedatives are used in a way not prescribed by a doctor, it is considered abuse. At higher doses, sleeping pills produce the same drowsy, feel-good effect as their highly addictive counterparts, benzodiazepines. Sleeping pills can also produce hallucinatory effects when an individual takes the drug but fights the urge to sleep.
Other effects of sleeping pills include:
Lack of coordination
Sleeping pill abuse has also escalated for high school and college students just looking to have a good time. The drug can exacerbate the effects of an alcohol buzz or cause a similar feeling on its own. Among young people still living at home, access to a prescription (of their own or their parents) is often all too easy.
The effects of sleeping pills on brain function can manifest as early as the first time the drug is taken.
Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to the effects and recovery gets harder. Often, recovering sleeping pill addicts will suffer from “rebound insomnia,” or a compounded insomnia that is even worse than it was before they started taking the drug. This is a common side effect and should not be used as a reason to continue taking sleeping pills. Fortunately, medically assisted detox can help minimize this and other symptoms of withdrawal.