Prescription sleeping pills are sedative medications that help slow down brain activity and make it easier for someone to fall asleep and stay asleep. Mostly, sleeping pills are used to treat insomnia, one of the most common sleep disorders among adults, but sleeping pills can also be used to treat other sleep disorders, like restless leg syndrome.
Most sleeping pills are referred to as Z-drugs. They are similar to benzodiazepines like Xanax since these types of medicines help sedate someone, but sleeping pills are classified as non-benzodiazepine drugs. They help to induce a relaxed state in the brain, so the person can finally drift off to sleep. Almost every prescription sleeping pill on the market today.
The three name-brand sleeping pills on the market today are:
Ambien is also called Zolpidem. Unlike benzodiazepines that were once widely prescribed for insomnia, Ambien is marketed as less addictive. The drug has a low tolerance threshold and fading effectiveness. This increases the chances of a user becoming addicted to the drug.
Lunesta, also known as Eszopiclone, is another commonly prescribed sleeping pill. The pills are in a circular shape and come in either a white or blue color. The highest dose of Lunesta someone can get is 3 mg.
Also known as Zaleplon, Sonata helps people fall asleep fast. As a time-released capsule, Sonata is famous for being one of the quickest-acting sleeping pills on the market.
Each of the above medications is designed to be taken orally, but anytime someone uses a drug like a sleeping pill in a way it was not intended, it is considered substance abuse. Taking medication by mouth means that the substances have to go through the digestive tract before hitting the bloodstream, so an oral tablet takes some time to become effective. People who are addicted to sleeping pills, or want to get “high” on them, will do things to make the pills take effect faster. One way to do that is to crush and snort the pills. Snorting the pills means the active chemicals in the medicine can reach the bloodstream quickly through the capillaries in the nasal passages.
Another common way that people abuse sleeping medications is to take far more than prescribed. Also, mixing the pills with other substances is another way to abuse the pills. Alcohol greatly enhances the effects of sleeping pills, as do other sedative-type medications, like painkillers. Mixing sleeping pills and other sedatives is incredibly dangerous and increases the risk of overdose.
About 4% of the U.S. population uses sleeping pills each month. Women are more likely than men to use prescription sleeping pills as well. Caucasian men and women as well as older, more educated consumers are the most likely to take a prescription sleep med. These demographic groups, since they are the most exposed to sleeping pills, are also the most likely to struggle with sleeping pill addiction. However, young college-aged consumers are likely to abuse sleeping pills too. An estimated half a million people in the U.S. currently abuse sleeping pills. Ambien is the most common sleeping pill medication responsible for ER visits related to sleeping pill abuse and overdose.
All medications produce side effects, and sleeping pills are no different. The most common side effects of sleeping pills are drowsiness, lethargy, headaches, muscle aches, dry mouth, and constipation. For those with sleep apnea, sleeping pills can make symptoms worse. Unfortunately, sleeping pill use is also correlated with an increase in falls and injuries. Seniors who use prescription sleeping pills are at the highest risk of these complications and risks. Other studies on sleeping pills have uncovered shocking side effects and consequences of regular sleeping pill use. People who take these medicines are twice as likely to get into a car crash as those who do not take the pills. Compared to those who drive drunk, sleeping pill users are just as likely to crash.
The long-term side effects of sleeping pill use are also dire:
- Regular sleeping pill use leads to a tolerance for the drugs over time
- Sleeping pill addiction and dependence come with painful withdrawal side effects
- Rebound insomnia can occur with the cessation of the pills
- Sleeping pills can interact poorly with other medications and substances
Because sleeping pills are a legal prescription, many people are misinformed about the risks of taking the pills. A lot of insomnia patients may think that a legal prescription like sleeping pills can’t be addictive, but that’s not true.
Misuse of the pills and long-term use of sleeping pills increases someone’s chances of becoming physically dependent and psychologically addicted to sleeping pills. Since people take the pills as part of a nightly routine, it can be difficult for them to realize they have a physical dependence on the drugs. Below are some of the common signs of sleeping pill addiction:
- Developing a tolerance to the drug and requiring ever-increasing doses to get the same effect
- Taking more sleeping pills than prescribed without input from a doctor
- Attempting to quit or cutback, but being unable to
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when quitting or cutting back
- Using the pills, but forcing themselves to stay awake to get “high.”
- Cravings for sleeping pills
- Doctor shopping to get more prescriptions
- Continued use of sleeping pills despite negative consequences
- Memory loss
- Engaging in risky behaviors while on sleeping pills, like driving
Sleeping pill addiction is a severe problem. It can increase the chances of fatal falls and accidents or overdose. While insomnia may be a terrible condition to have, overmedicating with sleeping pills, or replacing insomnia with an addiction disorder is not the answer. Fortunately, there is help for people with insomnia and sleeping pill addiction.
Are you or a loved one struggling with cravings and withdrawal symptoms from sleeping pill misuses? We can help. Contact the dedicated addiction counselors at Launch Centers today to explore your treatment options.