Who doesn’t need help getting a good night’s sleep every once in a while? There are many things a person can try to beat insomnia, but many look to the simplest choice — a sleeping pill. While generally effective, they can become addictive and dangerous.
What Is A Sleeping Pill?
A sleeping pill is an over-the-counter or prescription medication that treats patients with insomnia — a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. These medications promote and prolong sleep, meaning people will sleep longer and with fewer “wake-ups.” Depending on the medication, a sleeping pill may have hypnotic, sedative, or tranquilizing effects. Most sleeping pills slow down the central nervous system, thus promoting drowsiness.
Finding a sleeping pill that works can seem like a blessing for one desperate for sleep. As a result, a person can quickly become psychologically dependent. Physical tolerance is a very common problem with all sleeping pills. After a few months, they all invariably lose effectiveness; this often leads to a person taking more than the prescribed dosage — and that’s when the problems begin.
Are Sleeping Pills Dangerous?
Most medical experts advise against long-term use, as they pose a risk for serious side effects, dependence, and addiction. Habitual sleeping pill users, whether prescribed or OTC, can easily become reliant on the medication to fall asleep. This can lead to several health consequences, including physical and psychological addiction, and all run the risk of overdose. When it comes to sleep medications, most medical professionals think the risks outweigh the benefits, and they prefer their patients to seek alternative treatments. Traditional therapy can help you find the cause of your insomnia, often with a psychological component. You can overcome your sleep disorder through counseling and enjoy a healthier, happier life.
Are Sleeping Pills Addictive?
The bottom line is that over-use of sleeping pills can lead to dependence and, eventually, addiction. Although cravings for these drugs are not as intense as they are for opioids, users can become psychologically dependent. The brain and body start to rely on the drug to sleep properly throughout the night and build up a tolerance for it — needing more for the same effects. It can be hard to recognize sleeping pill abuse because they are taken before bed, but if you keep taking them after your prescription runs out, it is a strong indicator that a dependency has formed. If this is not addressed, it can lead to addiction.
Signs of Sleeping Pill Abuse and Addiction
The signs of sleeping pill abuse are many: lightheadedness/dizziness, breathing difficulties, depression or anxiety, strange dreams, slurred speech, daytime drowsiness, memory loss, irregular sleeping patterns, headaches or migraines, balance/coordination issues, or sleepwalking.
Signs that one has gone beyond abuse to addiction mirror the classic signs of addiction: relying on the sleeping pills to fall asleep, taking higher doses than prescribed, finishing a prescription early, taking someone else’s prescription, strong cravings, going to multiple doctors to get another prescription, extreme mood swings, excessive drowsiness, or memory problems.
Users are at an increased risk of respiratory problems and breathing difficulties as the pills depress the central nervous system. Heart rate is also depressed, and this can lead to loss of consciousness, brain damage, or possibly death. Mixing sleeping pills with opioids or alcohol can be deadly. These drug interactions increase the risks of respiratory depression. Since they are often considered benign, it is easy to overdose on sleeping pills.
Other Risks Associated With Sleeping Pills
Along with the hazards of addiction, there is a growing belief that long-term use of sleep medications may be a factor in other severe conditions. Patients heavily abusing sleeping pills within a year have an increased risk of cancer. Patients taking certain sleeping pills for an extended period are significantly more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive decline. People tested for driving ability the day after taking certain sleeping pills showed effects similar to alcohol use.
Stopping sleeping pills can be tricky — just as with any abused substance. The most common withdrawal symptom is “rebound insomnia” where sleep becomes worse after stopping the use of certain sleep medications. Rebound insomnia is often worse than the patient’s original insomnia that drove them to take the sleeping pills. Besides rebound insomnia, withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, depression, cravings, confusion, hallucinations, nausea and vomiting, tremors/shakes, irritability, increased heart rate, or seizures.
Recovery Programs For Sleeping Pills
There are several types of recovery programs:
- Detox and withdrawal – the medical detoxification and withdrawal process. Going “cold turkey” is not recommended. A medical professional monitoring your condition and symptoms is safer and more effective.
- Inpatient treatment – completed at a residential treatment center, patients receive continuous psychological and medical monitoring.
- Outpatient rehabilitation – a few times per week, patients receive treatment and take part in therapy.
- Aftercare – counseling and behavioral therapy to help manage triggers, stress, and behaviors related to sleeping pills once physical detox is complete. Group therapy, individual therapy, a sober living home, or a 12-step program may be helpful.
Sleeping pills are most effective when not used habitually. They may help individuals who require a sleep aid for travel or are experiencing disrupted sleep patterns due to stress or outside influences.
Most experts believe that the most effective cure for chronic insomnia is to treat the underlying disorder rather than simply use sleeping pills. Other than therapy or medication, some natural ways to improve sleep habits include maintaining a regular sleep schedule, exercising, avoiding caffeine, avoiding daytime naps, and managing stress.
Everyone deserves a good night’s rest. When used correctly, sleeping pills can be the extra help needed to promote healthy rest. If abused, they can have serious negative consequences. To manage a problem with sleeping pills, it is important to seek professional help.
Why Choose Bridges Of Hope?
Bridges of Hope is a long-term residential recovery center. There are four facilities for men and one for women. Our program of recovery is based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. The A.A. ‘Big Book’ and the 12 steps to recovery serve as the foundation for the entire program. A.A. has been successfully helping people recover for more than 80 years, through fellowship, prayer, and the demonstration of spiritual principles.