Updated on February 6, 2024
5 min read

Sleeping Pill Addiction: Risks & Withdrawal

Key Takeaways

Do you find it difficult to get a restful night’s sleep? According to the National Institutes of Health, 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders.1

For many people, sleeping pills can be an easy way to ensure they get enough sleep. But while these medications may help in the short-term, too much reliance on them can quickly lead to dependence and addiction.

beautiful young woman sitting in bed suffering headache massaging her head with eyes closed

Are Sleeping Pills Addictive?

Yes, sleeping pills can be addictive. Although people don’t crave them as intensely as other drugs like heroin or fentanyl, they can become physically and psychologically dependent over time.

Someone who routinely takes prescription sleeping pills may believe they can’t sleep without the medication. This belief is due to the brain and body relying on the drug to sleep properly throughout the night.

Below is a list of sleeping pills that are and aren’t addictive:

Addictive Sleeping PillsNon-addictive Sleeping Pills
Triazolam (Halcion)Doxepin (Silenor)
Zaleplon (Sonata)Ramelteon (Rozerem)
Zolpidem (Ambien CR)

In 2020, 8.4% of American adults relied on sleep medication to facilitate falling or staying asleep. Women (10.2%) were more inclined than men (6.6%) to use sleep medication, and its usage increased with age.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
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What Are the Signs of Sleeping Pill Addiction?

Sleeping pill addiction can negatively impact daily responsibilities, including work, social life, and finances. Fortunately, there are signs you can look out for to tell if someone is struggling with this condition.

The signs of sleeping pill addiction include:

  • Taking another person’s prescription
  • Relying on the medication to fall asleep
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed to feel the same effects
  • Running out of a prescription early
  • Having strong cravings
  • Being secretive, feeling detached, and isolating oneself
  • Performing low at school or work
  • Changing priorities, such as revolving your day around obtaining more pills
  • Having relationship problems
  • Visiting the doctor frequently to obtain more than one prescription
  • Developing extreme changes in mood
  • Having trouble with finances
  • Feeling extreme drowsiness and having memory problems

What Are the Risks of Sleeping Pill Addiction?

Sleeping pills are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that slow your heart rate and breathing. When you misuse sleeping pills, this side effect can worsen significantly.

If your heart rate becomes too slow, you may experience problems that include:

  • Respiratory problems 
  • Breathing difficulties 
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Brain damage
  • Death 

If you mix sleeping pills with opioids (such as heroin and fentanyl) or alcohol, the interaction of these substances can be dangerous and life-threatening. Your chances of respiratory depression increase, causing an overdose.

What Are the Symptoms of Sleeping Pill Withdrawal?

The most common signs of sleeping pill withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Delirium
  • Cravings
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Muscle tension
  • Irritability
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Sweating
  • Rebound Insomnia (more difficulty falling or staying asleep)

People typically develop withdrawal symptoms a few hours or weeks after stopping sleeping pill use.2 The symptoms can last for a few weeks, depending on your age, gender, dosage, and length of use.

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What Are Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment Options?

A sleeping pill addiction is a severe mental health issue, but these treatments are available to support your recovery:

  • Detox and withdrawal: Medical detox helps facilitate withdrawal in a safe and controlled environment.
  • Inpatient treatment: Inpatient treatment centers can provide continuous care and medical supervision for 30, 60, or 90 days of treatment.
  • Outpatient rehab: Treatment requires frequent visits to a rehab facility but gives you the freedom to return home at the end of the day.
  • Counseling and therapy: Therapy treatments help manage triggers and behavior during recovery and are recommended once you’ve completed a withdrawal detox.

How Can You Prevent Sleeping Pill Addiction?

To help prevent sleeping pill addiction, it's essential to follow these steps:

  • Only take sleeping pills as prescribed: Don't take more than the necessary dose or for a longer period than your doctor prescribed.
  • Avoid sharing prescriptions: Never share your prescription with someone else or use someone else's medication. This can lead to dependency and other health risks.
  • Keep track of your medication: Keep your sleeping pills in a safe and secure place, and monitor how many you have left. This can help prevent accidental overdose or misuse.
  • Try non-medication alternatives: If possible, use natural methods or therapy techniques to improve your sleep instead of relying on medication.

Guidance for Caregivers and Family Members

Here are some ways to provide support and help those struggling with sleeping pill abuse overcome their addiction:

  • Educate yourself about the drug: Research and learn more about sleeping pill addiction, its signs, symptoms, and effects on the body. The more knowledge you have, the better you can understand your loved one's struggles.
  • Encourage them to seek treatment: Offer your support and encouragement to seek professional help. Let them know you're always by their side, and you can accompany them to appointments or even help them find a treatment facility.
  • Be patient and understanding: Recovery from addiction is a long process, and there will be setbacks along the way. It's essential to be patient and understanding with your loved one as they work towards sobriety.
  • Avoid enabling behaviors: It can be tempting to try and protect your loved one from the consequences of their addiction, but this can actually hinder their recovery. Avoid giving them money or making excuses for their behavior.
  • Take care of yourself: Supporting a loved one through addiction can be emotionally and physically draining. Take care of your well-being, and seek support from others if necessary.

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Resources for Help and Support

If you or someone you know is struggling with sleeping pill addiction, there are resources available to help. Consider reaching out to:

  • National Helpline: 1-800-237-TALK (8255)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Treatment locator
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

Summary

Sleeping pills can be helpful for those suffering from insomnia, but they come with risks and dangers. Taking more than doctors prescribe or mixing them with opioids or alcohol can be fatal.

You can also develop sleeping pill addiction and dependence if you don't monitor your use. Tolerance and dependence increase significantly with irresponsible use, and withdrawal symptoms can be severe.

If you’re struggling with such an addiction, seek treatment immediately. Withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, and it's essential to have medical supervision during the process.

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Updated on February 6, 2024
9 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency?” National Institutes of Health, 2022.
  2. Using medication: What can help when trying to stop taking sleeping pills and sedatives?” InformedHealth.org [Internet], 2020.
  3. Sleep Medication Use in Adults Aged 18 and Over: United States, 2020.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023.
  4. Harvard Medical School. “By the Way, Doctor: Are Sleeping Pills Addictive?” Harvard Health Publishing, 2014.
  5. Insomnia.” Mayo Clinic, 2016.
  6. Lie et al. “Pharmacological Treatment of Insomnia.” Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 2015. 
  7. Koshorek et al. “0497 Rebound Insomnia During Discontinuation of Chronic Hypnotic Use.” Sleep, 2020.
  8. Prescription sleeping pills: What's right for you?” Mayo Clinic, 2022.
  9. Margareten, J. “Should Benzodiazepines Be Prescribed to Treat Insomnia and Should Benzodiazepines Be Prescribed to Treat Insomnia and Anxiety Related Disorders? Anxiety Related Disorders?” Touro College and University System, 2011.

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