Sleeping Pill Addiction
When my two boys were babies, getting a good night’s rest was a commodity I rarely experienced. I nursed them both, and like little insatiable clocks, their internal alarms were set to eat every two hours. Not a big deal during the day, but it was challenging at night. I remember thinking, “OK, so this is why sleep deprivation is used as a means of torture.”
When I took steroids during chemotherapy treatment, sleep once was once again hard to come by. I would lie awake for hours wishing for a deep slumber that never came. The lack of sleep would exacerbate my anxiety at night and deepen a sense of apathy during the day. And while it was only temporary, it was awful.
Sleep is precious. When you don’t get it, life is just not the same. So it makes sense that people turn to alternative measures, like sleeping pills, when they’re not getting enough of it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 9 million Americans – 4 percent of adults – rely on medications that help with insomnia and other sleep related issues. And while they are prescribed by medical professionals and prove to be helpful if used once in a while, it can lead to dependency or addiction if not taken properly.
Understanding Sleeping Pills
Commonly referred to as “z-drugs,” sleeping pills are fast-acting sleeping aids. They fall under a category known as sedative-hypnotics, which also includes barbiturates and benzodiazepines like Xanax. But unlike Xanax, which helps sedate you, sleeping pills are non-benzodiazepine hypnotics. They help relax you. Like a car approaching a red light, they slow down your brain, making it easier for you to fall asleep.
According to Addiction Center, there are three common sleeping pills on the market today:
- Sonata – Known as Zaleplon, Sonata works by activating the neurotransmitter, gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which slows down mental processes and blocks feeling of stress and anxiety. It’s one of the fastest-acting sleeping pills. It’s also a prime target for overuse. While it is not considered as habit-forming as Ambien or Lunesta, it is more likely to create withdrawal symptoms, which can lead to abuse.
- Ambien – Known as Zolpidem, Ambien also activates the GABA neurotransmitter. From 2006-2011, approximately 38 million Americans were prescribed this sleeping aid. Ambien was designed and marketed as a drug less addictive than benzodiazepines like Xanax. But its use is intended for short-term only. So even though it generally takes longer for addiction to develop and the withdrawals are less severe, Ambien is still an addictive drug. In fact, a physical dependence to Ambien can form in as little as two weeks.
- Lunesta – Known as Eszopiclone, Lunesta also binds to receptors in the brain, slowing down overactive function. It helps people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. But like Ambien, it is intended for short-term use only. People who stop taking Lunesta after long-term use will most likely suffer withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia and anxiety.
While most non-benzodiazepine sleeping pills have different molecular makeups, they all provide the same effects. And, like benzodiazepines, they bind to the same GABA receptors, but they are reported to have fewer side effects.
The common denominator, though, is short-term use, as prescribed by a physician. But once they’re consumed for longer periods of time and in larger amounts than intended, problems can arise.
Sleeping Pill Abuse
When z-drugs are used in any other way than what is prescribed by a physician, it is considered abuse. If taken in higher doses, they can produce the same feel-good effects as their cousins, benzodiazepines. They can produce hallucinatory effects when a person is purposely fighting sleep. And they can also amplify a “buzz” when combined with alcohol.
It’s no wonder why they’ve escalated to high school and college students, who tend to steal them from their parents.
Sleeping pills are short-term solutions only. Yet, according to Addiction Center, 21 percent of people who abused sleeping pills had suicidal thoughts in 2012; and more than 30,000 were hospitalized due to nonmedical use of Ambien in 2011. So while sleeping pills have legitimate uses, they also come with serious risks.
Some of the signs of sleeping pill abuse include:
- Slurred speech
- Uncoordinated movements
- Unsteady gait
- Inability to focus
- Impaired memory
- Unusual euphoria
Signs of Sleeping Pill Addiction
Since sleeping pills are prescribed by medical professionals and are taken at night, many don’t recognize they have developed a sleeping pill addiction. They don’t see the grip it has on their lives. And they don’t realize how dangerous it can be. Being able to identify the possible signs of addiction, could be lifesaving.
Here are the signs:
- Developing a tolerance to the drug
- Increasing dose to achieve the same effects
- Unable to quit or cutback
- Experiencing withdrawals symptoms when you do cutback or quit
- Craving sleeping pills
- Taking them to get “high”
- Seeking out new doctors to get more prescriptions
- Continued use despite negative consequences
- Memory loss and confusion
- Blowing off social and professional obligations
- Engaging in dangerous behavior while on sleeping pills, such as driving
I know it’s easy to seek the aid of modern medicine, especially when your quality of life is being affected. But before depending on sleep aids, try addressing the underlying issue. Sleep professionals also suggest minimizing screen and technology use at night, and practicing relaxing behaviors, such as reading, before bed.
However, if you have gone down the slippery slope of misuse and are now dealing with sleeping pill addiction, you’re not alone. There is treatment available to help get you back on track.