Suffering from insomnia takes a physical, mental and emotional toll on the mind and body. If it goes on too long, people will become irritable, fatigued and have lowered immunity. Their lack of sleep will interfere with daily activities like work or exercise. Since it is physically and emotionally exhausting to lose sleep night after night, people will often schedule a visit with their doctor or take an over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aid. Doctors can prescribe something slightly stronger than what’s available over the counter, and when used as prescribed, sleeping medication can be a helpful solution to get you over a hump.
Types of Sleep Aids
There are many types of sleep aids, and they differ in their ingredients and how they work on the mind and body to promote sleep.
Benzodiazepines – A psychoactive depressant that enhances the GABA neurotransmitter to induce a calming and sedative effect. Examples include Xanax, Ativan and Librium.
Nonbenzodiazepines – These aids are similar to benzodiazepines, but they work on a different chemical structure. Examples include Lunesta, Sonata and Zolpidem.
Barbiturates – These sedative drugs cause the central nervous system to depress. Since the drug has a higher potential for overdose, it is no longer used today.
Herbal Remedies – Less addicting but not always as powerful, herbal remedies can be a safe alternative. Plants such as Valerian root, Kava and hops all have sedative effects on the body.
How Does a Sleeping Pill Addiction Form?
Most people do not start off using a sleep aid with the intention of forming an addiction.
And, those people who use sleeping medication for a short period of time and under a doctor’s supervision are at a low risk for dependency. Sleeping pills do, however, have the potential for abuse.
What starts to happen is that people rely on sleep medication to put them to sleep each night, and they lose the ability to fall asleep on their own. If they do have to sleep without a pill, they experience a great deal of anxiety as the night approaches. People also enjoy the sedative effects on the body, which can be compared to what alcohol does. Like we see with so many prescription drugs, sleep aids are often combined with other drugs, alcohol or prescription medications to enhance the effects.
Another problem with sleeping pills is that they can start the cycle of dependency with other drugs. As the user becomes more dependent on the drug to sleep, they start developing the classic symptoms of addiction. If they can’t get another prescription for the sleep aid from their doctor, they will resort to buying sleeping pills from others or taking other types of prescription medication. Also, if they continue to take sleep aids for an extended period of time, their tolerance will increase, and when not under a doctor’s supervision, they can take too much of a sleep aid and overdose.
There are also the natural sedative effects of sleep aids that are of concern. For instance, when a dependency starts to form, a user will begin taking sleep aids throughout the day, not just at night. Operating equipment, driving a vehicle or taking care of children can be greatly compromised when on a sedative. There are also physical symptoms to take into consideration, as benzodiazepines are known for causing breathing difficulties or blurred vision.
The bottom line is this: When a habit starts to form to sleeping pills, take it seriously. It can spiral out of control and start the cycle of addiction, leading to more severe drugs and unethical behavior.
How Do I Know if a Loved One is Addicted to Sleeping Pills?
Of course, there are many people who take sleeping pills and have no problem, so if you or a loved one has to take them, do so for a short period of time and under a doctor’s supervision. But, if you do notice the following symptoms, it’s time to address a potential addiction.
- Hard to cope without sleeping pills
- Withdrawal symptoms when the medication is reduced or taken away
- An obsession with sleep aids
- Increased tolerance
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Defensiveness about sleep aid use
How to Treat a Sleeping Pill Addiction
The only safe treatment for a sleep aid addiction is to stop taking the pills altogether. Tapering off the medication may be possible for those without a severe dependency, but others will need more, especially if they have been experimenting with other prescription drugs or combining alcohol and sleeping pills. These behaviors are indicative of a greater problem, and a drug rehab program can help these individuals overcome their dependency and work through underlying issues, which may in turn help the original sleep problem.