Sleeping Pill Addiction - Rehab Guide

Sleeping Pill Addiction

Sleeping Pill Addiction



Insomnia concept. Melatonin tablets with chemical formula. Young woman lying in bed and has sleep disorder. Addiction of pills

Are Sleeping Pills Addictive?

Whether you struggle to sleep or have full-blown insomnia, it is hard to function without enough rest. There are many reasons for trouble sleeping: Anxiety, physical pain, noise, seasonal affect disorder, and shift work are just some of them.

Doctors in the UK offer sleeping pills when you have exhausted other options, such as improving your sleep environment and hygiene.

What may not be clear to some people desperate for a good night’s rest is sleeping pill addiction. For many, sleeping pills are a saviour from a torturous problem, but it is important to know the signs and symptoms that you are addicted to sleeping pills.

Types of Sleeping Pills

Although they are generally known as sleeping tablets or pills, they fall into three categories. These types are different in the way they affect your body and how likely you are to form an addiction to them.

  • Antihistamines – a common medication to help with allergies and reactions. These medications interact with dopamine (a reward chemical in the brain) which makes us feel good. Add this to the positive effects of regular, predictable sleep, which can be highly addictive. It is worth noting that milder and non-drowsy antihistamines are not addictive. A side effect of the stronger versions is drowsiness.
  • Benzodiazepines – a group of sedative drugs with many variations to treat different conditions, including several sleep associated issues. They are short-term and usually for anxiety-induced insomnia. Benzodiazepines work by acting on the GABA receptors in the brain. These are the parts of the brain that make us feel relaxed and calm. However, using benzodiazepines to activate GABA artificially leads to your body producing less naturally. This means that when you stop taking the sleeping tablets, you are even more anxious than before.
  • Melatonin –  is a natural hormone in the body. Melatonin releases into our bloodstream as darkness falls. This is what makes us sleepy at nighttime and awake during the day. Taking melatonin orally can help people to fall asleep at a normal bedtime. It is particularly useful for those with delayed sleep phase syndrome.

Why do People Take Sleeping Pills

This is usually used for shift work, jet lag and seasonal affect disorder, and also in older people who have reduced melatonin with ageing. In the UK, it is available on prescription only under Circadin. Melatonin is not considered a risk for sleeping pill addiction, but you can become dependent on it. Taking melatonin for more than a month can make it harder to fall asleep naturally.

The circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle: how exposure to sunlight regulates melatonin secretion in the human brain and body processes

Signs of Sleeping Pill Addiction

Because they are used for something private and part of normal behaviour sleeping pill addiction can be hard to spot. Many people don’t believe they can be addicted to sleeping tablets because their doctor prescribes them. Physical symptoms of benzodiazepine and antihistamine abuse are similar:

  • Memory and concentration issues
  • Speech slurring
  • Lack of coordination (falling, staggering)
  • Unexplained excitement and happiness (euphoria)

A serious addiction to sleeping pills can have other signs:

  • Secretive behaviour
  • Needing increasing doses to fall asleep
  • Cravings for sleeping tablets
  • Taking the medication at inappropriate or dangerous times (driving, work, childcare)
  • Buying sleeping pills illegally
  • Mixing sleeping pills with alcohol or other drugs
  • Losing interest in family, friends, hobbies
  • Depression and mood swings

Symptoms of Sleeping Pill Addiction

The physical effects of dependence on sleeping pills are difficult to identify as they also occur mostly during sleep hours. However, you may notice some before and after falling asleep:

  • Craving sleeping pills during daytime
  • Looking forward to bedtime because of tablets
  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Vivid and disturbing dreams
  • Low breathing and blood pressure
  • Itchy skin
  • Using more than prescribed
  • Increased side effects
  • Anxiety and panic attacks on stopping the medication
  • Rebound Insomnia

Side Effects of Sleeping Pills

One of the main issues with sleeping pills is that the side effects are amplified when you overuse the medication. These side effects can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach pain, diarrhoea, constipation and gas
  • Lethargy
  • Headaches (including melatonin)
  • Dry mouth
  • Vivid or disturbing dreams
  • Parasomnia (See Below)
  • Reflux & Heartburn
  • Coordination and balance issues
  • Burning sensation in extremities

Sleeping Pill Addiction and Parasomnia

One of the most frightening side effects of sleeping pill addiction is parasomnia. This group of disorders means doing things while asleep and includes sleepwalking, driving, eating, night terrors, sleep paralysis and persistent nightmares.

Sleeping Pill Addiction and Eating Disorders

One side effect mentioned is loss of appetite. While this can be bad for your health, some people take sleeping pills with this goal in mind. Not only do the pills themselves often cause a reduced appetite, but some people use them to fall asleep early to avoid hunger.

Sleeping pills and weight loss can be addictive and lead to eating and sleeping disorders. The combination is very bad for your physical and mental health.


GET HELP TODAY. 24 Hour Helpline:  0207 2052845


Sleeping Pills and Alcohol

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, making you drowsy and sedated. This lowers your breathing and heart rate and can cause anything from deep sleep to a coma. Adding that effect to sleeping pills can lead to being over sedated.

The results are very unpredictable and not the same for everyone. You are highly recommended to avoid alcohol or any other sedative while taking sleeping pills.

Pills that react badly with alcohol are Zopiclone (Zopitan), the main benzodiazepine prescribed in the UK.

The same goes for antihistamines. While some people take alcohol with non-drowsy antihistamines, mixing sleeping antihistamines such as Doxylamine, Promethazine and Diphenhydramine are extremely dangerous. The combined sedation can lead to coma or death.

Melatonin is also not to be mixed with alcohol. The depressant effects of both together can cause too deep a sleep. It also enhances the negative side effects of the medication.

Sleeping Pill Withdrawal

Your doctor will warn you not to stop taking sleeping pills suddenly. The reason for this is the body becomes used to having them in your system, and removing that quickly can cause withdrawal. Symptoms of sleeping pill withdrawal include:

  • Rebound Insomnia (See Below)
  • Anxiety and panic attacks,
  • Depression and mood swings
  • Nausea, vomiting and stomach pain
  • Sweating (including night sweats)
  • Withdrawal Seizures

Rebound Insomnia

This is when previously experienced insomnia returns when you quit sleeping pills. This is one of the many risks if you stop sleeping pills without medical support.

Inpatient rehab centers offer a safe, medically supervised detox from sleeping pills. Your body is now used to the compensation of sleeping pills and produces less of the needed chemicals to help you sleep. You must taper the doses to prevent these side effects. This means you can stop taking sleeping pills in a safe and controlled environment.

Therapy, rehabilitation plans, and a gentle recovery make for a smoother journey. They can also help keep you more comfortable during a challenging time. You will also get help to deal with the underlying reasons for your sleeping pill addiction.

If you or someone you know is addicted to sleeping pills, contact our experts today for help in finding treatment options near you.


GET HELP TODAY. 24 Hour Helpline:  0207 2052845


Sources Effects of the histamine H1 receptor antagonist and benztropine analogue diphenylpyraline on dopamine uptake, locomotion and reward The Importance of Taking a History of Over-the-Counter Medication Use: A Brief Review and Case Illustration of “PRN” Antihistamine Dependence in a Hospitalized Adolescent



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