The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a third of adults in the U.S. regularly get less than the recommended amount of sleep. (1) It is not uncommon to have a sleepless night on occasion; a night during which you toss and turn until early in the morning, perhaps because you are anxious about a major test the next day, or because you consumed too much caffeine late in the afternoon. For those with diagnosable sleep disorders like insomnia, catching a full 7 or 8 hours of rest is a rarity. Frequently getting fewer than the recommended 7 hours of sleep can result in a range of physical and mental health issues. Because sleeping is such a crucial part of life, those with diagnosed sleep disorders are often prescribed sleep aids like Ambien (zolpidem), Sonata (zaleplon), or Lunesta (eszopiclone).

Prescription sleeping pills can be beneficial and effective when used as prescribed. However, sleeping pills are among the most commonly misused prescription medications in the U.S. If you are among the millions of adults who have been prescribed sleep medication, it is a good idea to take the drug as infrequently as possible. Relying on medication to achieve a good night’s sleep on a regular basis can lead to the development of a psychological addiction, even if the medication is marketed as safe to use and non habit-forming.


Types of Sleeping Pills

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, “Sedative and hypnotic medications, often referred to as sleep aids, are used to induce or maintain sleep by suppressing activities in the central nervous system. In the past two decades, both popular media and pharmaceutical companies have reported an increased number of prescriptions filled for sleep aids in the United States. In fact, a market research firm has reported a tripling in sleep aid prescriptions from 1998 to 2006 for young adults aged 18-24.” (1) Which sleeping pills are being used and misused the most? The most commonly misused sleeping pills include:

  • Ambien (Zolpidem)
  • Lunesta (Eszopiclone)
  • Sonata (Zaleplon)

These drugs are sedative-hypnotics, more commonly known as “Z-Drugs.” While they do have a high potential for misuse, they are generally safe to use when taken as prescribed. Some benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium might be prescribed to help those with insomnia and c0-occurring anxiety disorders. However, because benzodiazepines are more habit-forming than Z-Drugs, they are generally not prescribed to those with sleep problems as a primary point of concern.


Scope of Sleeping Pill Misuse & Dependence

The CDC also reports roughly 4 percent of American adults misused prescription sleeping pills within the past month, and one in six adults with a diagnosed sleep disorder used prescription sleep aids. The majority of people who misuse sleep aids were initially prescribed the medication by a licensed medical professional, though many obtain the medication illegally from a close friend or family member. While Z-Drugs are considered safer to use than benzodiazepines, it is important to note that this class of drug is also addictive, and can lead to a host of serious complications — including overdose.

The American Pharmacists Association recently published a scientific article which states, “A new study in The Lancet Regional Health Americas found that the proportion of overdose deaths involving nonbenzodiazepine sleeping drugs (also called Z-Drugs) and anti-epilepsy gabapentinoids increased more than threefold between 2000 and 2018, coinciding with exponential prescription increases since their introduction into the market.” (1)

Signs & Symptoms of Sleeping Pill Addiction

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, lays out several additional diagnostic criteria those with sleeping pill use disorders tend to experience. If you answer “yes” to more than two of the following questions, there is a good chance you would benefit from some degree of professional addiction treatment.

  1. Do you often use more sleeping pills than you intended, or use sleeping pills for a longer period of time than you intended?
  2. Have you attempted to quit using sleeping pills on your own with limited success, or have you attempted to cut back on the dose of sleeping pills you use unsuccessfully?
  3. Do you experience cravings for sleeping pills throughout the day?
  4. Do you spend a significant amount of time obtaining sleeping pills, using sleeping pills, and recovering from the effects of sleeping pill use?
  5. Have you started to experience problems at work or at school directly related to your sleeping pill use?
  6. Do you continue to use sleeping pills despite newly developing or worsening physical and psychological symptoms?
  7. Have you been instructed to cut back on your sleeping pill use by a licensed healthcare professional, and have you made the decision to ignore their advice?
  8. Do you engage in risk-taking behavior while under the influence of sleeping pills, like driving while under the influence or mixing sleeping pills with other substances like alcohol or opiates?
  9. Have you started to neglect activities you previously enjoyed as a direct result of your sleeping pill use?
  10. Have you developed a physical tolerance, meaning a higher dose of the sleeping pill is required in order for the desired effects to be achieved?
  11. Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to quit sleeping pills on your own?

Getting Help for Sleeping Pill Addiction

The best treatment option for sleeping pill addiction depends on several factors, including:

  • How long you have been taking sleeping pills.
  • How frequently you have been taking sleeping pills, and at what dose.
  • Whether or not you were initially prescribed sleeping pills for a legitimate medical reason.
  • The potential for severe withdrawal symptoms (more common among those taking benzodiazepine sleeping pills).
  • Whether or not you have been combining sleeping pills with other chemical substances like alcohol or opioid narcotics (this increases the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms).
  • The presence of an underlying mental illness like anxiety or depression.

In most cases, entering into an inpatient detox center will be the first course of action. The length of your stay in detox will depend on the severity of withdrawal symptoms, but in the case of sleeping pills, detoxification rarely lasts for longer than 7 days.

Once you have been physically stabilized, you will prepare to move to the next level of care. If you are struggling with a moderate or severe sleeping pill addiction and underlying issues, you will likely be encouraged to commit to a longer term stay in residential drug rehab. In residential rehab you will begin to heal from addiction on a mental and emotional basis, undergoing intensive behavioral therapy in an individual and group setting. Once you complete rehab you will begin following your aftercare plan, which might include outpatient treatment/continuing care, ongoing therapy sessions, and involvement in a 12 Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Once sleeping pill misuse progresses to physical and psychological dependence, some level of professional addiction treatment will be necessary. The right level of clinical care for you or your loved one will depend on several factors, including the severity of the sleeping pill addiction, the presence of dual diagnosis disorders, and whether or not sleeping pills are being used in combination with other chemical substances. If you have made the decision to seek professional help and reclaim your life, the first step is reaching out. As soon as you make the decision to contact us you will be connected with an experienced Advisor who will help you determine which treatment options will best meet your unique, personal needs. We will help you find a reputable treatment center in your area and answer any additional questions you might have. We look forward to speaking with you soon and helping you get started on your journey of sleeping pill addiction recovery as quickly as possible.