Understanding Sleeping Pill Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Updated On: June 15, 2024
6 min read
Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Sleeping pill abuse involves the deliberate consumption of prescription or over-the-counter medications intended to induce sleep for their psychoactive effects.[1] These medications, including benzodiazepines and sedative-hypnotics, can lead to a rapid onset of sedation and relaxation when taken in high doses or in manners other than prescribed.

While sleeping pills may be easily obtainable and perceived as a quick solution for sleep disturbances, their misuse carries potentially grave consequences, including addiction, overdose, and potentially fatal respiratory depression.

Sleeping Pill Addiction

Key Points

  • Sleeping pill abuse involves the deliberate consumption of prescription or over-the-counter medications for their psychoactive effects, which can lead to addiction, overdose, and potentially fatal respiratory depression.
  • Misuse of sleeping pills can include taking higher doses than prescribed, combining them with other substances, or using them recreationally to induce euphoria or altered states of consciousness, increasing the risk of addiction and associated health complications.
  • Sleeping pill addiction can result in physical and mental health complications, including respiratory problems, neurological impairments, mood disturbances, cognitive dysfunction, and difficulties in social, academic, and occupational functioning.
  • Treatment for sleeping pill addiction is personalized and may involve various levels of care such as medical detoxification, medically managed care, and inpatient residential treatment, along with evidence-based therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Motivational Interviewing (MI).
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    What Are Sleeping Pills?

    Sleeping pills refer to a diverse range of medications designed to promote sleep by exerting sedative effects on the central nervous system.[2] These medications are commonly prescribed for individuals struggling with insomnia or other sleep disturbances, aiming to facilitate the initiation and maintenance of sleep. While sleeping pills encompass various classes of drugs, including benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics, and antihistamines, they share the common goal of inducing relaxation and drowsiness to facilitate sleep onset.

    Traditionally, sleeping pills have been utilized for their efficacy in promoting sleep and addressing sleep-related disorders. Individuals typically ingest these medications orally, following prescribed dosages and administration guidelines. The effects of sleeping pills range from calming and sedating to inducing a state of unconsciousness conducive to sleep. However, these effects carry inherent risks, including the potential for dependence, tolerance, and adverse reactions.

    Despite the therapeutic benefits of sleeping pills in managing sleep disturbances, their misuse and abuse are significant concerns. Individuals may misuse sleeping pills by taking higher doses than prescribed, combining them with other substances, or using them recreationally to induce euphoria or altered states of consciousness.

    Such misuse can lead to addiction, overdose, and various adverse health consequences, underscoring the importance of responsible and informed use of these medications.

    Sleeping Pill Addiction and Abuse

    Sleeping pill addiction and abuse stem from the direct impact of these medications on the central nervous system, often resulting in dependency and addictive behaviors. Sleeping pills modulate activities in the brain, inducing sensations of relaxation, drowsiness, and altered consciousness.[3] These psychoactive effects can create a pathway to addiction, as individuals may seek to replicate the sedative and calming sensations induced by sleeping pill use.

    The accessibility of sleeping pills, whether prescription or over-the-counter, contributes to their potential for misuse. Additionally, the perception of sleeping pills as harmless aids for sleep may lead to the misconception that they are less harmful than other substances. This misconception can fuel their misuse and abuse, increasing the risk of addiction and associated health complications.

    Sleeping Pill Quick Reference Chart

    Drug Category Sedatives, hypnotics, anti-anxiety
    Commercial & Street Names Sleeping beauties
    DEA Schedule n/a
    Administration Injected, snorted


    Statistics on Sleeping Pill Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    According to data from the National Health Interview Survey conducted in 2020, a notable proportion of adults relied on sleep medication to aid in falling or staying asleep.[4] Approximately 8.4% of adults reported using sleep medication either every day or most days within the past 30 days to address their sleep-related difficulties. Interestingly, there were significant gender disparities in sleep medication usage, with women (10.2%) being more likely than men (6.6%) to rely on sleep medication for assistance with sleep.

    Similarly, findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005 to 2010 shed light on the prevalence of prescription sleep aid usage among adults aged 20 and over.[5] Approximately 4% of U.S. adults in this age group reported using prescription sleep aids within the past month. Moreover, the data revealed a correlation between the use of prescription sleep aids and demographic factors such as age and education level. Specifically, the percentage of adults using prescription sleep aids increased with advancing age and higher levels of education. The survey also highlighted that a higher proportion of adult women (5.0%) utilized prescription sleep aids than adult men (3.1%), underscoring gender disparities in sleep medication usage patterns.

    Sleeping Pill Addiction and Abuse

    Sleeping pills, while intended to address sleep-related issues, can pose significant risks to both physical and mental health if misused or abused.[6] Prolonged and excessive use of sleeping pills can lead to various adverse effects on the body, encompassing respiratory problems, neurological impairments, and damage to vital organs such as the liver and kidneys. These health complications may manifest as chronic conditions or acute medical emergencies, underscoring the seriousness of sleeping pill abuse.

    Furthermore, addiction to sleeping pills can precipitate a range of psychological symptoms, including mood disturbances, agitation, heightened anxiety, and cognitive dysfunction.[7] People grappling with sleeping pill addiction may encounter disruptions in their social interactions, academic performance, and occupational functioning, exacerbating the detrimental impact on their overall well-being.

    Ceasing the use of sleeping pills abruptly can precipitate withdrawal symptoms, further complicating the recovery process. These withdrawal symptoms may encompass irritability, insomnia, nausea, tremors, and intense cravings, posing significant challenges to individuals attempting to break free from the cycle of dependence on sleeping medications.

    Despite the acknowledged risks associated with sleeping pill abuse, regulatory oversight remains limited in many jurisdictions, facilitating easy access to these medications. The absence of stringent regulations contributes to the widespread misuse and abuse of sleeping pills, heightening concerns regarding the purity and potency of these medications available in the market.

    Effects of Sleeping Pill Abuse

    The misuse of sleeping pills can have profound effects on physical health, resulting in a range of symptoms and complications. Prolonged and excessive use of sleeping pills may lead to respiratory issues such as shallow breathing, chest discomfort, and respiratory depression, particularly when combined with other central nervous system depressants.[8]

    Additionally, neurological damage is a potential consequence of sleeping pill abuse, often presenting as impaired coordination, memory problems, and cognitive dysfunction.[9] Gastrointestinal disturbances, including nausea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort, are common among individuals misusing sleeping medications, alongside frequent headaches and dizziness.

    Moreover, sleeping pill abuse carries the risk of developing tolerance and dependence, wherein individuals require escalating doses of medication to achieve the desired effects and may experience withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation. This dependence can lead to compulsive drug-seeking behavior and difficulties in controlling sleep medication use despite adverse consequences.

    Overdose symptoms may include profound sedation, respiratory depression, and, in severe cases, coma or death due to respiratory failure or cardiovascular complications.

    Sleeping Pill Addiction and Mental Health

    Sleeping pill misuse can have profound effects on mental health, exacerbating existing conditions and giving rise to new ones. Prolonged abuse of sleeping pills may lead to the development of depression, anxiety, and irritability as a result of side effects or withdrawal symptoms, significantly impairing your overall daily functioning and quality of life.[10]

    Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment

    Treatment for sleeping pill addiction is highly personalized and designed to meet each individual’s unique needs and circumstances. The cost of treatment can vary significantly, influenced by factors such as the type of program (inpatient, outpatient, or residential), duration of treatment, and additional services provided (such as counseling, therapy, and medical supervision).

    The duration of sleeping pill addiction treatment may also vary based on several factors, including the severity of addiction, the presence of co-occurring mental health conditions, and progress in recovery. Treatment may span from several weeks to several months or longer to address underlying issues contributing to sleeping pill abuse, developing effective coping strategies, and fostering sustained recovery.

    Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

    If you or someone you know is struggling with sleeping pill addiction, beginning the journey to recovery requires seeking the right treatment. Treatment for sleeping pill addiction involves different levels of care, each customized to meet the specific needs and difficulties associated with addiction.

    At our facilities, we offer the following levels of care for sleeping pill addiction treatment:

    • Medical Detoxification (Detox): Medical detoxification is conducted with close oversight from medical professionals, ensuring individuals safely rid their bodies of substances while effectively managing withdrawal symptoms.
    • Medically Managed Care: For individuals requiring intensive medical attention and supervision, medically managed care provides a structured environment with round-the-clock monitoring and support from trained medical professionals. This level of care is particularly beneficial for those struggling with severe addiction to sleeping pills or concurrent medical conditions that require close supervision and intervention.
    • Inpatient Residential Treatment: Inpatient residential treatment provides individuals with a supportive and structured environment conducive to recovery. Clients live full-time at the treatment facility, receiving comprehensive care and support from a multidisciplinary team of professionals. This level of care offers a highly structured schedule of therapy sessions, group activities, and support groups, allowing individuals to focus entirely on their recovery journey without external distractions or triggers.

    Therapies Used in Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment

    Alpas offers a range of evidence-based treatment approaches to address sleeping pill addiction and support individuals in their recovery journey. Each therapy modality is tailored to meet the specific treatment needs:

    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a commonly used therapeutic approach focused on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with addiction. Through CBT sessions, individuals learn coping mechanisms, problem-solving skills, and strategies to manage cravings and triggers effectively.
    • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness practices to help individuals manage emotions, improve interpersonal relationships, and develop distress tolerance skills. Particularly beneficial for individuals struggling with emotional volatility and impulsivity, which are common challenges in addiction recovery, DBT provides valuable support in navigating the complexities of the recovery process.
    • Motivational Interviewing (MI): Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a client-centered therapeutic approach to enhance motivation and readiness for change. Through empathetic listening and collaborative goal-setting, therapists help individuals explore their ambivalence towards change, identify personal values and goals, and strengthen their commitment to the recovery journey.
    • Contingency Management: Contingency management involves a behavioral strategy that utilizes positive reinforcement to encourage abstinence and promote adherence to treatment goals. Clients receive rewards or incentives when they achieve milestones such as attending therapy sessions, providing negative drug tests, and demonstrating progress.
    • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) is a focused therapeutic approach to enhance intrinsic motivation for change. Therapists help individuals explore the gap between their current behaviors and aspirations through structured dialogues and personalized feedback. This process nurtures feelings of self-assurance and empowerment, encouraging individuals to take steps toward positive transformation.
    • Experiential Therapy: Experiential therapy involves engaging individuals in hands-on activities and immersive experiences to facilitate emotional processing and personal growth. Activities such as role-playing, art therapy, and outdoor adventure therapy allow individuals to explore underlying issues, express emotions, and develop new coping mechanisms within a supportive environment.
    • Relapse Prevention Therapy: Relapse prevention strategies focus on identifying and managing triggers, developing coping skills, and creating a structured plan to prevent relapse. Clients learn to recognize early warning signs of relapse, utilize coping strategies effectively, and build a strong support network to maintain long-term sobriety.
    • Twelve-Step Facilitation: Twelve-Step Facilitation involves participation in Twelve-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to support recovery from addiction. Clients engage in group meetings, work through the Twelve Steps, and receive encouragement from peers who share similar experiences, fostering community and accountability.
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    Frequently Asked Questions About Sleeping Pills


    Are sleeping pills safe for long-term use?


    Long-term use of sleeping pills may not be recommended for everyone. While they can be effective for short-term management of sleep disturbances, extended use may lead to dependence, tolerance, and other potential health risks. It’s essential to discuss the long-term use of sleeping pills with a healthcare professional to determine the best approach for your individual needs.


    Are there any interactions between sleeping pills and other medications?


    Yes, there can be interactions between sleeping pills and other medications. It’s crucial to inform your healthcare provider about all medications, supplements, and herbal remedies you are taking to avoid potentially harmful interactions. Some medications, when combined with sleeping pills, can increase the risk of side effects or reduce the effectiveness of either medication.


    Are there alternatives to sleeping pills for managing insomnia and sleep disorders?


    Yes, several alternatives to sleeping pills can help manage insomnia. These include adopting good sleep hygiene practices, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, avoiding caffeine and electronics before bedtime, and practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing exercises. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is also a highly effective non-pharmacological treatment option for chronic insomnia. Consulting with a healthcare provider can help determine the most suitable approach for managing your sleep difficulties.


    [1] Alasmari, M. M., Alkanani, R. S., Alshareef, A. S., Alsulmi, S. S., Althegfi, R. I., Bokhari, T. A., Alsheikh, M. Y., & Alshaeri, H. K. (2022). Medical students’ attitudes toward sleeping pill usage: A cross-sectional study. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 13, 1007141. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.1007141 on April 1, 2024

    [2] Mayo Clinic. (2018). Prescription sleeping pills: What’s right for you? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/in-depth/sleeping-pills/art-20043959 on April 1, 2024

    [3] Cleveland Clinic. (2021, April 27). Sleeping pills information. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/15308-sleeping-pills on April 1, 2024

    [4] Products – Data Briefs – Number 462 – January 2023. (2023, January 24). Www.cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db462.htm on April 1, 2024

    [5] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). NHANES – National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Homepage. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes/index.htm on April 1, 2024

    [6] Information, N. C. for B., Pike, U. S. N. L. of M. 8600 R., MD, B., & Usa, 20894. (2017). Using medication: What can help when trying to stop taking sleeping pills and sedatives? In www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK361010/ on April 1, 2024

    [7] Mayo Clinic. (2018). Prescription sleeping pills: What’s right for you? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/in-depth/sleeping-pills/art-20043959 on May 10, 2024

    [8] Gatti, R. C., Burke, P. R., Otuyama, L. J., Almeida, D. R., Tufik, S., & Poyares, D. (2016). Effects of Zolpidem CR on Sleep and Nocturnal Ventilation in Patients with Heart Failure. Sleep, 39(8), 1501–1505. https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.6006 on May 10, 2024

    [9] Arnts, H., van Erp, W. S., Boon, L. I., Bosman, C. A., Admiraal, M. M., Schrantee, A., Pennartz, C. M. A., Schuurman, R., Stam, C. J., van Rootselaar, A.-F., Hillebrand, A., & van den Munckhof, P. (2020). Awakening after a sleeping pill: Restoring functional brain networks after severe brain injury. Cortex, 132, 135–146. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2020.08.011 on May 10, 2024

    [10] Information, N. C. for B., Pike, U. S. N. L. of M. 8600 R., MD, B., & Usa, 20894. (2017). Using medication: What can help when trying to stop taking sleeping pills and sedatives? In www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK361010/ on May 10, 2024

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