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Sleeping Pills Addiction: Types, Causes, Risks & Treatment

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

Understanding Sleeping Pills

If you’ve ever had trouble falling asleep, you might have turned to over-the-counter sedative pills or a prescription sleep aid. These drugs—called “sleeping pills”—are intended for occasional use only, but in some cases they can also lead to an addiction. If you have concerns about your own use of sleeping pills or think that you may be addicted, understanding more about the risks and how to get help is important.

Sleeping pills are a type of drug that can help people sleep better. Sleeping pills are sometimes called hypnotic drugs. They are different from benzodiazepines and other drugs that are used to treat insomnia. Sleeping pills are used for short-term use, such as for one or two weeks. Sleeping pills can be habit-forming and addictive. Using sleeping pills for more than two weeks is not recommended. Sleeping pills are most effective when combined with changes in lifestyle, such as diet, exercise, and stress reduction.

Sleeping Pills Abuse

Sleeping pills are sometimes abused by people who want to get high or by people with sleep disorders who are looking for a quick fix to their sleeping problems. People who have been prescribed sleeping pills can also become dependent on them or even addicted to them. The misuse of sleeping pills can be harmful and even fatal. Sleeping pills can also cause psychological dependence, which is addiction that doesn’t involve a physical craving for the drug.

Why do people use sleeping pills?

Sleeping pills are often used for people who have insomnia or other sleeping disorders. Sleeping pills may also be used for people who have a mental health disorder that interferes with sleep, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. Sleeping pills are also sometimes used in the hospital, while someone is going through anesthesia. People who travel a lot may take a sleeping pill to help them adjust to a new time zone. 

Types of Sleeping pills

There are many different types of sleeping pills, with different active ingredients and side effects. The type of sleeping pill used may depend on the cause of the insomnia and the individual’s health condition.

  • Barbiturates. These sleeping pills have been around for a long time. They are very effective but also have serious side effects, such as dependence and even death, if too much is taken. Barbiturates are rarely used for insomnia today because of the risk of serious side effects.
  • Benzodiazepines. These are the most commonly prescribed sleeping pills today. They affect the central nervous system, helping to reduce anxiety and make it easier to fall asleep. Benzodiazepines can be addictive, especially if used for more than a couple of weeks.
  • Non-benzodiazepine hypnotics. These sleeping pills are similar to benzodiazepines but cause less dependence.
  • Antidepressants. For people with insomnia who also have depression, antidepressants may be used.
  • Natural and herbal remedies. Some natural and herbal remedies are often used to treat insomnia, but they have not been shown to be effective enough to replace prescription sleeping pills.

Sleeping Pill Cost

The cost of sleeping pills can vary greatly, depending on the type of drug and whether it is an over-the-counter medication or a prescription medication. Taking over-the-counter sleep medications can be very affordable compared to prescription medications, which can make drug abuse more temtping. On the other hand, the cost of a sleeping pill prescription can range from about $30 to $100 for a 30-day supply, depending on the drug and the person’s health insurance coverage.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleeping Pill Overdose

Sleeping pill overdose occurs when someone takes more sleeping pills than prescribed. Overdosing on sleeping pills can be life-threatening because sleeping pills are sedatives. When someone takes too many sleeping pills, they can become very sleepy and lethargic. They may not be able to respond to or fend off danger or help, such as a fire. Other signs of sleeping pill overdose include:

  • Difficulty waking up, also known as sleeping too long
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low heart rate, also known as bradycardia
  • Slowed breathing, also known as hypoventilation
  • Slurred speech
  • Urinary retention, also known as not being able to urinate
  • Rebound insomnia (even worse trouble sleeping)
Prescription sleep aids and over-the-counter “z drugs” can induce sleep effectively when taken as prescribed, but taking sleeping pills recreationally is a dangerous type of substance abuse that can lead to severe mental health issues, physical dependence, and even death.

Sleeping Pills Withdrawl Symptoms

Sleeping pill withdrawal refers to the symptoms that occur when a person stops taking sleeping pills. The length of time it takes to experience withdrawal symptoms varies from person to person and the type of sleeping pill that was used. Common signs of sleeping pill withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Feelings of panic
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate

Tapering off Sleeping Pills

Some people who are addicted to sleeping pills may benefit from “taper therapy,” which helps them gradually reduce their use of sleeping pills. This is done in a doctor’s office, where a person is monitored closely and given lower dosages of sleeping pills less frequently. Patients receiving this type of treatment may experience withdrawal symptoms, so it is important to follow the doctor’s instructions carefully. People who are prescribed sleeping pills for medical reasons may want to consider tapering off the medication to reduce the risk of developing a sleeping pill addiction.

How do you get rid of sleeping pill cravings?

Cravings are a sign that your body is addicted to sleeping pills. Cravings can vary from mild interest in a sleeping pill to a strong desire to take it. If you’re trying to kick sleeping pill addiction, know that it’s a long process. It can take months for your body to get completely free of the drug. To get rid of cravings and avoid a relapse, you can:
  • Get enough sleep. Most people need 7-9 hours of regular sleep a night.
  • Exercise regularly. Even light activity like yoga can reduce stress and help you sleep better.
  • Cut back on coffee and other caffeinated drinks.
  • Make changes to your daily routine.
  • Talk to a friend or loved one.
  • Seek professional help ans take steps to avoid relapsing.

Treatment for Sleeping pill addiction

Treating sleeping pill addiction typically involves some form of detoxification followed by treatment for insomnia. Treatment for sleeping pill addiction can be done in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Inpatient treatment allows a person to be completely separated from drug-related environmental triggers to help reduce cravings. Outpatient treatment allows a person to live at home while attending treatment at a facility during the day. Support groups and psychotherapy may also be helpful in treating sleeping pill addiction.

Frequently asked questions

Can sleeping pills make you addicted?

Sleeping pills don’t always lead to an addiction. But if you’re a “high-risk user”—meaning you have certain risk factors for addiction—you may be more likely to develop an addiction to sleeping pills. Most at risk are people with a history of substance abuse problems (including drinking too much alcohol); a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD; or having a family history of substance abuse. If you’re at high risk for addiction, you should use sleeping pills only as a last resort for a brief period of time. If you have chronic insomnia and are at high risk for addiction, doctors may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as an alternative treatment to sleeping pills.

What sleep medicines are addictive?

There are a range of sleep medicines that can be addictive, including:

  • Barbiturates. These are the oldest type of sleeping pills. They’re rarely used because they’re highly addictive. These should only be taken under the supervision of a doctor.
  • Benzodiazepines. Drugs like diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), and clonazepam (Klonopin). These are sometimes used short-term for insomnia, anxiety, or other sleep disorders. They can also be used long-term if the patient has chronic insomnia.
  • Z-drugs. Zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata), and eszopiclone (Lunesta). Z-drugs are non-benzodiazepines: they work by a different mechanism. However, some experts think they may be even more addictive than benzodiazepines.

Is it ok to take sleeping pills every night?

If you take sleeping pills every night, you risk losing the ability to fall asleep without them. That’s because sleeping pills affect the brain’s GABA receptors, making it difficult to fall asleep without sedative hypnotics ore other sleep aids. There are also serious side effects associated with long-term use of sleeping pills.

What are the effects of abusing sleeping pills?

Abusing sleeping pills can also cause serious side effects, including:

  • Drowsiness and daytime sleepiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor coordination
  • Problems with decision-making and judgement
  • Risk-taking behaviour
  • Weight gain
  • Increased risk of car accidents
  • Heart problems
  • Breathing problems
  • Potential fatal overdose

How quickly can you get addicted to sleeping pills?

The risk of addiction depends on the sleeping pill, your medical conditions, and how often you take the drug. But sleeping pill addiction can happen quickly, especially if you take high doses of the drug or have a history of substance abuse. It can take as short a time as three weeks or less to develop an addiction to sleeping pills. That’s why it’s important to find an alternative treatment as soon as possible. If you’re taking sleeping pills for chronic insomnia, your doctor may recommend cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as an alternative treatment. CBT is a type of therapy that can help you learn how to manage anxiety and sleep better on your own. You may also want to consider lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, getting a healthy amount of sleep, and making changes to your daily routine to reduce stress.

What happens if you take sleeping pills every day?

Sleeping pills are generally considered safe for short-term use—up to two or three weeks. But many patients go on taking them for much longer than that without meeting their doctor. That’s a big problem because sleeping pills can cause serious harm if used long-term. If you take sleeping pills every day, they can make it hard to think clearly, even if you’re taking a low dose. This can make it difficult to drive safely or go to work. But it’s not just the side effects of the drug you’ve got to worry about. Sleeping pills can also cause a physical dependence that makes you sick when you stop taking them.

What happens when you take lots of sleeping pills at once?

A large dose of sleeping pills can cause a sudden sleep state, i.e. a type of “coma”. This can also happen if you take a sleeping pill while you’re on other medicines, or if you are under high stress. Taking large doses of sleeping pills can be dangerous. It can lead to a coma, heart attack, or fatal breathing problems. If you take an overdose, call 911 or your local emergency number. Try to stay awake and stay with the person until help arrives. If you’re alone, try to leave a note for emergency responders about what happened. If you suspect someone has overdosed on sleeping pills, stay with them and call 911 immediately. Do not try to make them vomit because this could make the situation worse.


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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