Sleeping pills are so widely used these days that we may not think twice when we see someone taking them. There is a dizzying range of sleeping pills available, from herbal supplements to OTC medications to prescription pills – and not all of them are as harmless as one would think. Some sleeping pills can be abused and may even result in addiction. When combined with other drugs, notably alcohol, they can be lethal.
There are many types of sleeping aids and sleeping pills available today. Some are relatively safe while others can be dangerous. However, all of these can be abused. Common Ireland and UK sleeping pills and aids include:
- Melatonin and other herbal supplements
- Z Drugs
There are also sleeping pills that are now rarely used such as clomethiazole and chloral hydrate. Temazepam is another common prescription sleeping aid.
Herbal supplements such as melatonin, and antihistamines are available OTC. Z drugs, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates are only available via prescription, as they carry a high risk of addiction.
Even though promethazine is available OTC, it carries many similar side effects as prescription pills. it is widely used as a recreational drug when mixed with codeine to produce a relaxed, euphoric, and dissociative state. The slang terms for this combination include purple drank, sizzurp, and lean.
While the risks associated with benzodiazepine and barbiturate use are quite well-known, there is a lack of attention on the misuse of Z drugs.
What Are Z Drugs?
Z drugs are non-benzodiazepine based hypnotic sedative. They include zolpidem, zaleplon, and zopiclone. They are better known by their brand names such as Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta.
Despite not being classified as a benzodiazepine, these pills work in a similar way by affecting GABA levels in the brain. However, they’re considered safer, as they have less side effects.
This is not to say there are no side effects. Common ones include daytime sleepiness, cognitive and coordination problems, sleepwalking, dizziness, and hallucinations. Taking too much of the drugs can produce drunk-like symptoms. Users are also known to experience rebound insomnia after they quit, which means that their insomnia gets worse than it was before.
In the long-term or with excessive use, Z drugs can cause a number of issues. Two major ones are cognitive impairment, including memory loss and dementia, and motor impairment, such as coordination issues. Z -drug abuse can also lead to cardiovascular issues and depression. Suicidal thoughts are often reported in regular users.
Other Dangers of Sleeping Pill Abuse
Aside from tolerance and addiction, there are many other dangers associated with sleeping pill use. One of the main ones is the next-day hangover, largely characterised by daytime sleepiness. It has been linked to an increase in driving accidents and falls in the elderly.
People with liver problems are more prone to this as the body does not metabolise the drug as quickly. Thus, the sleeping pills remain active even the next day.
Since sleeping pills affect GABA levels like alcohol does, both active and recovering alcoholics are especially prone to being addicted. However, anyone with a history of drug dependence is said to be at risk as well.
Because sleeping pills tend to lose their effectiveness over time, some people will try to double up on their dose, or combine it with alcohol, benzodiazepines, opioids, or antidepressants to amplify the effect. This is risky because it can worsen side effects, enforce dependency, and lead to an overdose. However, people who use sleeping pills to get high often use such techniques.
It has also been reported that sleeping pills are sometimes taken in excess or in combination with other downers as a means of suicide.
How Sleeping Pills Become Addictive and Why It’s Hard to Spot
Although some people start using sleeping pills recreationally, most start taking them to combat insomnia. Because they are legitimately prescribed, people don’t see them as “drugs” and don’t consider them addictive. Since insomnia is a common issue, many people dont appreciate that there can be a problem.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Z-drug sleeping pills carry the same potential of addiction as benzodiazepines and users are known to develop a tolerance. Because of this, they are not meant to be taken for more than 1-2 weeks.
However, for someone that has been battling sleep deprivation over a long period, the blessing of even one full night of sleep is enough to get them hooked. And after a few nights, it’s hard to imagine going back to a life of insomnia.
In order to avoid abuse, it is necessary to use the medication correctly. Sleeping pills are not meant to solve a problem but are meant as a temporary rest aid to help you build a sleep schedule. Therefore, while taking them, you should incorporate natural sleep-helping techniques so that when you stop using, you will have programmed your body.
For example, avoid caffeine (at all if possible or) after lunchtime, keep your bedroom cool and ventilated, avoid watching a TV, computer, or phone one hour before bed. Also, try to exercise during the day and do something relaxing prior to your bedtime.
Signs of Sleeping Pill Addiction
Someone with a sleeping pill addiction will exhibit common drug abuse behaviour such as cravings, dishonesty, or neglect of responsibilities. However, there are certain signs that are noticeable when a person is misusing sleeping pills. These include:
- Frequent memory loss
- Sleeping problems despite medication
- Taking more than necessary
- Daytime sleepiness
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Drunk-like behaviour
Sleeping Pill Withdrawal Symptoms
Even after prolonged use, people will still not realise they are addicted until they try to stop and experience withdrawal symptoms. Z-drug withdrawal can be compared to alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal in the sense that it is both psychologically and physically unpleasant.
Common sleeping pill withdrawal symptoms are:
- Rebound insomnia
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability and mood swings
- Shivering, spasms, or tremors
- Increased heart rate
- Circulation issues
- Nausea or vomiting
Withdrawal symptoms can begin in as little as a few hours to a few days after the person stops using. The worst symptoms last for 1-2 weeks, but there is a chance that a person will experience prolonged withdrawal (post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWS) over the next several months.
Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment
Because sleeping pill withdrawal often produces serious discomfort and can be dangerous, it is recommended that one undergoes a medically supervised detox. It can be difficult to quit on one’s own because with sleeping pills, it is not a good idea to go “cold turkey”. Rather, a detox programme will require a patient to gradually taper off their use, in order to reduce withdrawal-related complications.
However, as with any addiction, detox alone will not be enough, because the cause of the addiction has not been addressed. For this, therapy is necessary, which can be either private counselling, group meetings, or other forms of complementary and psychotherapy.
With sleeping pill addiction being a serious matter, a residential rehab centre can be a good solution for treatment. An intensive inpatient programme, such as the one at Smarmore Castle, will cover all aspects of addiction treatment from detox to therapy to aftercare.