What are prescription sleeping pills?
Sleeping pills are categorized as sedative-hypnotics, and doctors prescribe them primarily for insomnia. These prescription drugs are non-benzodiazepine barbiturates. They can have the same kind of effect as a drug like Xanax, but are thought to have fewer side effects than benzodiazepines.
Prescription sleeping pills include:
- Zolpidem (Ambien)
- Zaleplon (Sonata)
- Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
- Amobarbital (Amytal)
They are also known as "z-drugs", since they're used to induce sleep.
How do you know if you're addicted to a sleeping pill?
Any time a prescription drug is used in a way not prescribed by a doctor, it is considered abuse.
Many people don't realize they've become addicted to their prescription sleeping pills until they try to stop taking them. They may not be able to fall asleep without them, or need to increase their dosage to be able to get to sleep. For many, the path to addiction begins when they start upping their dose without consulting their doctor. Then, when they try to stop taking them, they experience withdrawal symptoms.
Signs one is addicted to sleeping pills:
- Craving the drug
- Frequent memory loss
- Having tried to quit several times unsuccessfully
- Seeing more than one doctor for prescription refills
- Continuing to take pills despite negative consequences
When someone develops a prescription painkiller drug addiction, they tend to become obsessive about getting access to the substance. The National Institute of Health reports that other signs of this kind of drug addiction include frequently switching doctors or healthcare providers, falsifying prescriptions, and/or using multiple pharmacies.
The NIH also warns against the common misconception that prescription medications like Ambien or Lunesta are safer than illegal drugs like crack cocaine. However, when prescription drugs like Ambien are abused (not taken as prescribed), they can pose serious and potentially lethal health risks, including drug overdose.
What are the risks of addiction to sleeping pills?
One of the major risks when it comes to sleeping pills like Ambien or Lunesta has to do with consuming them with alcohol. Combining alcohol and a drug like Ambien can intensify the effects of both, and has the potential to lead to coma or death. Never mix alcohol or any other drugs with prescription sleeping pills. Doctors even tell people who've had an alcoholic drink during the day not to take Ambien that night.
Sleeping pills can cause hallucinations when someone takes the drug but then fights the urge to sleep. Many of those abusing prescription sleep medication also have mild to severe memory and concentration problems. They may lose the ability to focus at school or work, and forget things on a regular basis.
Those abusing sleeping pills like Ambien and Sonata are also at risk of developing parasomnias, which are sleep disorders that cause behaviors like sleep-walking, sleep-driving, sleep-sex, and other actions that can be very dangerous when engaged in unconsciously. This, combined with memory impairment, means that people may even engage in activities that they themselves don't remember.
Unfortunately, those recovering from an addiction to sleeping pills will often suffer "rebound insomnia", or insomnia that is even more intense than before they started taking the sleeping pill. Rebound insomnia can sometimes cause outlandish and distressing dreams, leading to anxiety and even panic attacks when the person wakes up.
Over time, the human brain gets used to the effects of prescription sleeping pills, at which point recovery gets harder. This is one reason to help help as soon as possible. Fortunately, medical detox can help limit rebound insomnia and also lessen other withdrawal symptoms.
It's important to remember that for an addict, consuming drugs is often compulsive — it's not something within their control (even if it started out as within their control). No one is "bad" or "wrong" for being addicted; they need help. And the cost of not getting it is potentially life-threatening. In 2012, 21% of people abusing sleeping pills like Ambien and Lunesta had suicidal thoughts related to their drug use.
What is rehab?
Rehab, short for rehabilitation, is about getting the right support to fully recover from addiction. Drug rehab facilities frequently offer both inpatient and outpatient services, and treatment is kept confidential. Depending on how severely a person is addicted to a prescription sleep medication, an inpatient drug rehab center may be the best option.
The first step at an inpatient drug rehab center is almost always medical detox. The goal of this phase is to totally eliminate the substance from the body, which takes anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks. Those who've been consuming high levels of the drug for a long time are strongly encouraged to get such professional medical help while ridding their body of the substance, since they're very likely to experience withdrawal. Without structured support, detox symptoms can be frightening, excruciating, and sometimes life-threatening. Inpatient drug rehab treatment centers are experienced and well equipped to help those undergoing detox and withdrawal manage symptoms and stay safe and comfortable.
After detox, you begin therapy. It's common for a drug rehab program to offer a combination of individual and group therapy. With individual therapy, you meet with a licensed mental health practitioner who guides you compassionately as you explore both the root causes and effects of addiction. This combined with group therapy, is seen as the best course of treatment for drug addiction.
In group therapy, people share their struggles with each other in a safe environment. Connecting with those in a similar situation makes it easier to let go of the shame and/or trauma associated with life circumstances that often lead to drug abuse, and begin to move forward powerfully. Many report group therapy as an enlightening and uplifting experience, as it creates a non-judgmental setting that allows for healing and growth.
A brighter future
No one plans on getting addicted to drugs - especially not prescription medications that were originally meant to help with something like sleep loss. And addiction is often an exhausting roller coaster, full of uncertainty, disappointment, and regret. For some, prescription drug addiction makes life a constant battle with self and others, and can cause anxiety, depression, and even prompt thoughts of suicide.
Drug rehab is a chance to turn your life around. If you or someone you love needs help getting drug-free, it's important to know you're not alone. Millions of others have been through the same challenge, and come out safely on the other side. With the right support and compassionate care, you can lead a clean, healthy, and meaningful life.
The sooner you or a loved one can get help, the better.