Sleeping Pills Addiction

Sleeping pills can be a lifeline for people who have chronic insomnia and other conditions, allowing them to wake up refreshed and preventing health issues that a lack of sleep can cause. However, sleeping pills also have a darker side, and many of these medications are among the most addictive prescription drugs available. Sleeping pill addiction is a serious medical condition, and without proper treatment, it can have dire consequences.

What are sleeping pills?

Sleeping pills, also known as hypnotics or sedatives, are medications designed to help people who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. They have been around in various forms for decades, and there are now several types of prescription sleeping pills available.

Benzodiazepines, such as temazepam and diazepam, are the oldest form of sleeping pills. While they are effective in treating even severe insomnia, they are also known for their addictive potential. Non-benzodiazepine sleep aids, often known as “Z-drugs” due to their names all beginning with “z”, were developed as less-addictive alternatives (though they can still cause addiction). Over-the-counter options, including diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl) and doxylamine, can also be used for short-term relief.

What is a sleeping pill addiction?

Sleeping pills addiction is a recognised mental health condition where you take sleeping pills compulsively, ignoring the harm they are causing you.

Sleeping pills addiction can develop for several reasons. Some people may start using them to manage a temporary sleep problem but continue to use them once the issue is solved. Others may misuse them to escape from stress or emotional pain, leading to a pattern of sleeping pills abuse.

Regardless of the initial reason, the body can develop a tolerance to sleeping pills over time which means dosages are increased, often without a doctor’s approval. A physical dependency can then develop, making it difficult to stop using the pills without experiencing powerful cravings and uncomfortable and long-lasting withdrawal symptoms.

Psychologically, people can become reliant on sleeping pills as a crutch to cope with everyday stress, extreme anxiety or to feel okay. This psychological dependence can be as powerful as the physical need, causing a complete loss of control and obsessive drug-seeking behaviour.

Some common sleeping pill addictions include:

Restoril addiction
Restoril is a powerful benzodiazepine which is responsible for many cases of prescription drug addiction. Tolerance and dependence can develop quickly, and you can soon find yourself relying on Res…

Restoril Addiction

Zaleplon addiction
Zaleplon addiction is one of the Z-drugs that were intended to be less addictive than benzos like Restoril. Despite this, people can and do become addicted to zaleplon, with effects just as potenti…

Zaleplon Addiction

Zolpidem addiction
Zolpidem, also known as Ambien, is another Z-drug that carries a high risk of addiction. It is a Class C controlled drug in the UK due to addictiveness with prescription strictly regulated.

Zolpidem Addction

Zopiclone addiction
Zopiclone is a powerful Z-drug which can be highly addictive, especially if misused. One of the biggest dangers of chronic Zopiclone use is a high risk of suicidal ideation, which can occur with va…

Zopiclone Addiction

Sleeping pills abuse and addiction in the UK

In the UK, sleeping pills addiction is becoming more common and affecting many lives. The NHS has made efforts to reduce prescriptions, and between 2019 and 2023, there was a decrease in benzodiazepine prescriptions by about 170,000 and Z-drugs by around 95,000​ (NHS England)​.
Despite these efforts, misuse of sleeping pills is still a big issue and in 2022, there were 509 deaths in England and Wales due to benzodiazepines. Overdose deaths involving non-benzodiazepines are also becoming a major issue, having tripled between 2000 and 2018.
These figures point to a serious issue of sleeping pill abuse and addiction in the UK, though the exact number of people addicted is difficult to estimate.

How to spot sleeping pills addiction symptoms

It can be tricky to spot sleeping pills addiction symptoms because you may have first been prescribed them for legitimate sleep problems. However, being aware of the symptoms can help you or a loved one identify an addiction to sleeping pills before it gets worse:

  • Taking more sleeping pills than prescribed
  • Running out of prescription sleeping pills early
  • Feeling anxious, restless or having trouble sleeping when you don’t take the pills
  • Using them at odd times, such as during the day
  • Forgetting things or feeling confused can be a side effect of taking too many sleeping pills
  • Work, school or home life suffering because of your sleeping pill use
  • Pulling away from friends and family, especially if they have voiced concerns over your sleeping pills abuse
  • Ignoring the negative effects of sleeping pills

What makes sleeping pills addictive?

Sleeping pills addiction can happen for various reasons, and understanding some of the factors that can increase your risk can help you be more mindful about sleeping pill use:

Chronic insomnia
Struggling with long-term sleep problems can make you rely heavily on sleeping pills, and over time, this reliance can turn into an addiction.
Stress and anxiety
High levels of stress or anxiety can push you to use sleeping pills to cope with the calming effects of the pills, becoming something you depend on to deal with everyday challenges.
Mental health issues
Conditions like depression and anxiety can increase the risk of developing an addiction to sleeping pills as they may be used as a way to escape from these feelings.
Previous substance abuse
If you have a history of addiction, you may be more susceptible to becoming addicted to sleeping pills, as patterns of dependency can easily transfer from one substance to another.
Easy access
Having easy access to sleeping pills, whether through prescriptions or over-the-counter options, can lead to misuse and addiction.
Lack of awareness
Not knowing the risks associated with sleeping pills can lead to misuse, particularly if people start taking higher doses without realising the potential for addiction.

The dangers of sleeping pills addiction

Sleeping pills addiction can have serious consequences on both your physical and mental health. It’s important to understand these risks so you can make informed decisions about using sleeping pills and can seek help if needed.

Physical sleeping pills addiction side effects

  • Experiencing dangerously slowed breathing and other respiratory issues, particularly when they are mixed with alcohol or other drugs. This is the number one cause of sleeping pill overdose.
  • Organ damage due to toxicity levels of excessive sleeping pill abuse
  • Becoming dangerously dizzy or drowsy, putting yourself at risk of accidents
  • Finding it hard to coordinate your movements leads to falls and other injuries.

Mental sleeping pills addiction side effects

  • Short- and long-term lapses in memory lapses and difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling constantly irritated, anxious or depressed without cause
  • Experiencing an escalation of existing mental health conditions
  • An increased risk of other substance abuse and the resulting impacts

What treatment is available for sleeping pills addiction?

Most sleeping pill treatment courses involve a combination of detox, prescription drug rehab and ongoing support. This approach is designed to help you safely withdraw from the medication, understand how and why you developed an addiction to sleeping pills and prevent you from relapsing if things get tough in the future.

How to get help for sleeping pills addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to sleeping pills, the best time to seek is right now. Get in contact with us, and we can help connect you to a specialist treatment centre for sleeping pills addiction. We know that reaching out can be scary, but with the right treatment and support, you can transform your life and put sleeping pills addiction far behind you.

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Are over-the-counter sleeping pills addictive?
Yes, over-the-counter sleeping pills can be addictive. Medications like diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl) and doxylamine can lead to dependency if used too often or in large amounts. If you notice you’re relying on these pills regularly, it is important to talk to a healthcare professional about safer options.

(Click here to see works cited)

  • NHS England. “NHS England » Opioid prescriptions cut by almost half a million in four years as NHS continues crackdown.” NHS England, 2 March 2023, Accessed 18 May 2024.
  • Sleep Review. “Overdose Deaths and the Rise of Sleeping Pills.” Sleep Review, Accessed 18 May 2024.
  • Stewart, Conor. “Benzodiazepine related drug deaths England & Wales 2022.” Statista, 29 January 2024, Accessed 18 May 2024.
  • UK Addiction Treatment Centres. “Sleeping pills addiction | UKAT.” UK Addiction Treatment Centres, 11 October 2023, Accessed 18 May 2024.
  • McCall, W Vaughn et al. “Hypnotic Medications and Suicide: Risk, Mechanisms, Mitigation, and the FDA.” The American journal of psychiatry vol. 174,1 (2017): 18-25. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.16030336
  • Tubbs, Andrew S et al. “Prescription medications for insomnia are associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors in two nationally representative samples.” Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine vol. 17,5 (2021): 1025-1030. doi:10.5664/jcsm.9096