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Are Prescription Sleeping Pills Addictive?

Those who suffer from sleeping disorders have probably taken prescription sleep medication. Can popular prescription sleeping pills such as Ambien and Lunesta become addictive?

There are a variety of prescription medications used for insomnia, and some of them are addictive. Sometimes benzodiazepines are used for sleep, and they are highly addictive. Then there is a class of drugs called “Z-drugs” or sedative-hypnotics that are also used for sleep. These medications bind to the GABA receptors in the brain like benzodiazepines do and dampen arousal or induce sleep. The three most common sleeping pills are Ambien (zolpidem), Sonata (zaleplon), and Lunesta (eszopiclone). There is also a non-GABA sleep medication called Rozerem (ramelteon). It reduces arousal by affecting a receptor for melatonin, a hormone.

Most of these medications are safe when used as prescribed. However, like any medication, they can produce adverse effects for some. Rarely may someone experience a state of arousal instead of sleep when taking sleeping medication.

Sleeping Pill Effects and Abuse

When prescribed, sleeping pills are only meant to be used on a short-term basis. However, many people become dependent on them and eventually become addicted. When someone becomes dependent on sleeping pills, withdrawal symptoms are usually psychological instead of physical or chemical unless taken in high doses. For instance, if someone has been taking sleeping pills for a long period and abruptly stop, they may experience the desire to keep taking them.

Using any medication in a way that a doctor does not prescribe is abuse. When taken in high doses, sleeping pills produce the same effects as benzodiazepines; they cause a drowsy, feel-good effect. Sleeping pills can also cause hallucinations if the individual takes the medication and fights sleep. Some of the other effects of taking sleeping pills are:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Dreamless sleep
  • Reduced anxiety

One of the other possible side effects of taking sleeping pills is sleepwalking. The “Z-drugs” are specifically to help a person fall asleep; they will not necessarily help you stay asleep. Therefore, they are supposed to be taken only immediately before bedtime. Also, it is not recommended that an individual take any of these medications in the middle of the night, especially if you have to get up early the next morning. Some of these medications have a longer effect on a person so they could cause daytime sedation.

According to the National Institutes of Health:

Sleeping pills and sedatives can have very strong side effects,  including problems with memory or concentration, drowsiness, muscle weakness, abnormal behavior, and sleep disorders. They can also affect people’s ability to drive and, particularly in older and unwell people, increase the likelihood of falling. (NIH)

Long-term use of some sleeping pills can cause “rebound insomnia” (rebound insomnia occurs when the medication is stopped). This is because the brain becomes accustomed to the effects of sleeping pills over time, and insomnia worsens if sleeping pills are not taken. This occurrence can make the individual want to continue taking the medication.

Mixing Other Drugs with Sleeping Pills

Warning labels on prescription medications are there for a reason. Unfortunately, many people don’t read the warning labels, and if they do, some don’t heed the warnings. Mixing any substances is dangerous and can be deadly, especially alcohol and sleeping pills. The sedative effects of sleeping pills are amplified by alcohol, increasing the chance of a fatal overdose. Drinking alcohol while taking Ambien, a prescription sleeping pill, can be deadly. Other medications often mixed with sleeping pills are opioids, benzodiazepines, and antidepressants.

Safely Getting Off Sleeping Pills

Often insomnia is caused by underlying medical or psychological issues. Before someone obtains a prescription sleep aid, it is important to understand the underlying cause of insomnia since other treatments may be safer and more appropriate. Lifestyle changes could help and be more appropriate. Insomnia is associated with many physical and psychological disorders, so it is an important condition to treat. However, it’s also important to be safe when sleeping pills are a necessary course of action.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, our addiction specialists are available around the clock to assist you. Absolute Awakenings provides individualized treatment as we understand that recovery is not a one-size-fits-all approach. So call us today to begin a new journey!


  1. Ambien Uses, Dosage, Side Effects & Warnings. Accessed January 17, 2023.
  2. Sonata: Uses, Dosage, Side Effects, Warnings. Accessed January 17, 2023.
  3. Rozerem: Uses, Dosage, Side Effects. Accessed January 17, 2023.
  4. Lunesta: Uses, Dosage, Side Effects. Accessed January 17, 2023.
  5. Using Medication: What Can Help When Trying to Stop Taking Sleeping Pills and Sedatives? Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2017. Accessed January 17, 2023.

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