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Sleeping Pill Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources

There’s no doubt that sleeping pills are helpful for those with sleep disorders. However, sleeping pills can lead to a serious drug addiction, especially when used in excess or over long periods of time.

Key Points

  • When used as prescribed, sleeping pills can alleviate the symptoms of insomnia and other sleep disorders
  • Sleeping pills may be designed for short-term or longer term use, however, the longer someone uses sleeping pills, the more likely they are to develop a dependence or addiction.
  • Sleeping pill addiction can lead to long-term health effects, overdose, and even death. If you or someone you know is misusing sleeping pills, it is important to seek help immediately.

What Are Sleeping Pills?

Sleeping pills come in many different forms, but many of them are benzodiazepines or barbiturates. Most sleeping pills are designed to help those with insomnia or other sleep disorders, but some may also help reduce anxiety, panic disorders, and seizures.

Women are more likely to use sleeping pills than men, but in general, millions of people (8.4% of American adults) use these drugs every night to fall asleep.[1]

Side Effects of Common Sleeping Pills

All medications have the potential to cause side effects. It is important to be aware of these side effects and how to discern them from allergic reactions.

Side Effects of Sonata® (zaleplon)

Sonata® is a short-acting medication that helps prevent drowsiness the morning after taking the pill. It is a Schedule IV drug, meaning it has a very low potential for abuse, likely due to its short-term nature.

However, this medication can cause certain side effects. These include memory problems, anxiety, confusion, and suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm.

Side Effects of Ambien® (zolpidem)

Few sleep medications are as recognizable as Ambien®. It is a Schedule IV controlled substance, and it is also a non-benzodiazepine. Sedative-hypnotics like Ambien® are very effective at helping people get to sleep and stay asleep.

Side effects of Ambien® include unusual sleep behaviors, such as sleep walking. You may also experience increased anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide. Prescription sleeping pills like these may also cause rebound insomnia, especially if you suddenly stop taking them.

Sleep aids like these are not commonly used on the street, but they do have a few street names, including z-drugs, planks, and downers.

Side Effects of Halcion® (triazolam)

Halcion® is a Schedule IV benzodiazepine medication. It binds to certain receptors in the brain, which forces it to relax and become sleepy. Some people may have allergic reactions when taking this medication which force them to stop using it immediately.

Others may have side effects such as rashes, dizziness, drowsiness, and mood changes. Some may call these pills benzos or totem poles.

How Are Sleeping Pills Taken?

Almost all sleep aids are pills. This makes them easy to take, and they get absorbed into the blood slowly over several hours. This method of administration is the safest. However, some may misuse the pills by snorting or injecting them. This creates an intense and instant effect. It may also cause a sense of euphoria, especially with benzodiazepines.

Sleeping Pill Quick Reference

Drug Category Brand Name Generic Name DEA Schedule Administration
Non-benzodiazepine Hypnotic Sonata® Zaleplon Schedule IV Prescribed orally. Those abusing this medication may also crush, snort, or inject this medication
non-benzodiazepine receptor modulator Ambien® Zolpidem Schedule IV Prescribed orally. Those abusing this medication may also crush, snort, or inject this medication
benzodiazepine Halcion® Triazolam Schedule IV Prescribed orally. Those abusing this medication may also crush, snort, or inject this medication
Phentermine And Alcohol

Statistics on Sleeping Pill Use, Misuse, and Addiction

Around 12.5% of people in the United States use benzos medications, making benzos one of the more popular options for sleep-inducing prescription drugs. They are also one of the more addictive options.

While a small percentage of those who use this type of sleep aid misuse them, it is still important to understand the risks that these medications pose. An addiction to sleeping pills can lead to health consequences, overdose, and death.

Effects of Sleeping Pill Abuse

A sleeping pill’s primary purpose is to make a person tired and relaxed. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it can become habit-forming. If a person decides to misuse the drug by snorting or injecting it, an addiction will be much more likely to form. The brain’s natural balance of GABA, melatonin, and other hormones will shift.

It will become more dependent on the drug until it becomes almost impossible to sleep without it. Many people develop depression, anxiety, paranoia, memory loss, and mood changes when taking sleeping pills for long periods.

Can You Overdose on Sleeping Pills?

Many people accidentally overdose on sleeping pills. Once they build a tolerance to the drug, they may need to take very high doses, otherwise, they will still have trouble sleeping. But very large doses can also put a person into a coma or cause fatal toxicity.

The sedative effects of prescription sleep aids also become more dangerous when they are mixed with other substances. Mixing them with antidepressants or alcohol is a bad idea.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleeping Pill Overdose

A person who has overdosed on sleeping aids may be unconscious. They may not respond to your voice or anything else. Their heart rate may be extremely slow and weak. If their respiration is shallow enough, they may stop breathing. Once oxygen stops flowing to the brain, brain damage and death could result.

If you find someone who has overdosed, they may only be a few moments away from death. You should call 911 right away and remain with the person until medical services arrive.

Dangers of Long-Term Sleeping Pill Use

Over the years, sleeping pills can cause fatigue, mental problems, and organ damage. It is very possible for your liver to sustain damage. The liver is more vulnerable to drug use since it is the organ that metabolizes them.

Mixing Sleeping Pills with Other Drugs

You should never mix sleeping pills with alcohol. This can cause a person to faint, go into a coma, or die. They should also not be mixed with other substances, especially illicit substances.

Sleeping Pill Addiction and Abuse

One of the most common ways people misuse and become addicted to sleeping pills is by self-prescribing them.[3] Some may take sleeping pills from their friends or family. Some may already have a prescription but take more pills than prescribed. Taking sleeping pills without insomnia may increase the medication’s side effects.

Signs of Addiction to Sleeping Pills

Once you develop an addiction, you may experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It will be necessary for you to detox to get the medication out of your system so you can stop having those symptoms. Other signs of addiction include drowsiness, confusion, trouble speaking, and trouble remembering things.

Sleeping Pill Addiction and Mental Health

While sleeping pills can cause various health conditions, they can also create mental health problems. If you or a loved one becomes addicted to sleeping pills, you may notice increased feelings of depression, anxiety, and paranoia. In more severe cases, suicidal thoughts may arise.

Dual Diagnosis for Co-Occurring Disorders

If you are suffering from a co-occurring disorder, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder in addition to a dependence on sleeping pills, both issues will need to be addressed at the same time for the best chance at full recovery.

Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment

Intensive outpatient and outpatient programs offer a wide range of support. They will give you everything you need to help you on the road to recovery. Inpatient care is also useful if you have a more severe substance use problem. Going to a rehab center will make it easier to fix these issues than trying to do it alone.

Therapies Used in Sleeping Pill Addiction Treatment

Psychotherapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) are commonly applied and empirically effective treatment options for drug addictions.

Some may experience additional benefits from concurrent art, family, or group therapy. It all depends on what works best for you and what you want from your healthcare program.

Treatment will take several weeks to several months, depending on the length and intensity of your addiction.

Sleeping Pill Withdrawal Management Treatment

Detox is a major step in leaving your addiction behind. Detoxing should only take a few days to a few weeks, and is the first step in seeking help from a treatment center. While many people experience anxiety when considering detox due its reputation for being an unbearable and painful process.

However, medication assisted detoxification can make the process safer and much more comfortable.

Drugs Used in Sleeping Pill Withdrawal Management

Medication assisted detoxification includes the use of medication to help the individual wean off of a substance and alleviate some of the symptoms of withdrawal. The specific drugs used in medically supervised detox will depend on the substance the individual is withdrawing from.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Addictive Are Sleeping Pills?

Sleeping pills are not as addictive as other medications, such as opioids. However, they still have a potential for abuse and should be taken with caution.

Should You Avoid Sleeping Pills If You Have Insomnia?

Sleeping pills are typically safe when taken as prescribed. If your doctor has prescribed you a sleep aid, they have decided that the benefits outweigh the risks. If you experience signs of addiction to sleeping pills once you begin taking them, speak with your prescriber immediately.

How Do People Abuse Sleeping Pills?

Common methods of misusing sleeping pills include taking more than prescribed, crushing and snorting or injecting, or mixing with other drugs or alcohol.

Misusing sleeping pills can be fatal. If you or someone you love is abusing sleeping pills, seek intervention as soon as possible.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023a, January 25). Products – data briefs – number 462 – january 2023. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from on May 25, 2023.


NIDA. 2018, October 18. Research suggests benzodiazepine use is high while use disorder rates are low. Retrieved from on May 25, 2023.


Alasmari, M. M., Alkanani, R. S., Alshareef, A. S., Alsulmi, S. S., Althagafi, R. I., Bokhari, T. A., Alsheikh, M. Y., & Alshaeri, H. K. (2022a, December 20). Medical students’ attitudes toward sleeping pill usage: A cross-sectional study. Frontiers in psychiatry. Retrieved from on May 25, 2023.


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