Who Suffers from Sleeping Pill Abuse?

In the U.S., millions of men and women of all ages are addicted to sleeping pills originally intended for short-term use only. In fact, anti-anxiety medications, pain pills and sleeping pills are the most addictive kinds of prescription medications.

According to a 2010 survey conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 2.5 million adolescents and adults take prescription medications for reasons unassociated with treating a disease. In fact, prescription drugs (including sleeping pills) are a close second to marijuana in the list of most-abused drugs in the U.S.

How Do Sleeping Pills Put You to Sleep?

Selective gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) sleeping pills are among the newest medications designed to induce sleep. GABA medications such as Sonata, Ambien and Lunesta work by targeting GABA receptors and increasing the amount of GABA in your brain. An inhibitory chemical capable of suppressing neurotransmitter activity, GABA reduces mental and physical excitement to help you feel drowsy and fall asleep.

If you keep taking GABA sleeping pills for more than a week, your brain starts building a tolerance to higher levels of GABA. Gradually, your brain becomes less responsive to sleeping pills and needs more medication to increase GABA and induce sleep. If you suddenly stop taking sleeping pills after developing a tolerance, your GABA levels will take quite a while to normalize again.

The “Why” of Sleeping Pill Abuse

Why do some people become addicted to sleeping pills and others do not? The answer is simple: People who abuse prescriptions possess the same biopsychosocial risk factors that street drug addicts do. For people who never had easy access to drugs like heroin or methamphetamine, taking prescription sleeping pills may trigger a latent vulnerability to addiction.

Signs of Sleeping Pill Addiction

The most telling sign of sleeping pill abuse is that the user is taking more pills than prescribed. For example, your doctor has prescribed Ambien for insomnia. You are supposed to take one pill about an hour before bedtime, but after one week, you are taking two before bedtime. Then, in the middle of an unbelievably stressful day, you decide to take Ambien to help you relax. You like the way it makes you feel and start taking Ambien to relieve daytime anxiety.

To get more pills, you tell your doctor you still can’t sleep and need another prescription. After a few months, your doctor won’t give you any more prescriptions, so you find another doctor who writes a prescription for Ambien. To increase the effect of sleeping pills, you try washing down pills with alcohol.

It works. Mixing alcohol with sleeping pills is another classic sign of a sleeping pill addiction.

While some doctors may provide you with more than one refill per month, others will stop the prescription once they realize you may be abusing sleeping pills. Unfortunately, this represents the next, even more dangerous phase of sleeping pill abuse, because users often take to the streets to get their sleeping pills or other “downers.”

How Is a Sleeping Pill Addiction Treated?

Treatment for sleeping pill abuse consists of the same treatment modalities given to people addicted to heroin and other opioids. If you or someone you know is addicted to sleeping pills, please contact 12 Keys Rehab today to learn about our addiction recovery programs offering cognitive behavioral therapy, detoxification, individual therapy, group therapy and experiential activities.

The Addiction Blog