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Are Sleeping Pills Addictive

More than 25% of people in the United States experience acute insomnia each year. More than 80% of Americans will experience short-term insomnia (that lasts for less than two weeks). In the previous 20 years, numerous sleeping pills have been marketed and sold as safer alternatives to benzodiazepines (which are extremely addictive).

With all of those sleepless nights and tired people, it’s important to understand that sleeping pills can be addictive, and there are more natural, safe ways to improve sleep quality. Z-drugs, as they are also called, can create drug dependence in as little as a couple of weeks. As always, consult your doctor about what is best for you.

The Trouble with Sleeplessness

We’ve all experienced those nights of sleeplessness and anxiety. And then it gets worse. We check our alarm clock or the phone, and it’s 3 am. You have to get up in three hours, and you haven’t slept a wink. Mental health and well-being are tied closely to the quality and consistency of our sleep schedules.

Whatever you do, you know you can’t keep feeling drowsy all day, the increased anxiety, and trouble concentrating from nights of sleeplessness. Lack of sleep also contributes to higher blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Studies also show that driving while sleepy or drowsy can be more dangerous than drunk driving.

After a few nights in a row, desperation kicks in. You might find yourself perusing the sleep-aid aisle for melatonin or another over-the-counter medication. Maybe these didn’t work for you, so you are considering a prescription for Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, or another drug.

The sleep-wake cycle is often referred to as the circadian rhythms that are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that respond to light and darkness. Sometimes, people’s melatonin receptors get thrown out of whack, especially if you work nights and have to sleep during the days. Many sleep aids, both OTC and prescription, interact with the part of the brain that regulates these sleep-wake cycles to help people sleep.

Sleeping Pills and Addiction

Z-drugs like Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, and Rozerem are non-benzodiazepine sedatives that are supposed to carry less addiction risk than drugs like Xanax. However, these sedative hypnotics can be highly addictive, especially for people who have prior addiction histories.

While sleeping pills like these carry less risk for addiction and other harmful side-effects than benzos when taken as prescribed, they are still addictive. Many people who abuse sleeping pills begin taking much more than specified, sometimes up to 10 tablets a night compared to the one they were initially taking to fall asleep.

Part of this is a result of increased drug tolerance. After a couple of weeks of taking a drug, the brain and body develop tolerance. Tolerance occurs when a certain amount of a drug no longer produces the same desired effects on the person. As tolerance increases, a higher dosage is required to feel the same benefits. Tolerance helps explain why a heavy drinker may need six beers before feeling buzzed and why opiate addicts can take up to a dozen pills a day.

Drug tolerance is one of the most significant indications that someone has become addicted to a drug. People may experience increased anxiety when they have become drug-tolerant because it can be scary to think that they won’t have the medication they need to feel normal or to fall asleep — in the case of sleeping pills.

Research shows that Ambien, in particular, can be quite addictive. Besides Ambien, here is a list of other sleeping pills and their potential side effects.

  • Lunesta (eszopiclone): Binds to GABA receptors in the brain, similar to benzos. Lasts between 6-8 hours. Side effects include memory disturbances, hallucinations, behavior changes possible.
  • Sonata (zaleplon): Binds to GABA receptors in the brain, similar to benzos. Lasts between 6-8 hours. Side effects include memory disturbances, hallucinations, behavior changes possible.
  • Rozerem (ramelteon): Stimulates the melatonin receptors in the brain to help control the sleep-wake cycle. Lasts between 4-6 hours. Side effects include headaches, drowsiness, dizziness; can affect sex drive; loss of menses, and/or problems getting pregnant.
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants (Adepin, Aventyl, Elavil, Pamelor, Trazadone): These bind to multiple, different brain receptors and are also used to treat different depression disorders. Side effects can include: dizziness, blurry vision, difficulty urinating, cardiac arrhythmias; can affect sex drive.

If you or a loved one are experiencing insomnia and have developed a dependency on sleeping pills, it is possible to get off the pills and get a good, natural night of sleep again. Treatment programs focus on treating the underlying conditions of insomnia are most effective because the lack of sleep can often be a sign of other health issues.

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