It’s increasingly common for doctors to prescribe sleeping pills to patients who struggle with insomnia. There are over-the-counter sleeping pills available as well, but these tend to have fewer risks associated with their use. Prescription sleeping pills are powerful and have psychoactive properties. Sleeping pills often fall into the category of sedative-hypnotics. This drug class has the potential for abuse and acts similarly to benzodiazepines like Xanax. Sometimes benzodiazepines are also prescribed as short-term sleep aids. With most prescription sleeping pills, patients are instructed to take them for a short period of time. They’re also intended to be taken right before bed to reduce the risk of being in an accident.
According to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), people are increasingly taking dangerous amounts of prescription sleeping pills. One generic-name sleeping pill that is accounting for the majority of emergency room visits is called zolpidem. Zolpidem is the generic name for the sleep medication Ambien. The number of people who visited emergency rooms because of a zolpidem overdose doubled between 2006 and 2010. Overmedication was the reason for these visits. In many instances, patients took more zolpidem than they were prescribed. In other cases, people combined zolpidem with other substances, such as other prescription medications or alcohol -an increasingly popular trend.
According to doctors, when prescription sleep aids are used as instructed, they’re quite safe. However, that means using them only for a short period to treat acute insomnia. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that anywhere from 50 to 70 million Americans struggle with some level of sleep disorder. Despite these huge numbers, doctors and researchers warn that prescription sleeping pills should never be viewed as a long-term option. Some of the side effects of sleeping pills can include daytime drowsiness, dry mouth and gastrointestinal problems. Other sleeping pill side effects can include strange dreams, problems with attention and memory, and weakness. For years, sleeping pills weren’t viewed as being addictive or habit-forming, despite their other side effects. Now, however, that perspective is changing. It’s estimated that around thirty percent of people who take prescription sleeping pill are addicted.
There are many different kinds of sleeping pills, so answering what they look like doesn’t have one specific answer. Prescription sleeping pills often fall into one of two categories: benzodiazepines or sedative-hypnotics. Both act on the brain and central nervous system in similar ways and affect the same receptors. Barbiturates used to be another commonly prescribed sleep aid drug class, but the use of these has fallen out of favor over the decades.
Some benzodiazepine sleep aids include Restoril and Halcion. Other common brand-name prescription sleep aids include Lunesta, Rozerem, Belsomra and Sonata. Ambien and Intermezzo are also frequently prescribed. The primary differences in sleeping pills relate to how long they work for and the specific sleep disorder they treat. For example, a long-acting sleep aid is better for someone who wakes up frequently in the night. Shorter-acting prescription sleeping pills may be better for someone who has trouble initially falling asleep.
Sleeping pills are addictive and, yet, this is a risk many people remain unaware of when they begin these prescriptions. Prescription sleeping pills are classified as central nervous system depressants. When someone uses these drugs, whether they’re benzodiazepines or sedative-hypnotics, they affect GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter responsible for calming and slowing brain activity. Prescription sleep aids increase the effectiveness of GABA. In doing so, these drugs can also create feelings of pleasure or euphoria as they release dopamine. Anytime the brain responds positively to a stimulus, such as a prescription drug, addiction is possible.
A report from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that anti-anxiety and sleeping pills have an especially high risk of abuse among teenagers -especially when they have a prescription for these drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes the use of anti-anxiety medicines like Klonopin and Xanax and sleep aids such as Ambien and Lunesta as being among the most abused prescription drugs. Links have also been shown to exist between the use of these tranquilizing drugs and later prescription drug abuse. Abusing sleep aids increases the chances of addiction and physical dependence.
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