Sleep Aids, Are They Addictive?

in Addiction
Published Jan 27, 2021
sleep aids

Around four percent of US adults use prescription sleep aids in a given month. While people can use sleeping medications successfully to treat short-term insomnia, many people may develop substance use disorder (SUD) while using them. Many people assume they can’t get addicted to sleeping pills because a doctor prescribes them. However, as tolerance develops and increases, larger doses are needed to fall asleep. Many people may not realize they have developed SUD until they stop taking the medication and withdrawal symptoms occur. It is essential to speak with a medical professional before stopping the use of sleep aids to ensure safety during the process.

Types of Sleep Aids

Most sleeping pills are classified as sedative-hypnotics. This specific type of drug is used to induce or maintain sleep. They include benzodiazepines, barbiturates, z-drugs, and melatonin-receptor agonists.

Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium, and Ativan can be used to treat insomnia. While these drugs may be useful short-term, they are highly addictive and can cause memory and attention problems. They are not recommended for long-term treatment of sleeping problems.

Barbiturates depress the central nervous system and can cause sedation. Short or long-acting barbiturates are most commonly limited to use as anesthesia. They can be fatal in overdose.

Z-drugs include sleeping medications such as Lunesta, Sonata, and Ambien. They bind to the same receptors in the brain as benzodiazepines but are less likely to lead to SUD. However, it is still possible to become addicted to these medications. They work quickly to increase drowsiness and sleep.

Rozerem, a melatonin-receptor agonist, acts differently from other sleep aids by affecting the brain hormone known as melatonin. It leaves the body quickly and is not thought to be addictive.

Sleep Aid Side Effects

The side effects of sleep aids will vary based on the specific medication used, how much is used, and if it is used with any other substances.

Common side effects of benzodiazepine use include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Light-headedness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle weakness
  • Memory problems


Common side effects of barbiturates include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Abnormally slow breathing
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Hallucinations


Common side effects of z-drugs include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Headache
  • Impairment the day after use
  • Problems with attention or memory
  • Stomach pain
  • Weakness
  • Amnesia
  • Parasomnias (i.e. sleep-eating or sleep driving)


Am I Addicted to Sleep Aids?

If you believe you may have a problem with sleep aids, it is best to talk to a medical professional to get a diagnosis. There are 11 criteria for diagnosing SUD, including:

  1. Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than an individual is meant to
  2. Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to
  3. Spending significant amounts of time getting, using, or recovering from the use of the substance
  4. Cravings and urges to use the substance
  5. Not managing to complete tasks at work, home, or school because of substance use
  6. Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships
  7. Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use
  8. Using the substance again and again, even when it puts the individual in danger
  9. Continuing to use, even when the individual knows they have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or worsened by the substance
  10. Needing more of the substance to get the desired effects (tolerance)
  11. Development of withdrawal symptoms


The severity of the SUD is then determined by the number of criteria the individual meets:

  • Mild: 2 or 3 criteria out of 11
  • Moderate: 4 or 5 criteria out of 11
  • Severe: 6 or more criteria out of 11


These criteria are divided into four categories: impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological indicators (tolerance and withdrawal). Withdrawal symptoms will vary based on what medication was used, how much was used, and if it was used with other substances. However, typical withdrawal symptoms of sleep aids may include:

  • Body spasms / tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures


How to Treat Insomnia Without Sleep Aids

Before treating insomnia, an individual must stop using sleeping aids. Detox from sleep aids can be uncomfortable and frightening and should always be done in medical professionals’ presence. Gallus Medical Detox Centers can help. We provide our clients with a biopsychosocial exam to identify their next steps in their recovery journey.

Gallus Medical Detox Centers can help you find a therapist, treatment center, or other aftercare options best suited for your needs. It is essential to find the underlying causes of insomnia. There can be various causes, including underlying mental health disorders. Treating both SUD and any underlying mental health disorders is vital to overcoming insomnia. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been proven effective for cognitive, behavioral, and substance use issues. It has also been shown to help treat insomnia. Research indicates that CBT for insomnia has as much benefit as sleep aids in the short-term and even more significant lasting benefits.

While people can use sleeping medications successfully to treat short-term insomnia, many people may develop substance use disorder (SUD) while using them. Most sleeping pills are classified as sedative-hypnotics, including benzodiazepines, barbiturates, z-drugs, and melatonin-receptor agonists. It may be challenging to recognize if you or a loved one struggles with SUD because the sleep aids are prescribed by doctors. However, there are diagnostic criteria that can point you to the common signs of SUD. If you believe you or a loved one may have a problem with sleep aids, it is best to speak to a medical professional. Quitting sleep aids may cause frightening, uncomfortable, and even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. At Gallus Medical Detox Centers, we use proprietary, evidence-based medical protocols that prioritize our patients’ comfort and safety to guide them through the detox process. Our personalized treatment is delivered in a safe and peaceful environment. If you or a loved one believe you may be struggling with SUD related to sleep aids, call Gallus Medical Detox Centers today at (866) 296-5242.