Abuse of Sleeping Pills – Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments

Woman looking very drowsy

Sleeping disorders and complications are something that many individuals struggle with across the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), insufficient sleep in general is a public health problem that contributes to many severe consequences, including industrial disasters, motor vehicle crashes, occupational errors, medical errors, and more [1].

Getting adequate sleep on a daily basis is also something that is foundational to health and wellness, with lack of sleep contributing to a myriad of ailments.

Even with acknowledgement of the importance of sleep to health and function, unhealthy sleep behaviors and sleep-related difficulties keep countless of individuals from getting the adequate sleep needed.

Many different factors can contribute to poor sleeping habits and sleeping difficulties, including underlying behavioral or mental health issues, the use of stimulants, irregular sleeping patterns, and medical or health complications that may have not been adequately addressed.

Unfortunately, for the many people who struggle with inadequate sleep, problems falling asleep or any type of sleeping disorder, finding an effective solution can be a struggle.

Many individuals who are searching for some type of temporary relief may turn to sleeping pills, which may seem like a helpful way for addressing this issue, either for the short term or as a long term.

While sleeping pills, either over the counter or prescription medications, may offer temporary relief from a complicated issue, misuse of sleeping pills can be especially problematic.

Types of Sleeping Aids

Sleep aids, which include sedative and hypnotic medications, are typically utilized to induce or sustain sleep by suppressing activity within the central nervous system. Some of the common types of sleeping aids or pills include sleep cycle modifiers, selective GABA sleeping pills, diphenhydramine, and benzodiazepines. These categories of sleeping aids are described further as follows:

  • nutritional supplement medicine healthcar health beauty medicalSleep cycle modifiers: This sleeping aid is as known as the prescription medication Ramelteon, which is a drug that works by affecting the hypothalamus, or the region of the brain that regulates sleep and alert cycles
  • Selective GABA sleeping pills: These sleeping aids are also available by prescription and target the GABA receptor in the brain, which may help regulate sleepiness. Common prescriptions in this category include Lunesta, Ambien, Ambien CR, and Sonata.
  • Diphenhydramine: This substance is available without a prescription and is commonly included in many over the counter sleeping aids, such as Tylenol PM, Excedrin PM, and Nytol. This substance typically induces the state of drowsiness.
  • Benzodiazepines: This substance also works on the GABA receptors of the brain and includes the medications Xanax, Valium, and Halcion. These type of sleeping pills impact how relaxed or alert a person may feel.

Dangers of Abuse

Sleeping aids do not come without side effects, and while they may be helpful to the person who is dealing with a sleep disorder, they can easily complicate a situation if not used correctly.

Many individuals may become dependent on a sleeping aid and begin to take dosages that are not appropriate in order to create the same effects of the medication, and misuse can lead to side effects.

Young man having depression sitting on the bed

Signs that a person is abusing sleeping pills include daytime drowsiness, memory loss, difficulty with coordination, dizziness, slurred speech, an inability to focus, unusual state of euphoria, and unsteady gait.

Some individuals who are abusing sleeping pills may experience more severe and problematic symptoms, including the experience of paranoia, sleep-walking, fatigue, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and even coma. If you or someone you care for may be experiencing the symptoms related to sleeping pill abuse, it is important to seek out professional help immediately.

Properly addressing a sleeping pill addiction in addition to a sleep disorder or any other underlying mental health issue is essential for recovering and protecting your health and wellness. Talk with someone you trust, such as a health professional, to begin exploring what treatment options may be right for you.



{1}: Institute of Medicine. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006.

Crystal Karges photo

About the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves as the Special Projects Coordinator for Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH/AH and nutrition private practice.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 21, 2016
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.