Women, Depression, and Sleeping Medication Abuse

Woman in Treatment For Sexual AddictionContributor: Acadiana clinical team member Erica Smith, M.A., NCC.

Women and Depression

Women are said to experience depression at twice the rate that men do, with an estimated one in every eight women suffering from this illness at some point in their lifetime. Depression can result from a number of different factors, but many professionals in the field believe that stress works as the greatest contributor to the higher rates of depression in women.

Women also experience extreme mood fluctuations as part of their hormonal makeup, and research has confirmed that hormones have an extremely high influence on the chemicals in the brain that act as the controls for emotions and mood [1].

While men, of course, experience extreme levels of stress as well, the hormones that accompany a woman’s menstrual cycle, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, and menopause all trigger significant changes in her thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Depression tends to be one of the most prominent symptoms in all of these hormonal changes.

How Dependency Occurs

When women experience high levels of stress, they may find that they have a difficult time sleeping. While their bodies may be exhausted, their minds seem to be incapable of shutting off. A seemingly simple solution to this problem lies in the use of sleeping medications.

Women and Depression

By taking such medications, women find that their minds are easily calmed and they are able to get the sleep that they need. The problem with sleeping medications, however, is that they can become addictive and easy to abuse. After prolonged use, the individual using them may discover that they are unable to sleep without first taking a pill.

How Sleeping Pills Work

Many sleeping pills fall under the category of sedative hypnotics, including drugs like benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan, etc.) and barbiturates, which work to depress the central nervous system, leading to sedation. The purpose of these drugs is typically to relieve anxiety, but they also increase feelings of drowsiness and aid in helping people fall asleep.

While these drugs may be extremely successful at inducing sleep, most are short-acting and lead to the development of a quickly formed tolerance, causing a person to have to continuously raise the dosage in order to gain the same desired effects.

There are some prescription sleeping pills, however, designed specifically to reduce the time it takes a person to fall asleep. These pills include prescriptions like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata. While they may be marketed as non-habit forming, the fact is that people do tend to quickly become dependent upon them [2].

These pills, with Ambien being the most commonly referenced, also have the potential to cause an individual to experience a “high” if she takes them and then forces herself to remain awake. Some have described experiencing feelings of euphoria, which only leads to perpetuating the cycle of abuse.

Side Effects of Sleeping Pills

Like all medications, sleeping pills have the potential to cause negative side effects, which can include things like:

  • Stomach Pain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle Tenderness
  • Bodily Shakes and Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Heartburn
  • Dizziness
  • Unusual and Disturbing Dreams

There is also even the potential of developing a more severe side effect known as parasomnia. Parasomina occurs when you begin participating in behaviors like eating, talking on the phone, and even having sex while you are still asleep. During these times, you are completely unaware of the behaviors that you are participating in [3].

Cycle of Depression and Medication Abuse

Another issue that can potentially arise after beginning the habit of abusing prescription sleeping medication is the onset of further addictions. For example, these pills may aid a person in being able to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night but then, upon waking up, they may find themselves feeling overly fatigued and groggy, as the potent effects of the medication have not yet completely worn off.

Woman struggling with dual diagnosisIn this type of situation, people may turn to the use of a stimulant medication, such as Adderall, in order to wake themselves up and be able to function appropriately throughout their day. Now a pattern of abuse has formed by taking a pill to fall asleep and then taking another pill to wake up. This pattern can be extremely difficult to overcome because the person has essentially taught his or her body that it is incapable of functioning properly without the use of these medications.

To avoid entering this cycle of abuse, women should seek therapeutic interventions for their stress and depression prior to beginning to use any sleeping medication. Meeting with a therapist or other mental health professional can allow you to develop ways in which you can cope with your stress, find healthy ways to relax, and set up a successful sleep routine without needing to implement medication.

Talk To Your Doctor About Depression

However, if medication is something that you and your doctor feel is appropriate, it is imperative that you review all risks and side effects of the medication with your doctor and maintain steady check-ups in order to ensure that the medication is working appropriately.


[1]: http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/FINALWomensDepressionBrochure.pdf
[2]: http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/understanding-the-side-effects-of-sleeping-pills
[3]: http://sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/sleep-and-parasomnias

About our Sponsor:

Acadiana Addiction Center is recognized as a leading treatment center known for providing some of the most effective chemical dependency treatment and detoxification programming in all of south Louisiana. In a serene and peaceful setting, Acadiana provides patients with a nurturing and compassionate environment that promotes a comfortable atmosphere where men and women who are faced with the challenges of alcoholism and drug dependency can find support as they begin on their path to healing.

About the Author:

“Women, Depression, and Sleeping Medication Abuse” was written by Acadiana clinical team member Erica Smith, M.A., NCC. Erica has several years of experience working in the treatment field as a clinical therapist and has her Master’s Degree in Clinical Counseling Psychology from the American School of Professional Psychology.

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 a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, 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.

Published on June 27, 2014
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 4, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com