Many people rely on the help of sleeping pills when they want to have a good night’s rest. But what are the dangers of continually taking sleeping pills? Can someone overdose on sleeping pills?
What Exactly Are Sleeping Pills?
A sleeping pill is a sedative used as an aid to fall or stay asleep. Common sleeping pills, which can include benzodiazepines and barbiturates, are classified as ‘sedative hypnotics’. The sedative effect reduces tension and anxiety, inducing calmness, while the hypnotic effect induces sleep.
Sleep aids are used by many people for achieving better and longer sleep cycles, as around 70 million Americans have chronic sleep problems or suffer from a sleep disorder. These can include prescription sleeping pills or remedies that a person can get over the counter.
Prescription sleep aids usually include brands like Sonata, Lunesta, Halcion, or Ambien, while over-the-counter aids are commonly under the brand names Benadryl or Unisom. Both types depress the central nervous system, slowing down brain function. This is what helps a person get to sleep.
While a good night’s sleep and overcoming insomnia are what these prescription medications can give, a person runs a risk of developing an addiction to them, especially when taken over long periods.
With stressful lives, restlessness and trouble sleeping is very common among people. This is why sleeping pills are one of the most commonly prescribed medications today. Apart from relying on sleeping pills to fall asleep, taking them other than directed can be dangerous and put a person at risk for an overdose.
Effects of Sleeping Pills
Even though sleeping pills are an effective short-term solution for insomnia or sleeping problems, they can hinder sleep, and cause addiction and severe health problems when used over a long period of time. Sleeping pill use is often mistaken for not being dangerous, but no sleeping pills are intended to be a long-term solution.
Many people rely on sleep aids for proper rest, instead of seeking treatment for any underlying cause of a sleep disorder.
Any sleep-promoting agent can cause adverse effects. These effects can then interfere with a person’s quality of life. A person may experience headaches, nausea, drowsiness, dry mouth, nightmares, or difficulty concentrating. Periods of amnesia or impaired short-term memory can also occur.
Sometimes, the hypnotics that have a longer effect on the body can cause a person to feel a ‘hangover’ or residual effects. This happens more often when people take sleep aids in the middle of the night or very regularly. These residual effects can include an upset stomach, cognitive impairment, dizziness, ataxia (affecting balance, coordination, and speech), and sedation.
Mixing Sleeping Pills with Other Drugs
The use of sleeping pills has resulted in some fatalities, especially when taken in combination with other drugs or alcohol. Opiates, antihistamines, or antidepressants should not be mixed with sleeping pills without extreme care.
When combining drugs, a person also runs the risk of developing a dependence on both substances or on the mixture itself. It places a person at higher risk for a sleeping pill overdose, while also making the addiction very much harder to overcome.
Central nervous system depressants slow down brain activity, and when taken together – such as prescription sleep aids and alcohol – have an additive effect. This means they make each other’s effects more intense, increasing sedation. This places a person at risk of:
- Respiratory depression
- Permanent brain damage
Sleeping Pill Addiction
With approximately 25% of U.S. adults reporting dissatisfaction with their sleep, it is no wonder that sleeping pills are common and are repetitively used. Like with any drug, repetitive or long-term use of the medication places a person at risk for a sleeping pill addiction.
Continual use can easily lead to severe addiction, and a mild sleeping pill addiction may have started with an act that was a choice but can end up being out of a person’s control.
Signs of Addiction
A person suffering from sleeping pill addiction may show some of the following signs:
- Being unable to sleep without a sleep aid, whether using or abusing the medication
- Attempting to cut down or stop the medication but being unsuccessful or unable to do so
- Using sleep aid for purposes other than sleeping, such as feeling high or treating anxiety
- Needing more of the drug over time (having built up tolerance)
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop or when not using them
- Combining sleeping pills with alcohol, other medications, or drugs
- Hiding or lying about sleep aid use
- Experiencing side effects the following day
- Doctor shopping; seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
A person can become less responsive to sleeping pills while becoming dependent on them over time. Easily, an attempt to get sleep can become desperate, and a person could take too many pills or way more than their usual dose. Some people who use sleeping pills recreationally may switch from taking them orally to injecting them, which places them in a vulnerable position as they can miscalculate dosage. These factors often cause accidental overdoses.
Sleeping Pill Overdose
If you are wondering whether someone can die from sleeping pills, the direct answer is yes. Drug overdose deaths caused by sleeping pills do occur, and fatal overdoses have been related to both low and high concentrations. That is why it is vital to take the pills as prescribed and avoid mixing sleeping pills with other drugs.
One of the dangers or risk factors of sleeping pills is that their effects can take longer to kick in compared to other medications or drugs. This often prompts people to take more until they feel the effects, which can lead to an accidental overdose. An overdose of sleeping pills can be similar to an alcohol overdose. Sleeping pills work by depressing the central nervous system, and the overuse of the drug can lead to unconsciousness, respiratory failure, or death.
Taking too many sleeping pills, or taking sleeping pills and alcohol at the same time can lead to a deadly overdose, but not all sleeping pill overdoses lead to death. They can instead cause brain damage or physical injury, that can last temporarily or indefinitely.
Symptoms of an Overdose
When a sleeping pill overdose occurs, a person may experience the following signs:
- Excessive drowsiness
- Depressed or stopped breathing, which can lead to organ damage or organ failure
- Sleep apnea, reducing oxygen in the body and brain
- Unexpected behaviors, clumsiness
- Abdominal pain
Someone who faces a sleeping pill overdose will have difficulty awakening the next day. They may also engage in behaviors without realizing or remembering it later on, such as sleepwalking, or drunk-like behavior. Those facing a sleeping pill overdose could begin to isolate themselves or no longer engage in hobbies or interests.
A person may simply fall asleep, thinking and making others think that the medication is taking its normal effect, while serious complications could occur when a person is undergoing a sleeping pill overdose. These include cardiac arrest, seizures or a loss of consciousness, and death.
But a sleeping pill overdose could also be deliberate to commit suicide. As people believe that there will not be any pain, they often attempt suicide with sedatives. In the case of having suicidal thoughts, it is best to seek treatment before it is too late.
While there is no way to reverse most sleeping pills, there are ways to stabilize a person who has undergone a sleeping pill overdose and manage the consequences. There is also treatment for a sleeping pill addiction, which can be vital whether a person has suffered an overdose or has simply developed a dependency on the drugs. The best way to remove medications is with time, which is why treatment is crucial when attempting to stop drug abuse or addiction.
Treating an Overdose
In the case of a sleeping pill overdose, it is important to attempt to keep a person awake until help arrives for the medical emergency. Overdosing on sedatives necessitates hospital admission, where a person is closely monitored often in the intensive care unit.
A person may need oxygen or ventilation, or intravenous fluids to rehydrate or stabilize functions of the body. In severe cases, like when a person has taken a very large number of pills or has combined them with other drugs, harm can be done to the liver and kidneys, and machines may be used to help the body.
One example is hemodialysis, where a machine and a special filter act as artificial kidneys and are used to clean a person’s blood. A stomach pump may be used, while activated charcoal can be used to absorb excess amounts of the drug. Medications could also be needed to stabilize heart function,
As with most substance addictions, attempting to quit sleeping pills on your own could be dangerous. As the body and brain have become used to the substance, it may present with uncomfortable or painful symptoms as it tries to adjust to its absence. These are called withdrawal symptoms.
Detoxification is a process that allows for a substance and its toxins to gradually leave a person’s body, so that a person may have a chance of overcoming an addiction to it, and where withdrawal symptoms come about.
Without professional medical advice, or even better, a medical detox program, a person may suffer severe withdrawal symptoms that could be dangerous or too difficult to overcome. The uncomfortable withdrawal from sedatives is often what causes a person to relapse and start taking sleeping pills again.
Medical detox ensures better physical comfort, as licensed medical professionals can help manage any symptoms, while also providing 24/7 supervision to ensure safety.
Anyone who is suffering from an addiction to prescription drugs could go to a rehabilitation center and undergo detox. After the substance is removed from the body, a person can begin treatment for addiction to the prescription medications by addressing the mental health side of it.
Inpatient Vs Outpatient Treatment
Usually, substance abuse treatment is individual and depends on many factors. How much of a substance a person used, how often they used it, whether they combined it with other drugs, their family history of addiction or drug abuse, as well as co-occurring mental health issues play a role in determining the intensity and duration of therapy they may require.
Residential or inpatient treatment at a drug and alcohol rehab is the highest form of treatment available. Inpatient treatment requires a person to reside at the treatment center while receiving care. It commonly involves psychotherapy and group therapy, which addresses the underlying causes of addiction. It also focuses on behavioral health conditions, teaching a person how to react healthily to triggers that may cause them to use a drug again. It also helps a person who is dealing with a mental health disorder, which commonly co-occurs with substance abuse.
Depending on the severity, people struggling with substance abuse could also move from detox to outpatient services. As the least intensive form of treatment, outpatient treatment allows a person to reside at home during the time of receiving care. A person may come to the treatment facility for specific treatments or to attend support groups.
Where Can I Find Treatment?
Here at Cirque Lodge, we offer some of the most exclusive and advanced Addiction treatment options in the country. We offer everything from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to 12-step recovery programs. Our experiential therapy also includes equine therapy, yoga, and outdoor adventure therapy.
As we understand addiction is individual, we can design a treatment plan tailored to your needs. We emphasize personal growth to achieve long-term recovery. Caring and experienced staff, a holistic approach to rehabilitation, and a serene mountain setting will ensure you get the help and support you need for a healthy and happy life.
Get in contact today to find out how Cirque Lodge can help you on your journey to recovery.