Sleeping pills addiction

Sleep is essential, and a lack of it can wreak havoc on a person’s emotional and physical well-being. Sleeping pills are a common aid to treat sleep disorders, helping millions of people across the globe function and get the vital rest they need. However, taking sleeping pills in excess or over the long term can quickly lead to addiction. Realising that you or your loved one has a sleeping pill addiction can be confusing and scary, but acting as soon as possible is vital to help minimise the impact of the disorder.

Sleeping pills addiction - bedside pills

What are sleeping pills?

Sleeping pills, also known as sedative-hypnotic medication, are medicines that help people with insomnia and similar conditions fall asleep and stay asleep. While they can be very effective, sleeping pills also have a high potential for abuse and addiction.

In terms of recreational abuse, if you take sleeping and overcome the urge to sleep, they can produce euphoria and hallucinatory effects. The medication is often mixed with alcohol to exacerbate these qualities though this is highly dangerous and carries a real risk of a fatal overdose.

What is a sleeping pill addiction?

Addiction – also called substance use disorder – is a mental health condition which causes people to take drugs uncontrollably even if they want to quit. Dealing with sleeping pill addiction can be extremely difficult, impacting an individual’s health, personal and professional life and their relationships with loved ones..

Sleeping pills are widely prescribed across the UK, though this does not mean they are entirely safe. Sleeping pills are central nervous system depressants and activate GABA receptors in the brain, resulting in reduced levels of anxiety and increased relaxation. When these drugs are taken over the long term, the body gets used to their presence and needs them to function normally – forming physical and mental dependency.

People in this position commonly develop a sleeping pill addiction, a disorder that takes over the decision-making and reward centres of the brain. The powerful condition causes people to repeatedly take drugs, despite their desire to stop and the negative impacts on their lives.

Signs of a sleeping pill addiction

It can be difficult to spot when medication use has spiralled out of control into substance abuse. Many people with a sleeping pill addiction will hide their drug-taking behaviour from their loved ones and may be in denial about their issue. However, there are numerous signs to look out for to indicate if you or your loved one should seek professional help for sleeping pill addiction.

These include:

  • Running out of the prescription early
  • Reliance on sleeping pills every night over more than a few weeks
  • Cravings to use sleeping pills during the day
  • Slurred speech
  • Uncoordinated and unsteady movements
  • Inability to focus
  • Impaired memory
  • Unusual euphoria
  • Inability to uphold responsibilities
  • Issues in relationships, work, finances, or legally
  • Lying about drug use
  • Mood swings
  • No longer engaging in previously enjoyed activities

Sleeping pills addiction

Sleeping pills addiction - relationship problems

What causes sleeping pill addiction

Sleeping pill addiction is a complex disorder with each person’s path to developing the condition specific to their situation. However, there are various underlying issues at the core of most people’s addiction to sleeping pills. These include:

Co-occurring mental health conditions

According to a National Health Service (NHS) survey, nearly one in four people experience some kind of mental health struggle each year. Despite these disorders being so common, most people do not receive treatment for them due to the stigma surrounding these conditions and the lack of access to treatment. This can lead to individuals using substances like sleeping pills as a way to self-medicate and manage their condition.

To cope with stress

In our modern world, there is an increasing amount of external pressure and stress that can influence our internal landscape. Many people turn to sleeping pills as a form of escapism, allowing them to switch off from outside stressors. This pressure may come from school, work, the political climate, relationship issues, personal struggles or unresolved trauma.


Some studies have found that genetics contributes to around half of a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder.


If an individual is surrounded by others who are abusing drugs, this will increase their chances of developing an addiction to sleeping pills. This includes childhood experiences and being surrounded by peers who take drugs.

Side effects and dangers of a sleeping pill addiction

Abusing sleeping pills can have serious short and long-term health implications for users.

Short-term side effects

The initial euphoric and relaxing effects of abusing sleeping pills can motivate many to start taking them.

Sleeping pills addiction - woman with headache

Sleeping pills addiction - man with stomach pain

However, the wide range of unpleasant effects is not usually considered when making this decision. These can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Balance issues
  • Heartburn
  • Allergic reactions: itching, swelling, difficulty breathing or swallowing, pounding heart
  • Impairment the next day
  • Mental slowing or problems with attention or memory
  • Stomach pain or tenderness
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
  • Weakness
  • Parasomnias: sleep-walking, sleep-talking, sleep driving, sleep-eating, sleep-sex

Long-term side effects

Sleeping pills are usually not recommended for long-term use as this can lead to dependence and a range of dangerous side effects. When the drugs are abused over a long time period, this can result in:

  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired motor skills and lack of coordination
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Depressed breathing
  • Increased risk of dependency and addiction
  • Increased risk of a fatal overdose

Sleeping pill addiction and the family

Sleeping pill addiction is commonly described as a family disease, taking over the lives of both the person dealing with the disorder and those closest to them. For this reason, family therapy is vital for loved ones to be educated on substance abuse and how to avoid the enabling roles that they may play. Sessions with a mental health professional can also be useful for families to work through trauma associated with sleeping pill addiction, learn how to best support each other and prevent relapses.

What is the next step?

Linwood House is an established addiction treatment centre situated in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. We offer affordable yet high-quality care to assist people with a wide range of substance use disorders towards a life of sobriety.

This involves:

  • Sleeping pill detox – the process of breaking physical dependence on sleeping pills
  • Sleeping pill rehab – a programme of therapy, support groups and ongoing aftercare that helps you address the causes of your sleeping pill addiction and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Contact us today to find out more information about our treatment programmes and take that first step in overcoming sleeping pill addiction.

Frequently asked questions

How do I get rid of my addiction to sleeping pills?
Sleeping pill addiction is a powerful condition that often requires a lifelong battle. Seeking out professional help at a dedicated centre like Linwood House is extremely important for long-term recovery.
What happens if you constantly take sleeping pills?
Taking sleeping pills too frequently or beyond the guidance of your prescription can have negative effects. This is especially true if you are taking benzos or Z drugs, which can lead to dependence if taken too frequently. If you are worried about sleeping pill addiction, then contact Linwood House today to learn more about how we can help.
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