Sleeping pills are common prescription medications that are used to treat sleep disorders like insomnia. Sleeping pills may refer to a wide variety of depressant drugs used as sleep aids, including benzodiazepines and barbiturates. However, they are more likely to refer to a class of sedative-hypnotic drugs that are non-benzodiazepines, also called Z-drugs. These medications are very similar to benzodiazepines, but they are in a different chemical category because they have a unique chemical structure. Ambien and Lunesta are two examples of drugs in this category that are commonly prescribed. There are both central nervous system depressants like alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates.
They work in the brain by interacting with a naturally occurring chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is responsible for regulating excitability in the nervous system. Sleeping pills bind to GABA receptors and increase their effectiveness in the brain, leading to more pronounced effects. This can facilitate sedation, hypnosis, and relaxation. Unfortunately, sleeping pills can also cause chemical dependence and addiction when they’re abused. Like other depressants, dependence can lead to potentially severe withdrawal symptoms. Sleeping pills are generally milder than their precursors: barbiturates and benzodiazepines. However, with heavy use before stopping suddenly, it can cause potentially dangerous symptoms.
Learn more about sleeping pill withdrawal and how it can be safely treated.
The withdrawal symptoms you experience may vary depending on how you’ve used the drug in the past. If you were dependent on a high dose for a long time, you might experience more intense withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms may be similar to other depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines. However, sleeping pills like Ambien aren’t as potent as those other depressants, and may not be as likely to cause extreme symptoms. However, depressants are unique in their ability to cause potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms.
The most dangerous symptom is a condition called delirium tremens, which involves confusion, panic, seizures, and heart palpitations. These symptoms may be more likely if you’ve gone through depressant withdrawal before. A phenomenon called kindling makes changes in the brain after withdrawal that makes subsequent withdrawal periods more severe.
Your sleeping pill withdrawal timeline may depend on several factors surrounding your personal history with the drug. Variables like the size of your typical dose, the amount of time you were dependent on the drug, and the size of your last dose. However, you are likely to experience a withdrawal timeline that’s similar to the following:
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Detox, or medical detoxification, represents the highest level of care according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). It involves 24-hour medically managed care from medical professionals. Detox is reserved for people that are likely to go through severe withdrawal symptoms. But it may also be used to treat high-level medical needs alongside withdrawal symptoms. As depressants, sleeping pills can cause severe withdrawal symptoms that may warrant medical detox. Not everyone who attends treatment for a substance use disorder related to sleeping pills will need medical detox, but it is the safest option for many people. In detox, you will be monitored at all times and treated with medications when necessary to prevent complications and maintain your comfort as much as possible.
When you first enter treatment, you will go through a medical and clinical assessment to determine the right level of care for you.
If you don’t need medical detox, or if you complete detox, you may move on to the next level of care.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, detox is an essential part of treatment, but it’s often not enough to effectively treat addiction on its own.
After detox, you may go through an inpatient program if you still have high-level medical or psychological needs.
Inpatient and residential programs involve 24-hour monitoring to help safeguard against complications and relapse.
If you can live on your own, you may go through an intensive outpatient program or a standard outpatient program.
Through all levels of care, you will have a personalized treatment plan that’s designed around addressing your needs.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder related to sleeping pills, it’s vital to seek help as soon as possible. Since chemical dependency and withdrawal can cause potentially dangerous symptoms, it’s imperative to speak to a doctor before you attempt to quit cold turkey. Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease, which means that it can get worse if it’s ignored. Addiction treatment can help you address underlying issues and prevent some of the most severe symptoms of addiction. However, substance use disorders are treatable, no matter where you are in the disease. Learn more about safe withdrawal and addiction treatment to begin your road to recovery today.
ASAM. (2018, July 20). What are the ASAM Levels of Care? Retrieved from https://www.asamcontinuum.org/knowledgebase/what-are-the-asam-levels-of-care/
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
Ogbru, A. (2018, February 6). Benzodiazepines Drug Class: Side Effects, Types & Uses. Retrieved from https://www.rxlist.com/benzodiazepines/drugs-condition.htm.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019, April 30). Taking Z-drugs for Insomnia? Know the Risks. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/taking-z-drugs-insomnia-know-risks
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2004, September 16). gamma-Aminobutyric acid. Retrieved from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/gamma-Aminobutyric-acid.