As the name suggests, sleeping pills are medications – almost always available only through prescription – taken to help people with insomnia get to sleep. Technically sleeping pills are known as hypnotic or soporific drugs, and are closely related to sedatives; some may also be referred to as sedative-hypnotic drugs.
There are a large number of sleeping-pill brands on the market: insomnia affects many millions of people worldwide and its solutions form a hugely lucrative industry. In the UK over 15 million prescriptions are written each year for sleeping pills, with zopiclone (brand names including Imovane, Zimovane, and Dopareel) and temazepam (brand names including Restoril and Normison) the two most commonly prescribed drugs.
Some sleeping pills, unfortunately, are habit-forming, and sleeping pill addiction is a growing problem in the UK. As well as accessing them through prescriptions, users can get from countless illicit sources including many sites on the dark web and from street dealers; nicknames for sleeping pills include”tranks”, “downers”, “byebyes” and many more.
Different varieties of hypnotic drugs work in different ways in terms of their effect on brain chemistry: benzodiazepines, for example, work on a neurotransmitter known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), producing sedative, anti-anxiety, and muscle relaxant effects.
Generally speaking, hypnotics act as central nervous system depressants, and the strength of their effects depends on the dosage consumed. A small quantity of the drug will typically have a mildly sensitive effect, with a slightly greater dosage producing a pleasurable “numb”, slightly dreamlike state which is mostly the objective of those taking sleeping pills recreationally – but in large quantities they may produce total anaesthesia. There is therefore a significant risk in consuming these drugs to excess, as users may lose consciousness (with obvious dangers associated with driving, operating machinery, or even simple tasks such as cooking) and/or overdose; this latter possibility is why sleeping pills are a common option for suicides.
In very small quantities, hypnotic drugs may not produce noticeable effects. However from small doses upwards their effect upon those taking them becomes increasingly obvious. In some ways, the symptoms of sleeping pill abuse resemble those of inebriation through alcohol: users may start to display uncoordinated movements (perhaps swaying when standing still, or stumbling or falling when moving around); slurred speech (which can degenerate into complete nonsense and incoherence at higher doses); problems with recall and/or simple arithmetic, and other signs of cognitive impairment; bursts of laughter at inappropriate times, and other signs of euphoria; an inability to focus visually; and of course a tendency to fall asleep at inappropriate times.
Over the long term, sleeping pill abuse can result in serious impairment to the memory and cognitive faculties of the user. Other symptoms of long-term abuse include bouts of dizziness and problems with coordination; greatly disrupted sleeping patterns and appetite; permanent dry mouth; persistent itching; very disturbing dreams; shortness of breath; and lightheadedness. High blood pressure and other cardiovascular disorders may also result.
Sleeping pill addiction can create a degree of physical dependence on the part of the user which can result in the manifestation of serious withdrawal symptoms if and when the addict ceases taking the drugs. The precise nature and severity of the symptoms will vary considerably from one user to another depending on various factors including the specific drugs taken; the dosages consumed; the frequency of consumption; the length of the addiction; and the physiology of the addict, among others.
Benzodiazepines, in particular, are associated with extremely dangerous withdrawal symptoms: alongside alcohol, they are the only drug the withdrawal from which itself can kill. As a result, withdrawal is a perilous process and should never be attempted without the assistance of a medical professional: various “at home detox” kits are available on the internet but doctors strongly advise against this method, for the aforementioned reason.
Many sleeping pill addicts benefit from residential rehabilitation (“rehab”), in part because the first phase of rehab is invariably a medically assisted detox, with doctors on hand to ensure the safety of the addict and to minimise where possible the worse effects of withdrawal symptoms.
As noted above withdrawal can vary significantly from one user to another due to the factors mentioned. As a result, a “one size fits all” timeline for withdrawal is effectively impossible. Nevertheless, as a rough guide, if you are addicted to sleeping pills, you may expect to experience withdrawal symptoms in something like the following manner:
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Over the last few decades as sleeping pill addiction has become an increasingly prominent problem, a great many different approaches to treatment have been developed. Some of these are not endorsed by the medical profession – indeed, as noted above, some options exist which can be extremely dangerous for the addict – while others may not be appropriate for every user. It is vital that you consult your GP if you are suffering from a sleeping pill addiction before embarking on any course of treatment.
In general, there is a consensus that rehab is the most effective approach to addiction treatment and the one most likely to result in permanent recovery. The combination of medically assisted detox and on-site therapy in a secluded relaxed environment represents a holistic approach to treatment which no other option can replicate. A number of support groups including Narcotics Anonymous (NA) have been established worldwide providing help for recovering addicts, and attendance at such groups should form part of your long-term recovery plan; however, support groups such as NA do not themselves comprise treatment for your addiction, but are more a supplement to your recovery.
Some of the advantages to rehab include:
If you are struggling with addiction to sleeping pills, you are by no means alone: unfortunately many thousands of Britons are dependent on these drugs. However one silver lining to this greatly problematic cloud is that there is now a great level of expertise in dealing with this condition, and if you are ready to take the first key step and reach out for help, that expertise can be at your disposal. Addiction is a terrible illness and places huge strain on the addict and on those around, and overcoming addiction can genuinely mean the difference between life and death. In order to avoid becoming another tragic statistic, and to get back on the path towards a happy, healthy, successful life, get in touch with one of our addiction specialists today: call us and take that first step on the road to recovery.