There are several kinds of sleeping pills on the market, which help people struggling with insomnia get much-needed rest for a short period of time. No sleeping pills are intended to be a long-term solution to insomnia or other sleeping problems; however, many people rely on sleeping pills to get rest rather than seeking treatment for an underlying condition leading to the sleep disorder.
Popular kinds of sleeping pills include:
- Some benzodiazepines like Restoril or Halcion
- Some antidepressants like Desyrel
Sedative-hypnotics, especially Lunesta and Ambien, can lead to parasomnias, or specific behaviors performed while one is asleep. The most common unconscious behaviors while on sleeping pills include walking, eating, driving, and sexual activity. These can be extremely dangerous.
There are other ways that sleeping pills can be dangerous. The body rapidly develops a tolerance to them, so a person will feel like they require a larger dose to achieve the original effects. It is possible to become addicted to these drugs and take them compulsively to get high rather than to sleep. They are also potent enough to cause overdoses.
Signs of a Sleeping Pill Overdose
There are three basic signs of a sleeping pill overdose. These are:
- Drowsiness, or feeling “hungover” during the day
- Sleep apnea, a breathing obstruction that reduces oxygen in the brain and body
- Depressed or stopped breathing, which eventually leads to organ damage, failure, and death
A person who is intoxicated on sleeping pills will likely stumble around as though they are drunk. A person who has overdosed on sleeping pills will be unresponsive, unconscious, and may not be breathing.
Who Abuses Sleeping Pills?
People who struggle with insomnia may receive a prescription for sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta, Halcion, or others. Some of these individuals are at risk of developing an addiction to these medications.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 2005-2010, which gathered information about sleeping pill use and abuse in the United States. According to the NHNES, 4 percent of adults 20 and older took prescription sleep aids in the month prior to the survey. Women were more likely to take sleeping pills – 5 percent compared to 3.1 percent of men – and people with more education were more likely to take prescription sleeping pills. Older adults were more likely than teenagers or young adults to consume sleeping pills – 6 percent of people ages 50-59 reported taking sleeping pills, compared to 5.5 percent of people ages 60-69, 4.9 percent of people 40-49, or 1.8 percent of people ages 20-39. Non-Hispanic white adults were more likely than other groups to consume sleeping pills.
One in six adults with any sleep disorder, and one in eight adults who had more generalized difficulty sleeping, reported taking sleeping pills to treat these conditions. Those who slept five hours or fewer were more likely to feel like they needed sleeping pills compared to those who slept nine or more hours.
Treating the Overdose and the Addiction
When a person is taken to the hospital due to a sleeping pill overdose, there are several approaches that may be taken to treat the condition. The individual’s stomach may be pumped to remove as much of the drug as possible, and they may be given IV drugs to flush the sleeping pills from their system. Most importantly, they will receive respiratory support, from extra oxygen to a breathing tube, to keep them breathing.
Treating addiction to sleeping pills is another matter. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has an extensive list of Principles of Effective Treatment, and it focuses on safely detoxing, entering a rehabilitation program to receive counseling and therapy, and sticking with the program for at least 90 days. Ongoing support, like mutual support groups, has also proven essential after a person completes a rehabilitation program.
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