Sleeping Pills: The Downside

“After controlling for several factors, we saw the risk rose in tandem with the more doses that people consumed. The mortality hazard was very high, it even surprised us…More research is needed to know exactly whether sleeping pills are causing early death, but we believe the risks of taking sleeping pills outweigh the benefits.”

~Dr. Daniel Kripke, study author and a psychiatrist at the Viterbi Family Sleep Center in San Diego

Per the National Sleep Foundation, around 25 percent of Americans take sleeping pills. The actual need for sleep aids appears to be even greater, because one out of every three US Adults experiences occasional insomnia.

Statistics show that women take sleeping pills at a higher rate than men. Approximately 33% of American women use a sleep medication multiple times a week.

However, among people with serious sleep disruption – characterized by bouts of insomnia persisting longer than a month – often discover that sleep aids bought over the counter don’t really provide a reliable solution to their problem. They still end up desperately tossing and turning at night.

Even worse, many OTC remedies also contain antihistamines such as diphenhydramine, and this can cause extended drowsiness that lasts well into the next day.

Are Prescription Sleeping Pills Miracle Aids or Paths to Addiction?

By the time an insomniac finally sees a physician, they are usually desperate for help. Fed up with inadequate store-bought options, they ask for prescription sleeping pills that are strong enough to work. When they receive the medication, use it for the first time, and actually get a good night’s sleep, it can seem like a miracle from Heaven. This relief is significant, because a person may become psychologically attached almost immediately.

But soon the sleeping pills start to become less effective. It becomes harder to fall asleep and the quality of rest goes down.  This can start to happen in as little as 3 days.  And within two weeks, higher dosages are required if the drugs are to maintain their ability to induce and maintain sleep.

This is known as tolerance, and it is very typical among sleeping medications. What used to work wonderfully and bring restful relief now just doesn’t help as much as it once did.

So what do many people who are tolerant of their sleeping pills do next?

Because they only know that they need regular, restful sleep, they do what works—they start taking more sleeping pills than they were prescribed. This misuse, combined with the psychological dependence and the developing tolerance, lead very quickly to full-blown addiction.

Sleeping Pills and Car Crashes

Researchers with the University of Washington have determined that compared to non-users, new users of prescription sleeping medications are at almost DOUBLED risk of getting into an automobile accident. Medications studied included:

  • Restoril/Temazepam
  • Ambien/Zolpidem

When taking these prescription hypnotics, the risk of crashing is comparable to that of drunk driving. Of special concern, this doubled accident risk can last up to a year among regular users.

If you struggle with a dependence on or addiction to sleeping pills but are afraid to stop using them, Chapman House Treatment Centers can help.

Trained addiction specialists can help you understand that, while insomnia IS unpleasant, it is usually just a temporary condition. There are safer ways to realize a quality sleep without putting your sobriety at risk.

by Albert Fontenot