Last week’s headline highlighted the growing problem of addiction to sleeping tablets. This is something that we have noticed here at The Haynes Clinic – we have many clients coming in for rehab with this addiction. For some it is their sole dependency; for others, it comes alongside some other addiction be it alcohol, other prescription meds or the use of illegal drugs.
Sleeping pills are prescribed for a number of reasons. They should only be prescribed short term and if you are prescribed them to help restore sleep in a crisis or during illness then beware how long you continue to take them as they are highly addictive. The dosage and length of time they should be taken depends on the individual and the circumstances.
Side effects of sleeping tablets include daytime drowsiness. Although this may improve after a few days, higher doses may leave users feeling sleepy well into the morning. Other side effects include problems with coordination, memory loss and a bitter taste in the mouth.
If you take sleeping tablets for any length of time, your body will become accustomed to the drug in your bloodstream. It will develop a tolerance and a higher dosage is needed to produce the same effect. Worse still, because your body comes to expect the medication, not taking it will cause withdrawal. So your issues will become a lot more than ‘just’ having difficulty sleeping.
Addiction is generally a physical and psychological illness and addiction to sleeping tablets is no different. Patients feel that they are unable to cope without the drug, and the physical symptoms of withdrawal will bear this out. Many doctors continue to renew prescriptions without offering adequate support and information on withdrawal.
Withdrawal should be supervised by a doctor as symptoms include anxiety, tremors, sweating, mood changes, loss of appetite, headaches and mental problems, as well as a return of the original insomnia. Alcohol is to be avoided and support is recommended to help patient’s complete withdrawal.
Sleeping Tablet Addiction Help
Although many people take sleeping pills for a week or so and then find they are able to find other ways to help them sleep, there are others who continue to take pills and have difficulty coming off them. The rate of reduction and coming off the tablets will depend on the individual, how long the medication has been taken, the dosage taken and the properties of the drug. A gradual reduction is usually recommended supported by counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy. It is easier to have a totally supervised detox from the tablets as otherwise it can be difficult to adhere to the proposed reduction regime (as addiction has already been established).
Withdrawal may take well over a month. Medication is normally gradually reduced until a total detox is completed. Other medications or drugs should be avoided unless prescribed by a GP. Even herbal remedies should be avoided as they may interfere with the process.
Dealing with a dependency on sleeping tablets is in many ways similar to dealing with any other addiction. It is safer and more effective to undergo a detox in a rehab clinic where it can be properly supervised in a safe environment. While detoxing, the issues leading to the individual taking the medication in the first place can be addressed if necessary, alongside any other issues that have affected their psychological well-being since then.
Sleeping pills should really only be prescribed for short term help in times of crisis and should never be used by those who have addictive personalities or a past history of addiction. If addicted to them, coming off them is hard but with help, support and commitment they can be dropped and alternative ways found to encourage a good night’s sleep.