Addictive Sleep Medications to Avoid
Benzodiazepines are highly addictive sedative medications that are commonly prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia. Some common benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan) and clonazepam (Klonopin). Benzodiazepines are fast-acting, which contributes significantly to their addictive nature. Many people enjoy the calming effect benzodiazepines have and begin taking them more often, in higher doses or in combination with other drugs.
Combining benzodiazepines with other sedatives, such as alcohol, opioid painkillers and heroin, can be extremely dangerous. Taking a combination of sedatives can even prove fatal.
Z-drugs refer to non-benzodiazepine medications that all happen to have the letter “z” in their names. These drugs include zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and zaleplon (Sonata). Z-drugs affect the same part of the brain as benzodiazepines, which is why they also can be addictive. However, z-drugs are considered to be safer than benzodiazepines, because they usually have fewer side effects and are slightly less addictive than benzodiazepines. Z-drugs act on the brain more slowly than benzodiazepines, but both groups of drugs act on the GABA inhibitory receptors in the nervous system that lead to increased levels of dopamine and a pleasurable calming effect.
Barbiturates are another class of highly addictive medication that may be prescribed for sleep disorders. Drugs such as mephobarbital (Mebaral), phenobarbital (Luminal) and pentobarbital (Nembutal) have a high risk of dependency and overdose. Furthermore, if a person develops a tolerance for or dependence on barbiturates and then decides to stop or reduce their use of the drug, barbiturate withdrawal may cause life-threatening side effects.
Prescription sleeping pills help many people get a much-needed good night’s rest. However, for some the risk of addiction is too great. As an alternative to using powerful prescription drugs to fall asleep, many doctors recommend taking a mild antihistamine such as Benadryl, which offers a drowsy effect without the risk of dependency.
Alternatives to pills include behavioral changes that can help you fall asleep and sleep soundly through the night. Many people find that increasing their exercise, drinking a soothing tea before bed, or meditation can be just as effective in aiding restful sleep.
Drug Enforcement Agency. (n.d.). Drug Fact Sheet: Benzodiazepines. https://www.dea.gov/druginfo/drug_data_sheets/Benzodiazepines.pdf
Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. (2013). Using medication: What can help when trying to stop taking sleeping pills and sedatives? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0087084/
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Misuse of Prescription Drugs. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/which-classes-prescription-drugs-are-commonly-misused