14 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Not being able to have a good night’s sleep can be distressing. Some people who have struggled for most of their life to get an uninterrupted, decent quality of sleep, may find sleeping pills as the last resort to help them doze off. People find sleeping pills life-changing and no less than a blessing as they tend to have a sound sleep right after swallowing a pill. In contrast to when they would toss and turn the whole night and sleep would be simply out of sight making them feel agitated and tired.

Much to the dismay of people who use sleeping pills regularly, these sleeping tablets are a temporary treatment for insomnia and should not be used for more than two weeks since tolerance develops rapidly, leading to dependence which paves way for addiction. However, people often develop a habit of using sleeping pills when they take these tablets long after the prescribed duration is over. 

People often experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking their medication and that is when they realize that they have become dependent on sleeping pills. This significantly increases the risk of developing sleeping pills addiction, which can lead to overdose on sleeping pills and the outcomes can be fatal. 

Sleeping pills are medications that are referred to as hypnotic or soporific drugs which means that drugs that induce sleep or cause drowsiness. Sleeping pills are used to treat sleep disorders such as insomnia and are also given in hospital settings as anesthesia during surgery. 

Sleeping pills are also referred to as sedatives, however, there is a slight difference between sedatives and hypnotics. Sedatives or tranquilizers are medications that relax the central nervous system and alleviate anxiety, whereas, hypnotics are medicines that primarily bring about sleep. Mostly the mechanism of action of sedatives and hypnotics is quite similar and thus these terms are often used interchangeably. 

Most sleeping pills in the UK are available only through prescription to counter the growing addiction associated with these drugs. However, people often use sleeping pills recreationally and source them through illicit means such as the black web. Sleeping pills are known on the streets as ‘tranks’, ‘sleepies’, ‘dopies’, forget-mes, among other names.

Sleeping pills work by acting on the GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain which reduces the excitement of the neurons thereby inhibiting the transfer of nerve impulses, resulting in a calm and relaxed state of the brain and body. Sleeping pills work by increasing the effectiveness of GABA receptors, creating a mildly euphoric and sedative effect that causes drowsiness and helps in sleeping peacefully. 

Various types of sleeping pills are available in the UK.  There are different side effects and challenges associated with each one of them. However, the risk for developing dependence and addiction is common to most sleeping pills but this too depends on the dose and strength of the drug taken along with the duration for which the drug is consumed.

Sleeping pills can be classified as those that are available through prescription only and those that are available as over-the-counter medications.

Sleeping pills, available through prescription only 

These include:

  • Benzodiazepine 
  • Non-benzodiazepine- Z-drugs

These medications are available only after a doctor has prescribed them and cannot be taken over-the-counter due to the increased risk of dependence and addiction associated with them. For this reason, they are classified as class C controlled drugs in the UK under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, meaning that unauthorized purchase and sales of these drugs (benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines) will be penalized. Those who have possession of these drugs illegally will be punished for 2 years in jail along with an unlimited fine, whereas those caught while supplying these drugs through illicit means will be punished for 14 years in jail along with an unlimited fine. 

Loprazolam, Nitrazepam, Temazepam and Lormetazepam-Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are sedative medications indicated for the treatment of severe anxiety and insomnia. There are two kinds of benzodiazepines- short-acting and long-acting. The long-acting benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety and are not listed here. Whereas, the short-acting benzodiazepines are used to treat insomnia and these include Loprazolam, Nitrazepam, Temazepam, and Lormetazepam. They act by slowing down the signaling in the brain and creating a feeling of relaxation and tranquility. This effect is achieved by acting on the GABA receptors in the brain as previously mentioned. 

Benzodiazepines are available as tablets and should not be taken daily rather they should be taken on alternate days. Moreover, the use of Temazepam and other benzodiazepines should not exceed 4 weeks unless prescribed by your doctor. These drugs are associated with significant potential for dependence and addiction and hence their use should be monitored. 

Zimovane and Stilnoct- The Z-drugs

Z-drugs are referred to as non-benzodiazepines which include Zimovane which is the brand name of Zopiclone and Stilnoct which is the brand name of Zolpidem. These drugs are hypnotics and help you in sleeping quicker with a night of uninterrupted sleep. The Z-drugs are not structurally related to benzodiazepines but they work in a way similar to them by depressing the central nervous system by acting through GABA receptors. 

Zopiclone Addiction and Luxury Rehab UK

Both these drugs are available in the form of tablets and should be used for no longer than 4 weeks due to the risk of tolerance development which leads to dependence and addiction. Zopiclone and Zolpidem both should not be used with alcohol or another central nervous system depressant as this can result in deleterious consequences due to potentiation of the side effects caused by each substance.  

Sleeping pills available as over-the-counter medication

These include:

  • Melatonin
  • Anti-Histamine (Nytol, Sominex)

These medicines are available over-the-counter, without doctors’ prescription to aid your sleep disorder since they have little to no significant risk of addiction.

Melatonin (Circadin)

 Melatonin is a natural substance present in the body. It is a hormone released by the pineal gland and is responsible to regulate the circadian rhythm of our body. Circadian rhythm or circadian cycle refers to the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle that is controlled by melatonin and hence administration of this substance improves sleep, without any significant risk of dependence or addiction.

Melatonin known by the brand name Circadin among others is used to treat chronic insomnia especially in the elderly who are above the age of 55. Treatment with Melatonin is suggested for 3 weeks but it may extend up to 10 weeks on the doctor’s recommendation. Melatonin is also popular to treat jet lag but it is not licensed in the UK for this use. 

Nytol, Sominex- Anti-histamines

Anti-histamines such as Diphenhydramine (Nytol) and Promethazine (Sominex) are available as over-the-counter preparation since they are not sleeping pills primarily, rather they are used to treat allergies and sedation is their side effect due to which they are used in cases of mild insomnia. Anti-histamines differ from sleeping by their onset of action as they are long-acting and do not induce sleep abruptly. Moreover, they are known to cause a ‘hangover’ since the drowsiness attributed to this class of medication does not wear off till the next day.

Yes, sleeping pills have the potential for addiction and dependence when used in excess that is longer than two weeks or as prescribed by your doctor. Even though sleeping pills are very beneficial for people who struggle with sleep disorders and using sleep aids can be life-changing for many, saving them from the misery of being awake all night but using sleeping pills regularly comes at the cost of developing dependence on the drug which later leads to addiction. 

 Sleeping pills are not bad if used as prescribed by your physician but when you start taking the drug for a longer duration, your brain and body will develop tolerance to the drug which means you will require a higher dose to achieve the same effect whether you are using it for medicinal or recreational purpose. In no time, you become dependent on the drug without realizing that you cannot function normally without the daily dose. People come to know about their dependence on sleeping pills when they experience withdrawal effects after missing a dose or when they are quitting the drug. 

Addiction to sleeping pills develops soon after consuming the drug in excess and when sleeping tablets are used for the recreational purpose to enjoy the euphoric effect of the pills. 

Dependence and addiction to sleeping pills develop because they interfere with the brain’s reward system and alters brain signaling. They act on the receptors that are involved in the transmission of signals for reward and pleasure. Neurotransmitter such as dopamine is increased which is responsible for stabilizing our mood thus resulting in a feeling of pleasure and well-being. In the absence of sleeping pills, the release of dopamine is hindered since its release had become dependent on the sleeping pills and hence the person experiences spell of low mood, anxiety, and intense cravings for the drug. 

The use of sleeping pills such as benzodiazepines and Z-drugs results in the development of physical dependence on the drug after which the body is unable to function normally without taking the drug and withdrawal symptoms manifest compelling the person to continue taking the drug. 

Even though sleeping pills are addictive, certain risks increase the likelihood of sleeping pill addiction in certain individuals. A person having a family history of drug abuse or mental health disorder is at a greater risk of developing an addiction to sleeping pills. Similarly, someone who has a prior history of substance abuse, or someone who is suffering from a chronic sleep disorder is at an increased risk of developing an addiction. In addition, those individuals who have easy access to sleeping pills, have low self-esteem, are frequently under stress, have experienced abusive childhood, are associated with peers who abuse sleeping pills are at an increased risk of developing an addiction to sleeping pills.   

Owing to the surge in the cases of insomnia worldwide, there has been a rapid influx in the prescription of sleep medications. According to research, 10-30% of the world’s population suffers from insomnia making it a global problem, with the condition being more prevalent in females, older adults, and people with medical or mental health issues. In 2012 a study conducted by the Economic and Social Research Council showed that one in 10 adults in the UK regularly consumes some type of sleeping pill thus posing a significant potential for sleeping pill addiction in the UK.

In addition, over 15 million prescriptions for sleeping pills are dispensed each year in the UK. In England, 5.2 million prescriptions were made for Zopiclone known by the brand name Zimovane, and 2.8 million prescriptions were made for Temazepam known by the brand name Restoril making them the two most widely prescribed drugs. These statistics are worrisome since they indicate the challenge of sleeping pill addiction that the UK might have to face in the coming years because people tend to continue using sleeping pills for long periods and do not use them for a specific short duration of time and this leads to the building of dependence and addiction. 

Sleeping pill addiction is quite prevalent in the younger age group since these drugs are easily available in the market and are cheaper than other drugs of abuse and children tend to enjoy the sedative effect of the drug. However, this trend is alarming since these drugs affect the physical and psychological development of these individuals. 

It can be hard to pick if someone is abusing sleeping tablets since people are good at masking their signs and symptoms related to abuse. However, the following symptoms are the ‘red flags’ associated with abuse of sleeping pills that should not be ignored:

  • Frequent mood swings
  • Slurred speech
  • Feeling of euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of coordination 
  • Hampered memory
  • Inability to focus and concentrate
  • Change in appetite
  • Financial issues
  • Failing at work or academics 
  • Loss of interest in activities that earlier used to excite them
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Poor personal hygiene and grooming
  • Growing distant from relationships
  • Isolating themselves
  • Go for ‘doctor shopping’- to manipulate the doctor to prescribe them sleeping pills
  • Mostly involved in arranging and consuming the drug
  • Sleep for longer hours and more than usual
  • Hide the pills out of fear of being caught
  • Enjoy the effect of grogginess caused by sleeping pills
  • Experience withdrawal symptoms once they stop taking the drug

As with addiction related to any substance, sleeping pill addiction also presents with certain side effects that can help you to deduce that your loved one might be facing the drawbacks of sleeping pill addiction.

Sleeping pills are central nervous system depressants and therefore, they slow the functioning of the brain. Sleeping pills impede the signal transmission which results in the slowing of cognitive functioning, impaired reasoning, loss of focus and concentration and the person may feel very light under the sedative effect of sleeping pills.

The presentation may vary depending on the dose of drug consumed, since consuming a little dose of sleeping pills will result in mild signs, whereas as you continue taking the drug in increased doses it will result in respiratory depression causing shallow breathing. Ironically, in some cases of sleeping pill addiction rebound insomnia is present which is even worse than primary insomnia for which the sleeping pills were taken.

Side effects of sleeping pill addiction include:

  • Memory loss (amnesia)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Severely shallow breathing 
  • Hallucination
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Uncontrollable shaking of the body
  • Staggering gait
  • Muscle weakness
  • Rebound insomnia
  • Decreased heart rate (bradycardia)
  • Coma

Sleeping pills have a significant potential for overdose if consumed in excess accidentally or when taken intentionally for recreational purposes. However, overdose on sleeping pills is encountered most frequently when these medications are combined with alcohol and other central nervous system depressants to experience an exaggerated sedative and ecstatic effect by mixing the two substances.

What happens if you overdose on sleeping pills?

Since sleeping pills are known to depress the central nervous system, their overdose results in a plethora of signs and symptoms associated with CNS depression which can be fatal. 

Symptoms of sleeping pill overdose can present as slurred speech, drop in blood pressure (hypotension), drowsiness, nystagmus (an abnormal eye movement), and ataxia (an abnormal movement of the body). The overdose further affects the respiratory centers and causes respiratory depression which decreases the oxygen supply to vital organs such as the brain and heart and results in cardiorespiratory arrest and coma. 

If you observe any of these signs in your loved one who is known to take sleeping pills, take prompt action and rush to the emergency.

The number of sleeping pills to be harmful is not known since overdose can happen before the maximum dose of the drug is reached. You should avoid taking more than the prescribed dose and should never take the dose twice even if you have missed an earlier dose since it increases the risk for adverse effects which can have deteriorating consequences. 

Sleeping pill addiction can be luxuriously treated in a bespoke Rehab facility in London since Rehabs in London are known for their golden reputation for helping people coming from different fields of life. It is vital to enroll yourself in the most comfortable and auspicious rehab program so that you can work on building an improved and healthier version of yourself. 

You can consult Balance Luxury Rehab UK about your sleeping pill addiction and how the treatment should proceed to help you become drug-free. 

The rehab centers in London provide you free clinical assessments along with inpatient and outpatient programmes. 

The inpatient rehab programme allows you to stay in clinic accommodations. Your stay may range from 7 days to 3 months depending on the time you may require for the treatment of our addiction.

In the outpatient rehab, you can follow the rehab programme at the comfort of your home, while participating in the detox treatment. You will be treated at the outpatient clinic where you will be facilitated every day.

If you chose to stay in a luxury residential rehab, you will get a private residency to carry out the treatment in full isolation. It is no less than a retreat as it treats your sleeping pill addiction in a bespoke fashion which makes your experience comforting and less challenging. This treatment provides you with a kind of experience with your stay in a private villa with all 5-star rehabilitation facilities.

The duration of stay can range from 14 days to a month depending on how long you want to extend it. This facility provides you round-the-clock assistance from qualified nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, and holistic practitioners. Different therapies are offered including meditation, yoga, acupuncture, music therapy, and art therapy. 

Along with it, you will be offered a private chef, driver, and housekeeping, all of it contributing to making your stay very accommodating. In addition, you will also have the facility of a luxury pool, garden, and absolute privacy with no one intervening in your treatment so that you can have the most comforting time.



The Balance RehabClinic is a leading provider of luxury addiction and mental health treatment for affluent individuals and their families, offering a blend of innovative science and holistic methods with unparalleled individualised care.


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