Sleeping Pills - Addiction and WithdrawalDespite the knowledge that sleeping pills are only of short term benefit, many people continue to experience problems with withdrawal from long term use.

Sleeping pills are prescribed for a number of reasons. They help restore sleep in a crisis or during illness. They are available on prescription and the dosage and length of time they should be taken depends on the individual and the circumstances.

Limited Improvement in Sleep

Unfortunately, as the body becomes accustomed to the drug in the bloodstream it develops tolerance and a higher dosage is needed to produce the same effect. This means that over a period of time the benefits decrease as the dosage increases. Research has also shown little improvement in the amount of sleep gained with continued use.

Many patients find it difficult to come off sleeping pills. Although increased dosage may do little to help improve sleep, and has no affect on the underlying anxiety, they are reluctant to try a different approach. Fear of going through a process of withdrawal means that many people stay on medication long after it has ceased to be effective.

The Rebound Effect

When a drug wears off it can cause even worse symptoms than before taking it. Dependency can be emotional and physical. Patients feel that they are unable to cope without the drug, and the physical symptoms of withdrawal support their belief. Many doctors continue to renew prescriptions without offering adequate support and information on withdrawal.


The side effects of Benzodiapines include daytime drowsiness, memory problems, increase in accidents and social problems. Continued use causes tolerance and the need for increased dosage. Addiction is also a real problem and there are serious side effects associated with withdrawal.

Withdrawal should be supervised by a doctor as symptoms include anxiety, tremors, headaches and mental problems, as well as a return of the Insomnia. Alcohol is to be avoided and support is recommended to help patients complete withdrawal.


Zs can also cause problems with tolerance and withdrawal. Although they were initially introduced claiming they were safe and non addictive, recent research has disproved this. Long term use and sudden withdrawal causes symptoms such as anxiety, sweating, mood changes and loss of appetite.

Zs also have side effects including daytime drowsiness. Although these 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.

Help with Withdrawal

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 withdrawing. Withdrawal should be done under medical supervision. The rate of withdrawal will depend on the individual and the properties of the drug. A gradual reduction is usually recommended supported by counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy.

Withdrawal may take between 2 to 3 months or even longer. Medication is normally gradually reduced or taken less frequently until total withdrawal is completed. Other medications or drugs should be avoided unless prescribed by a GP. Even Herbal Medicines should be avoided as they may interfere with the process.

It is important to take advantage of all the support that doctors and other professionals are able to offer. Withdrawing from long term use of sleeping pills is not easy, and it is understandable why so many people develop an addiction to them. Relapse can be a real problem unless some help is given in changing the circumstances and behaviours that continue to cause the problem.

As knowledge increases on the effect of sleeping pills more people are seeking alternative ways to work through their sleep problems. Sleeping pills will continue to be prescribed, but it is hoped that consumers and the medical profession will work together to limit their use to where they are most effective – short term help in times of crisis. Withdrawal is hard but with help, support and commitment they can be dropped and alternative ways found to encourage a good night’s sleep.