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Sedative Addiction: Learn About the Effects, Treatment, and Symptoms

The quality of your sleep can dramatically affect your health and your life as a whole. Poor sleep can contribute to a variety of health and cognitive issues. If you struggle to achieve restful sleep, the consequences can be far-reaching. Sleep disorders are a common condition that affects about 70 million Americans and that’s why so many people seek medications to help them fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.

Sedatives have been used to treat sleep disorders for decades and there is a long history in the United States of using central nervous system depressants to address sleep issues. Barbiturates were the first widely used prescription drug to be used as a sleep aid in the 19th and 20th centuries. They were first synthesized in 1864 and became widely used until the 1950s when their adverse effects began to be noticed. They have a high addiction potential and regular use can cause people to build up tolerance and dependence. They were also used as a recreational drug, especially alongside alcohol.

In 1955, the first benzodiazepine was synthesized and marketed as a sedative. Their popularity led to a decline in the use of barbiturates until the 1970s in which benzos have all but completely replaced them. By 1977, benzos were the number one most prescribed prescription medication in the world. However, they too have a high risk of tolerance and dependence. Many, when used for more than four weeks, have the potential to cause addiction. In the 1980s, non-benzodiazepine sedatives were released to that market called Z-drugs and addiction Z-drug compounds have been released as late as 2012.Z-drugs are marketed as a safer or more effective alternative to benzodiazepines; however, there is very little evidence to suggest this is true. Z-drugs bind to the same receptors as benzodiazepines and work in similar ways in the brain. They also come with some of the same side-effects, including addiction potential.

While sleep disorders are a widespread problem in the U.S., the disease of addiction has reached epidemic proportions. Prescription sedatives have a high potential for misuse, tolerance, and addiction. Sedative addiction is a chronic disease classified as a substance use disorder, but it is treatable.

Learn about sedative abuse and addiction, how it affects the brain, and what you can do to get help if you’ve become addicted.

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What Are Sedatives?

A sedative is a broad term in medicine that is used to describe drugs that cause hypnotic effects or induce relaxation and sleep. Throughout the 20th century, central nervous system depressants like barbiturates and benzodiazepines have been used to help people with sleep disorders achieve a restful night’s sleep. However, barbiturates have largely been outmoded because of harmful side effects. Benzodiazepines were once the number one most prescribed drug in the world, but they have a significant addiction potential and users often report uncomfortable side effects.

As an alternative, a group of medications called Z-drugs can be used to treat insomnia with similar effects to benzodiazepines. However, they come with risks of their own. Because they are newer, doctors are more critical of Z-drugs, and they come with some of the same side effects as benzos. And one report suggested that perceived side effects were reported more often in Z-drugs than in benzos.

Sedatives also carry a high dependence liability and overuse can lead to a worsening of insomnia because your tolerance grows and you will require heavier doses to achieve the same effect. Both benzos and Z-drugs work on the GABA receptors in the brain to promote sleep. While clinical trials seemed to suggest that Z-drugs were less addictive than benzos, they can still be addictive.

Sedatives also carry a high dependence liability and overuse can lead to a worsening of insomnia because your tolerance grows and you will require heavier doses to achieve the same effect. Both benzos and Z-drugs work on the GABA receptors in the brain to promote sleep. While clinical trials seemed to suggest that Z-drugs were less addictive than benzos, they can still be addictive.

Z-drugs have shown to produce similar withdrawal symptoms to benzodiazepines. Like other central nervous system depressants, withdrawal symptoms can become potentially dangerous without medical treatment. If you believe you have become dependent on a sedative, seek medical attention when attempting to cut back or stop using.

Common Z-Drug Sedatives

Since z-drug sedatives first emerged in the 1980s, several medications and brands for these sleep aids have been introduced to the market. Some of the more famous options can be seen frequently in television ads but others have been introduced fairly recently.

Here are some of the more common sleep-aids you may encounter:

Ambien is the trade name for the drug zolpidem and was approved by the FDA to treat sleep disorders in 1992. It has a slightly longer half-life than other Z-drugs, which means that it may be effective at helping you stay asleep longer.

Lunesta is the brand name for the drug eszopiclone. It is only slightly more effective than placebos at promoting sleep. It has a long half-life (up to six hours) for a Z-drug.

Sonata is the brand name for the drug zaleplon, which is exclusively used for the treatment of insomnia. It has shown, in studies to be slightly more effective than placebos in promoting sleep. It has a very short half-life, which means that it is processed quickly and may no longer have an effect after a few hours. Because of this, it may not be effective in helping people stay asleep.

Zimovane is the brand name for the sedative zopiclone, which is primarily marketed overseas and isn’t commercially available in the United States. It has a half-life  between three and six hours.

What Are the Signs of Sedative Addiction?

Sedatives come with a significant risk of addiction, especially if used more than directed. While addiction signs can be subtle, if you are worried that you may be becoming dependent on sedatives, there a number of warning signs. The first telltale sign of addiction is the feeling that your regular dose of the drug has become less effective. If you have increased the frequency of your doses or if you take larger doses to achieve the same effect, you may have a growing tolerance.

Cravings are another common sign of sedative addiction. If you miss a dose or if you stop using a Z-drug and you start to feel the intense desire to take a Z-drug again, you may be experiencing drug cravings that point to an addiction. Other sedative withdrawal symptoms can be a sign that you have a chemical dependence on sedatives.

Sedative withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Muscle shaking
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

If you are worried that a loved one might be abusing a sedative or sleep aid, you may be able to observe some behavioral signs that point to an addiction, including:

  • Sudden change in mood
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Continuing to use sedatives despite negative consequences to health, job, social life, etc.
  • Constantly reporting headaches, anxiety, nausea
  • Lying about or hiding drug use
  • Isolationism

What Is Involved in Sedative Addiction Treatment

If you have realized that you have become dependent on sedatives and you are ready to become free from active addiction, it’s important to consider all your options to find the best possible addiction treatment service for your needs. When you are considering a sedative addiction treatment plan, there a few things you should look for, based on the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s principles for effective treatment.

 Important factors to consider include:

  • There is no one-size-fits-all treatment method. Everyone is different and addiction can have a variety of different causes and contributing factors. Because addiction is such a complex disease, there is no single treatment that will work for everyone. Instead, treatment should be adapted to your needs and your input should be instrumental in the creation of your own plan.
  • Treatment should answer multiple needs. Addiction can cause a lot of different problems and there are a lot of different issues that can lead to addiction. For instance, addiction is closely tied to depression. To effectively treat addiction, depression has to be addressed. If you have become addicted to Z-drugs, you may have insomnia or an anxiety disorder that needs to be addressed. Effective addiction treatment should address medical, psychological, social, vocational, and legal issues.
  • Evidence-based behavioral therapies should be included in most plans. Behavioral therapies are the most recommended therapy options for addiction treatment. Because they are able to address a wide variety of cognitive, mental, psychological issues, they are adaptable to a wide range of individuals. Plus, they are backed up by studies and have shown to be effective.

Addiction treatment for most types of chemically addictive drugs should start with safe medical detox. Central nervous system depressants like Z-drugs can be potentially life-threatening during sedative withdrawal. Medical detox involves 24/7 medically managed care from qualified professionals with specialties in addiction treatment. Through medical interventions, your uncomfortable symptoms can be alleviated and you can avoid dangerous sedative withdrawal symptoms and complications. With supervision around the clock, you will have more accountability than you would if you were on your own. This can help you avoid relapse when during intense cravings.

In addition, the medical team you will have access to clinical professionals including therapists and case managers that can help meet some of your non-medical needs. Medical detox typically lasts from a few days to up to a week. In certain circumstances, detox can last for two weeks. After you complete the detox process, clinicians will work with you to map out your continued treatment, with the goal to find care that works well for you.

If you have continuing medical concerns or if you need additional monitoring for post-acute withdrawal symptoms, your next stop on the continuum of care may be inpatient treatment. At this level of care, you will be given 24/7 medical monitoring just in case you need medical interventions as you start treatment. This is also an ideal level of care for people with co-occurring medical needs like an injury or infectious disease.


You will also begin clinical therapy sessions based on your needs and your treatment plan. Inpatient services are typically intensive and involve several hours of therapy several times per week. The level of supervision continues to ensure that you will not relapse during your treatment.

Intensive outpatient allows clients to live on their own while still receiving the stability of intensive treatment. At this level, you will receive nine hours or more of clinical therapy based on your treatment plan. Sessions will occur several times a week and help you get to the root of your sedative addiction. You will also learn ways to cope with cravings, stress, and other issues while maintaining your sobriety.

Outpatient services are a great final step before entering into an independent life of recovery. Here, you will receive less than nine hours of treatment services every week. This will give you continued insight into relapse prevention strategies and stability while you adjust to an independent lifestyle. After completing outpatient treatment, you may be given additional help in an aftercare program. Otherwise, this marks the end of formal treatment. Still, you should continue your commitment to recovery in support groups or self-help programs.

Sedative Abuse Statistics

Start Your Journey to Recovery Today

Although sedatives are routinely given as prescriptions, you should take chemical dependence and addiction to Z-drugs seriously. Addiction to psychoactive chemicals is a complex and chronic disease that affects the reward center of the brain. It can be extremely difficult to get over by yourself. Moreover, central nervous system depressants like Z-drugs can cause deadly symptoms during withdrawal without medical treatment.

If you have questions about sedative addiction or treatment for depressant addiction, call Ocean Breeze Recovery at 855-960-5341 to learn more. Our addiction specialists are available 24-7 to inform you as to your treatment options. The first step on your road to recovery may just be one call away.


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