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Are You Trading in Your Insomnia for a Benzo Addiction?

Insomnia affects roughly 60 million Americans — many of whom are sleep deprived of reasons such as work, health, and technologies like television and the Internet. In 2014, over 70 million Americans suffered from sleep deprivation, which the CDC declared a public health epidemic that same year. In 2015, American consumers spent $41 billion on sleeping pills and other sleep-related products guaranteed to give them a better night’s sleep.

Insomnia is commonly treated with benzodiazepines, or benzos, which are sedatives that induce feelings of deep relaxation and sleepiness. Benzos are typically only licensed for short-term treatment since using the drugs for longer than two weeks has been shown to trigger physical dependence. But being dependent on benzos is a life-threatening situation that can not only lead to addiction, but to a fatal overdose as well.

While insomnia can be a debilitating health condition, benzo addiction carries a higher number of more serious risks — including the risk of death.

Here’s a breakdown of the link between insomnia and sleeping pill addiction, and what you can do to improve and treat both of these serious health conditions.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder marked by problems with falling asleep, staying asleep or both. People with insomnia rarely feel refreshed after sleeping due to getting poor quality sleep, or too little sleep.

There are two types of insomnia: acute insomnia and chronic insomnia. Acute insomnia is short-term, and usually only lasts for a few days or weeks. Acute insomnia is often triggered by factors such as stress at school or work, family arguments, and traumatic events.

Chronic insomnia is much more serious and is characterized by disrupted sleep that occurs at least three nights per week for at least three months. Chronic insomnia is often caused by underlying problems that may be related to certain medications, poor sleep habits, changes in the environment, and underlying health conditions like depression, asthma, and menopause.

Common signs and symptoms of insomnia:

benzo addiction

Low energy levels and fatigue are common symptoms of insomnia.

  • Lying awake for long periods of time before falling asleep
  • Waking up several times during the night
  • Staying awake for most of the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Feeling unrefreshed after a night’s sleep
  • Feeling like you haven’t slept at all
  • Low energy levels and fatigue
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Behavioral problems
  • Problems at work or school
  • Relationship problems with friends and family

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get an average of between seven and nine hours of sleep every night to stay physically and mentally healthy. Teenagers should aim to get between eight and 10 hours of sleep every night, while older adults over the age of 65 should sleep for between seven and eight hours.

Studies show that teenagers who get only six hours of sleep per night are three times more likely to initiate drug use than teens who sleep for eight or nine hours per night. Adults who get less than six hours of sleep per night are at heightened risk for depression, heart attack, and stroke, as well as addiction to sleeping aids like benzodiazepines.

The Link Between Insomnia and Addiction

Using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate symptoms of insomnia is not an uncommon practice among Americans. Surveys show that 46% of people who suffer from sleep disorders use a substance to self-medicate and help themselves fall asleep. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance used by 80% of those with insomnia, while opioids rank 2nd at 40% and benzos rank 3rd at 30%.

The irony is that alcohol and most drugs actually interrupt sleep patterns, and can worsen symptoms of insomnia. For instance, most alcohols contain sugar, which can spike your blood sugar level and cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back asleep. Your body also processes alcohol while you sleep, and may cause sweating and dehydration that leads to a restless, uncomfortable night of slumber.

When looking at just the link between insomnia and sleeping pill addiction, a person who suffers from both disorders can often stay stuck in an ongoing cycle of insomnia for as long as they avoid seeking treatment. Since benzos carry a high risk for dependence, those who use these drugs to treat insomnia can often develop a sleeping pill addiction.

Insomnia is a common side effect of sleeping pill addiction as well, despite the fact these drugs are used to treat insomnia in the first place. Even worse, a person who abruptly stops using benzos can experience rebound insomnia — a more severe type of insomnia that can cause loss of sleep for up to several days at a time.

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How to Treat Insomnia Safely

Fortunately, benzos and sleeping pills aren’t the only effective treatments for insomnia. Insomnia can be improved by making a series of healthy lifestyle changes and using non-medical treatments like meditation, breathing exercises, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Here are ways to treat insomnia naturally and safely without the use of sleeping pills.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise is one of the top natural remedies for insomnia and helps reduce feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety to improve sleep. Exercise also increases the amount of time your body spends in deep sleep and requires you to expend energy so you feel tired and ready for bed at the end of every day. Aim for at least 45 minutes of aerobic activity such as running, swimming, and walking on most days of the week, since studies show these activities are best for treating insomnia.

Avoid Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that can worsen insomnia along with feelings of restlessness and anxiety. Data shows that consuming caffeine six hours before bedtime can lead to serious sleep disruptions and problems with insomnia. If you tend to consume high amounts of caffeine, try avoiding caffeine completely, or switch from coffee and energy drinks to drinks with lower caffeine amounts like white and green teas.

Improve Your Sleep Environment

Take a moment to consider whether your sleeping environment is contributing to your insomnia. Mattresses and bedding that are dirty or physical uncomfortable can cause sleep disturbances, as can outdoor noises and bright lights. Improve your sleep environment as needed to get a better night’s sleep, whether it involves upgrading to more comfortable sheets, hanging up soundproof blackout curtains, or wearing earplugs to bed.

Do Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This exercise involves tensing and relaxing different muscles in the body to relieve feelings of stress and anxiety and to improve sleep. Progressive muscle relaxation also reduces physical pains like headaches and stomachaches in addition to treating insomnia. Ask your doctor to show you how to perform progressive muscle relaxation, or listen to an audio recording that can guide you through each step of the exercise.

Receive Stimulus Control Therapy

This therapy helps lessen the amount of anxiety being induced by your sleeping environment and nightly rituals before bedtime and comes with a set of instructions that help you sleep better. For instance, go to bed only when you’re feeling sleepy, and avoid performing activities in bed that are unrelated to sleep and sex, such as watching television, working on your computer, or playing app games on your phone. Stimulus control therapy helps you establish a healthier relationship between you and your bedroom so you can fall asleep more easily.

Get Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

CBT helps you identify and resolve negative thoughts and behaviors that revolve around sleep. For instance, those who avoid sleep for fear of dying in their sleep can learn more about the biological sleep process and how to approach sleep in a healthier, more positive light. Aim to complete a minimum of six weeks of CBT to improve your insomnia.

Try Natural Sleep Aids

Valerian and melatonin are two natural sleep aids that can help you fall asleep without the risk of addiction. Valerian is a sedative herbal supplement used for centuries to treat anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia, while melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that treats insomnia by regulating your circadian rhythm or natural sleep cycle. Talk to your doctor before using these natural sleep aids, since both valerian and melatonin can have adverse effects when used with alcohol and other medications — including benzodiazepines.

Are Sleeping Pills Addictive?

Benzos interact with the brain in ways similar to drugs like opioids, marijuana, and GHB that increase the risk for dependence and addiction. Using benzos increases the brain’s production of a feel-good neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is responsible for feelings of reward and pleasure. Those who enjoy the euphoric sensations brought on by sleeping pills like benzos may continue using these drugs and face a greater risk for addiction as a result. Signs of being addicted to sleeping pills include worsened insomnia, slurred speech, and problems with walking and coordination.

Though much focus is being placed on the opioid use and overdoses given the nationwide epidemic, the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions and overdoses are also on the rise in the U.S.

Within the last 20 years, benzo prescriptions have more than tripled, while fatal overdoses have more than quadrupled.

From 1996 to 2016, the number of American adults using benzos increased from 8.1 million to 13.5 million. The average dosage amount of benzos have increased as well, as studies find that benzo users are receiving 1.4 times more medication today than they were 20 years ago.

Benzos are even more deadly when used with alcohol or opioids. Alcohol and benzos boost the effects of one another and can lead to memory loss, which can cause people to lose track of the amounts they’re using and suffer alcohol poisoning or drug overdose. Opioids and benzos together can cause extreme sedation and slowed breathing, and lead to loss of consciousness or death.

Are sleeping pills addictive? The answer is yes, but if you’re suffering from insomnia and need help falling asleep, talk to your doctor about other available treatments before turning to benzos. Self-medicating for insomnia using benzos can lead to benzo addiction, and a long list of serious long-term health problems like memory impairment, depression, and suicidal ideation. Getting help for benzo addiction can greatly improve your health, and may even reverse your problems with insomnia.

How to Treat Sleeping Pill Addiction

The safest and most low-risk way to treat sleeping pill addiction is to overcome dependence at a drug detox center. Quitting benzos and sleeping pills abruptly or at home is dangerous, and comes with many serious health risks including vomiting, seizures, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts. Benzo withdrawal symptoms are physical and psychological in nature and can be painful and uncomfortable enough to influence people to relapse, which increases the risk of an overdose.

Sleeping pill addiction is commonly treated using a medical detox at a drug detox center. A medical detox allows you to overcome benzo addiction while being monitored and attended to by a team of nurses and doctors who lower the risk for complications you may experience during benzo withdrawal.

A detox from benzos and sleeping pills like Xanax normally involve the tapering method, which is when your doctors reduce your doses gradually over time to minimize withdrawal symptoms and related complications. You may also be prescribed non-addictive medications to treat certain withdrawal symptoms. For instance, acamprosate may be used to treat anxiety and insomnia caused by benzo addiction, while flumazenil may be used to trick your brain into thinking you’re using benzos so you can experience a safer detox.

Following detox, you can receive therapy to help you overcome psychological addiction, which is often marked by behaviors, thought patterns, and triggers that drive you to keep using benzos. CBT, individual therapy, and 12-step support groups are just some therapies that teach you how to change addictive tendencies and avoid triggers that could lead to relapse. Many drug detox centers offer these therapies in inpatient, outpatient, and extended care settings.

If you’re struggling with insomnia along with sleeping pill or benzo addiction, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) immediately to speak with an addiction counselor. We’ll discuss all your treatment and detox options, and help you find the nearest detox center ready to help you achieve improved health and sobriety from sleeping pills and other addictive substances.

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