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Sleeping Pill Withdrawal and Detox

Those addicted to sleeping pills usually experience moderate to severe symptoms of withdrawal when quitting. Some symptoms, like seizures, can be dangerous or even life-threatening. Medical detox can help manage or prevent these symptoms.

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What Is Sleeping Pill Withdrawal?

Insomnia is a common symptom of withdrawal from sleeping pills.Sleeping pills are both physically and psychologically addictive. People who abuse sleeping pills can easily become dependent on the drugs—sometimes after only a few weeks. An addiction to sleeping pills can be difficult to break because the user’s body becomes reliant on them to function. If they quit taking sleeping pills, they’ll experience withdrawal as their body tries to readjust.

Sleeping pill withdrawal symptoms can be intense, although they will vary from individual to individual based on a number of factors such as the severity and length of the addiction. Some symptoms can even be life-threatening if not treated by a medical professional. During medical detox, doctors monitor the person in withdrawal to check vital signs and address any potential health concerns that may arise. Typical sleeping pill withdrawal symptoms include difficulty sleeping, restlessness, anxiety, shivering, and circulation problems. In these cases, the doctor might administer intravenous (IV) fluids to balance electrolytes and replenish the body.

Medical detox is always the safest way for someone to detox from sleeping pills or any other addictive drug.

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Symptoms of Withdrawal

During withdrawal, former sleeping pill users will experience physical and psychological discomfort. Symptoms of withdrawal from sleeping pills vary by individual.

In general, those with severe sedative-hypnotic use disorders will experience more intense withdrawal.

Users with multiple addictions and/or co-occurring mental health problems may also go through a more serious and complicated withdrawal process. Those with co-occurring disorders may require a longer stay in medical detox.

Common sleeping pill withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Body spasms
  • Seizures
  • Insomnia
  • Delirium
  • Anxiety
  • Drug cravings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hand tremors
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Not all of these are life-threatening, but a medical detox can help with even the mildly uncomfortable symptoms while also ensuring nothing goes sideways during the process.

Rebound Insomnia

Many people experience rebound insomnia when quitting sleeping pills. Rebound insomnia occurs because the user’s body has become dependent on the drugs to fall asleep; if they quit taking them, their insomnia returns, or “rebounds,” often worse than before. Rebound insomnia can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Rebound insomnia is like having a double dose of insomnia. The body — which couldn’t sleep in the first place — adapts to needing a sleeping pill to sleep; and when it is then taken away, the insomnia is compounded.

- Dr. Cosmo Hallström, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Daily Mail, 2010

Rebound insomnia is often much worse than the individual experienced prior to taking sleeping pills, and can cause almost a complete loss of sleep for several days. How long rebound insomnia lasts depends on the half-lives of the medication, as well as the frequency and dosages that were taken by the individual. For example, Lunesta has a half-life of 6-hours, Sonata has a half-life of 1-hour, Ambien or Ambien CR has a half-life of 2.5-3.1 hours, and Rozerem has a half-life of 1-2.6 hours. Drugs with shorter half-lives will leave the body faster. With these drugs, the rebound effects may be more intense and begin sooner, but they will also resolve faster, often fading within a few days to a week after stopping the medication. Drugs with longer half-lives may not have as intense rebound effects; however, it may take longer for the drug to leave the system fully.

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Duration of Withdrawal

The withdrawal process—including the duration of withdrawal—is different for each sleeping pill user. For most, symptoms of withdrawal begin to present within several hours to a few days after quitting the drug. Symptoms generally fade after about a week or two, but the psychological symptoms have been known to last for the next several weeks. These persistent symptoms are known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms, or PAWS. They include insomnia, anxiety, irritability, agitation, mood swings, and poor concentration.

Sleeping Pill Withdrawal Timeline

Days 1-3 Sleeping pill withdrawal symptoms usually begin during the first 24 to 72 hours after quitting sleeping pills. Feelings of confusion, changes in mood and memory loss are often the first to present. Former users may also feel anxious or fearful. Former heavy users may experience vomiting and other effects during this time.
Days 4-10 Over the next week or so, users generally have a difficult time sleeping. Anxiety continues, along with drug cravings. Physical symptoms, like sweating, increased heart rate and tremors, peak during this time.
Days 11-17 The physical symptoms of withdrawal begin to dissipate at this stage. Psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, may continue and panic attacks can manifest. In some users, depression begins to set in.
Days 18+ Over the next few weeks, any remaining physical symptoms will fade. Depression and drug cravings can last for several weeks to several months, especially for those who used the drug heavily. PAWS may occur at this time, which may last as long as 18 months.

Sleeping Pill Detox

Because the symptoms of sleeping pill withdrawal can be dangerous, users are advised to detox under the care of specialized physicians in a medical detox facility. Medical detox is available in many inpatient and outpatient treatment programs.

During sleeping pill detox, doctors usually taper the user off the pills, rather than having them quit ‘cold turkey.’

Abruptly quitting sleeping pills can make the withdrawal process much more intense and difficult to navigate. Tapering users off sleeping pills takes longer, but it comes with less severe withdrawal symptoms and is often the preferred method of treatment.

I [detoxed] four times during active addiction. The first time I stayed up all night crying. I could not believe what my life had become.

- Amelia*, in recovery from sleeping pill and other drug addiction

While in detox, a medical team monitors the user’s vitals throughout the day to ensure the patient remains in stable condition. Medications are administered on a schedule or as needed based off the user’s condition. If symptoms worsen or health concerns arise, the user’s doctor will adjust the treatment plan accordingly. When the user has completed the treatment plan, is in stable condition and meets all the requirements for discharge, they can then leave the detox facility to pursue further inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment.

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Treatment for Sleeping Pill Addiction

Treatment for sleeping pill addiction is most successful in an inpatient or outpatient treatment center. These programs help patients overcome their addiction by creating a personalized treatment plan based on their drug use, personal history, medical history and individual risk factors.

If you or someone you love is struggling with a sleeping pill addiction, get help now. Talk with a treatment provider today for help finding an addiction treatment center.

*Some names have been changed.

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