Sedatives are typically prescribed for sleep and anxiety disorders. While they’re a useful medication when taken sparingly, they present a risk with prolonged usage. Misuse of a sedative for self-medication or dependency on the substance can increase your risk of developing a substance abuse disorder. 

In 2018, 1 million people in the United States said they had misused prescription sedatives. Understand what sedative addiction is, the long-term effects of the condition and how you can seek treatment for recovery. 

What Is Sedative Addiction?

Substance addiction or substance abuse is a disease affecting the brain, resulting in the inability to control use of a medication or illegal substance. In the United States, 10% of adults experience a drug use disorder at some point in their lives. The risk of addiction and speed at which you become addicted to its use vary by substance. Many factors affect a person’s likelihood of dealing with addiction, such as genetic factors, their environment, life events and their mental health. Genetics play one of the most important determining factors, accounting for 40-60% of your risk of developing an addiction within your lifetime. 

Sedatives are central nervous system depressants, designed to aid in relaxation. Some of the most common types of sedatives are benzodiazepines, gamma-hydroxybutyrate, sleep-inducing drugs such as Ambien and opioids. 

Sedatives take effect by working on the chemical gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. By preventing specific neuron activity, the neurotransmitter allows the user to experience a sense of calm and drowsiness. Sedatives further slow brain activity by binding to the same receptors as GABA, relieving stress or anxiety. However, excessive use of sedatives presents a risk of death. In 2013, 31% of the almost 23,000 deaths in the United States resulting from prescription drug overdoses were benzodiazepine overdoses. 

Sedative use becomes a problem when your body grows accustomed to the dosage and requires more and more of the drug for you to experience the same effects. This can happen gradually over time, often starting with a medical prescription. If you find your prescribed dosage of a medication is no longer working effectively, always consult your doctor about the potential risks before increasing the amount you take daily. 

When Does Sedative Use Become Addiction?

When you use sedatives compulsively despite adverse effects (such as negative or unusual behaviors), you may be experiencing a substance abuse problem. When you become addicted to a substance, your body can’t function normally without it. Therefore, if you don’t take the drug or don’t take enough of it to satisfy the addiction, you’ll experience symptoms of withdrawal. 

These symptoms can manifest both psychologically and physically. Their unpleasantness encourages the continued use of the sedative to avoid experiencing these adverse effects. 

What Are the Physical Effects of Sedative Addiction?

The physical symptoms of sedative addiction vary depending on the type of sedative you’re consuming. Generally, this can look like:

  • Slurred speech 
  • Muscle shaking 
  • Delirium 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of impulse control 
  • Sweating 

What Are the Psychological Effects of Sedative Addiction? 

The psychological symptoms of sedative addiction are less obvious and may not be immediately noticeable to people around you. They can include:

  • The overwhelming need to consume the drug 
  • Increasing need to increase the dosage to achieve the desired high 
  • Ensuring you always have a sufficient supply of the drug on hand 
  • Continuing to take the substance despite it causing problems in your life 
  • Dealing with the physical side effects

Sedative Tolerance

If your doctor has prescribed you sedatives for a sleeping disorder or anxiety, it’s important to understand the difference between tolerance and addiction. While tolerance to a medication over time is natural, addiction is a problem that requires professional intervention. So how do you know when it’s tolerance vs addiction? 

With sedatives and other drugs, tolerance is typically a physical response where your body has adjusted to the medication and requires a higher dosage for the same benefits. However, when you have a sleeping pill addiction, you can’t function cognitively without the drug. 

Though tolerance and addiction are different, it’s important to note that tolerance can lead to addiction. When your body gets used to a dosage so you take more of the sedative or take it more frequently, you’re more likely to develop an addiction. 

What Are Sedative Addicts Chasing?

Sedative addicts aren’t chasing the stereotypical high that comes with using some drugs like heroin or cocaine. Often, people take sedatives for real medical conditions as prescribed by their doctors. Some of the most commonly abused sedatives include pentobarbital and benzodiazepines such as lorazepam.

When you’re dealing with sleep aid abuse or medication for anxiety, the effects of the sedative are soothing to the central nervous system. This feeling of calmness is what sedative addicts are chasing through sleeping pill abuse. In some cases, addiction may occur because the person has become too tolerant of the drug and requires more to sleep well or feel relief from their anxiety. 

Long-Term Health Effects of Sedative Addiction

If your doctor prescribes you medication to calm anxiety or help you sleep, you may wonder, “Are sedatives addictive?” They are highly addictive, which is why they’re so heavily regulated. If you develop an addiction to sedatives and abuse them long-term, there are possible effects on your health. 

Abusing sedatives long-term can result in the following side effects:

  • Memory loss/poor memory (amnesia)
  • Developing other mental health conditions such as anxiety 
  • Depression/fatigue
  • Sexual dysfunction 
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Liver damage or failure 
  • Withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the drug suddenly 

A 2015 study also found that long-term use of sedatives was associated with a higher risk of injuries due to falling. This is partly because older adults (over 64) may be prescribed the medication to help with conditions like insomnia. 

What Happens When You Suddenly Stop Taking Sedatives You’re Addicted To?

Suddenly stopping the use of sedatives after you become addicted is likely to cause symptoms of withdrawal.  Some effects are most likely to occur 1-4 days after discontinuing drug use, such as anxiety and insomnia. Others, such as muscle tremors, sweating and restlessness, are part of the full-blown withdrawal symptoms that can last 10-14 days after stopping the drug. 

Since these symptoms are likely to occur if you’re addicted to a sedative, it’s best to seek professional treatment from an accredited mental health facility. If you’re ready to deal with sedative chemical addiction and stop taking the pills, you may want to consider gaining support through a detox program.

Why Sedative Addiction Needs Treatment

Sedative abuse or sleeping pill addiction can be challenging to navigate, especially without the right support system. Remember that sedative addiction is a disease that requires treatment like any other. Due to the withdrawal effects that accompany detoxing from sedatives, professional help is often the best option for people hoping to recover from the substance addiction and avoid instances of relapse, which are common

Without treatment, substance abuse can have significant consequences for you and your family. There are many treatment options available to you through rehabilitation facilities like Sunlight Recovery in South Florida. Work with experienced mental health professionals to determine the best treatment option for you based on your age, preferences, medical history and the extent of your symptoms

Reach out to the compassionate counselors at Sunlight Recovery today to learn more about treatment for sedative addiction. Our team is eager to start you on the journey to recovery and support you every step of the way. A better quality of life is possible with the resources and knowledge of our committed staff.