Sedative-Hypnotics: Addiction & Treatment

When many people think of drug use, they think of being “high” or of having increased energy. One classification of drugs, though, has the opposite effect on users. Sedative-hypnotics slow the body down, promoting feelings of relaxation or helping one sleep – a sedative effect.

Use of Sedative-Hypnotics
sedatives-hypnotics-addiction

This classification of drugs is often prescribed by doctors for a variety of reasons. Sedatives may help alleviate the feelings of extreme anxiety, or they may help those with chronic insomnia or certain health conditions get the sleep they need. When used in the short-term and for a specific purpose, they can be helpful to those who need them. Over time, however, it is possible to become dependent on them. More and more of the drug may be needed to get the desired results.

Sedative-hypnotics use is considered drug abuse when they are used for purposes other than what a doctor has prescribed them for, or for longer than a doctor has recommended. Use without a prescription is always considered drug abuse.

Are sedative-hypnotics addictive?

Yes, sedative-hypnotics are addictive drugs. Sedative-hypnotics can very helpful if used for short periods and for a specific purpose. However, sedative-hypnotics can lead to dependence and addiction if taken at higher dosage, or more frequently, than prescribed.

Use without a prescription is always considered drug abuse.

Sedative-Hypnotic Effects

When taken in small doses, sedatives have the same effect as drinking alcohol. Users will become relaxed, muscles will loosen up, and they may feel sleepy. When higher doses are taken, more severe effects may occur. These can include:

  • Staggering gait
  • Slurred speech
  • Aggressiveness or changes in personality
  • Altered or slowed reflexes and mental function
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Poor judgement
These effects make it dangerous to operate a car or machinery while under the influence of sedative-hypnotic drugs.

Over time, users may need to take increased doses or other drugs to simulate the desired effect. This can lead to drug dependence over time.

Warning Signs

At first, it may be hard to tell if someone is using a sedative-hypnotic drug. The early warning signs may include slowed movement or response times, slight changes in behavior, or increased sleeping patterns. As addiction progresses, additional changes may occur.

These are the warning signs of addiction to sedative-hypnotics:

  • Slow reflexes
  • Slow response
  • Changes in behavior
  • Increased sleeping patterns
  • Slurred speech
  • Staggering walks
  • Mental degradation
  • Poor performance at school and work
  • Sudden need for money

Those who are using a sedative may appear to be drunk. Slurred speech and staggering while walking are common, as are slowed reflexes.

Eventually, users may need these drugs just to function during their day to day lives. Although they feel as though they are functioning well, they may begin to suffer from mental decline and poor performance at work or school. Family and other relationships may also suffer, especially as using and obtaining the drugs becomes a more important past time in their day to day lives.

Because sedatives can be costly, users may begin asking for money. They may also resort to stealing money or valuables in order to afford their “fix.” Stealing the drugs themselves from other friends and family members with prescriptions may also occur.

Like many other drugs, withholding sedatives from an addict may lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Convulsions
  • Death

Infants born to mothers who are addicted to sedatives may be born with an addiction. Withdrawal symptoms will begin shortly after birth, and may include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Feeding issues
  • Fussiness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sweating
Birth defects and ongoing developmental delays can also occur.

Risk Factors

Those who are at highest risk of abusing sedative-hypnotic drugs are those who were prescribed them due to a health concern. This is especially true for those with chronic health conditions for which ongoing treatment is required, since these people are more likely to be given higher or longer term doses of the drugs. Once one starts taking sedatives, it can be hard to stop, especially if feelings of insomnia or anxiety were severe prior to the initial drug use.

Anyone prescribed these medications can become addicted, especially when used for a long period of time or in doses higher than recommended. However, some of the most at-risk groups include:

Teens and college students: Young people may come into contact with sedatives when they’re prescribed for another family member. This is often due to convenience, since teens generally have less money than adults, and may go in search of whatever substance they can find in order to get high. Those who have used other drugs in the past may be more likely to try sedatives.

Professionals: Having a stressful career may lead to anxiety, and in turn, insomnia. Sleeping pills are often prescribed to help.

Veterans: Those who have been through deployments are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. This is one reason why veterans, or anyone who suffers from a mental illness, are more likely to try drugs.

Those who have a family history of drug abuse are more likely to become drug addicts. Studies show that there seems to be a genetic component when it comes to addiction.

Sedatives are often taken recreationally alongside other drugs, such as cocaine, marijuana, or alcohol. This intensifies some of the effects, and makes dangerous side effects and overdose more likely. It also increases the probability for addiction to drugs in general.

Treatment for Sedative Addiction

Sometimes it is hard to users for recognize and acknowledge an addiction to sedatives, especially if the drugs were originally prescribed by a doctor. This gives them a mental “out” to excuse their behavior, because they have or had permission to take the drug from the start.

As with all drug addictions, realizing and admitting the problem is the first step.

Discussing the drug addiction with friends and family members is another good step in the beginning. By acknowledging a need for outside help, the user can get moral support from loved ones for the journey ahead.

Someone trained in drug addiction should be contacted to discuss treatment options. There are numerous avenues available for drug addictions, some of which are more suited for certain situations.

Support groups are groups of drug users or addicts who want moral support and ongoing encouragement to help them get clean. This gives them the chance to talk to others who understand their struggles and to hold each other accountable.

Outpatient therapy is another means of support. This involves working with a trained therapist or counselor to discuss sobriety, pitfalls, and to help uncover the feelings that may have led to the drug abuse in the first place.

Inpatient therapy is the most aggressive treatment option, and often the most effective for those with severe addictions. This involves staying in a facility in which patients are closely monitored. Counseling and support groups are also usually available, but within a safe space that doesn’t allow for relapses and other setbacks.

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