Sleeping Pills

Sleeping pills are often prescribed by doctors for people experiencing short-term sleeping problems. This type of medication falls into two categories: sedative-hypnotic drugs and benzodiazepines, which are psychoactive substances. Both categories induce sleep by affecting certain receptors in the brain. Doctors usually prescribe sleeping pills for short-term sleeping problems, rather than any long term issues. This is because almost all available sleep medications have a high risk of dependency and addition.

As a result, sleeping pills are meant to be used for an average of one to four weeks. If insomnia persists after the course of medication is complete, a doctor will further investigate the potential causes. Treating any underlying issues will most likely cure said sleeping problems. Most sleeping pills cannot be taken whilst other conditions are also present. These include sleep apnoea, liver disease, respiratory illness and depression, which are often exacerbated by the use of sleeping pills. As well as addiction issues caused by these drugs, overdosing is also a common problem.

Some of the most prevalent sleeping pills prescribed in the UK are Sonata, Rozerem, Restoril, Lunesta-Zopiclone and Ambien. Amytal is unlicensed in the UK and therefore difficult to access. However, there are still a significant number of cases of Amytal addiction within the country.


Sonata is a non-benzodiazepine hypnotic, used to treat insomnia. Its generic name is Zaleplon and it works by increasing the effectiveness of a neurotransmitter called gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) in the brain. This depresses the central nervous system, causing it to slow down, thus reducing anxiety and relaxing the muscles. This in turn leads to induced sleep for longer periods of time. Like other sleep medication, Sonata is a prescription drug that should only be taken as per a doctor’s orders. It is not meant to treat long term sleep disorders, but usually prescribed for 7-14 days; after which, if insomnia persists, other options are then explored.

Sonata abuse leads to some negative side effects, including:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Unconscious activities
  • Confusion
  • Amnesia
  • Hallucinations
  • Worsened insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Increased aggression

Sonata is prescribed only for short term sleep issues, due to its high risk of tolerance and dependency. Continuous usage beyond its initial prescription period could lead the user to develop tolerance, whereby the brain undergoes chemical changes in order to continue processing the drug. This causes the user to continuously increase the dosage to achieve the initial effects. Some users (especially recreational ones) open the capsules and snort their contents in order to enhance the ‘buzz’ and hallucinatory effects of the drug.

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Overdosing on Sonata is possible, albeit rare. However, combining it with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants can lead to respiratory depression and suicidal thoughts – both of which can prove fatal. It can be difficult to notice the symptoms of Sonata addiction or dependency in an individual. When you no longer feel its effects – even in large doses – or experience symptoms of withdrawal without the drug in your system, then you’re more than likely addicted. Mostly, individuals have to result to doctor shopping, the practice of visiting different doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions, or black market buying in order to obtain the large amounts of Sonata needed to fuel their addiction.

Once an individual is dependent on Sonata, trying to quit cold turkey can lead to some nasty withdrawal symptoms. Doctors therefore advise that the dosage be reduced gradually, or tapered off, in order to reduce the chances of experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Street names for Sonata include sleepeasy, tranks or downers.


Rozerem (generically known as Ramelteon) is a sedative-hypnotic drug, often prescribed for the treatment of insomnia. It is an oral tablet that works by stimulating melatonin receptors M1 and M2. Melatonin receptors are involved in maintaining the circadian rhythm, which controls the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Rozerem on its own is not known to be addictive or habit-forming and is therefore not regulated or controlled. However, it is a prescription drug and should only be taken as per the advice of a doctor. It does not exhibit the tendency for abuse and withdrawal as shown by other sleep medications – especially those that work by affecting GABA receptors in the brain. It is important to note that complications may arise when Rozerem is taken alongside other substances.

Side effects of Rozerem include drowsiness, fatigue, diarrhoea, worsening sleep problems, nausea, amnesia, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, missed menstrual period and reduced sexual appetite. Some people could even exhibit severe allergic reactions to the drug.

Rozerem interacts strongly with other drugs, which affects its efficacy. It’s important to let your doctor know what other medication you are taking before accepting a prescription for Rozerem. Combining alcohol with Rozerem increases the sedative effects of the drug, while it is also possible to overdose. In such cases, action should be taken immediately in order to prevent a potentially fatal outcome.


Restoril is the brand name for Temazepam, which is a benzodiazepine drugs often prescribed for sleep disorders. It is a depressant and works by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter, GABA, which slows down certain parts of the brain, inducing sleep. It is also known to relieve anxiety and is one of the most abused benzodiazepines in the UK.

As a Class C drug, Restoril can only be prescribed by a doctor. Gel capsules have been made illegal, but are still found in disturbing amounts on the black market and online pharmacies. Like other sleeping medicines, Temazepam should only be taken for two to four weeks. Extending usage of the drug beyond this time frame can lead to tolerance, dependency and addiction. When taken regularly for more than four weeks, chemical changes to the brain can lead to increased tolerance for the drug. This causes the user to increase the dosage to feel the initial effects.

Over time, the user may become dependent on the drug, though they may not realise it until they attempt to stop and subsequently experience withdrawal symptoms. The abuse of Temazepam can cause side effects, including mood swings, anxiety, depression, headaches, nausea, and spasms. In many cases, the use of Temazepam is increased to combat these symptoms. When an individual is addicted, they could exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Moodiness
  • Amnesia
  • Sluggishness

Signs that an individual may be addicted to Temazepam include:

  • Cravings for the drug
  • Forging prescriptions
  • Obtaining prescriptions from different doctors (‘Doctor shopping’)

Any attempt at a sudden and complete cessation of consumption will bring about severe withdrawal symptoms; these will vary depending on the individual, dosage, and how long the drug has been abused. Symptoms include confusion, changes in blood pressure, aggression, abdominal cramps, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. Notably, many users continue to abuse Temazepam in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

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Recreational drug users commonly abuse Temazepam alongside heroin – the combination of which can be fatal. Those who’ve developed a tolerance for Temazepam often combine it with other substances – especially alcohol and other benzodiazepines – in order to increase the sedative effects. However, as alcohol and benzodiazepines are CNS depressants, an overdose may cause the user to become overly relaxed and enter a deep sleep, whereby they could have difficulty waking up, due to slow breathing. This could in turn lead to a coma and even death. As a matter of fact, Temazepam is one of the most toxic benzodiazepines. Many deaths attributed to it are usually as a result of intentional suicides or accidental overdose.

Many suicide attempts are attributed to suicidal thoughts as a side effect of Temazepam.

Street names for Temazepam include jellies, king kong pills, green eggs, Edinburgh eccies, temazies, knockouts or tammies.


Zopiclone is a non-benzodiazepine sleeping drug used to treat insomnia. It is a sedative-hypnotic drug, and is used to initiate and maintain sleep by depressing the central nervous system. It mimics benzodiazepines by stimulating GABA in the brain. In the UK, Zopiclone is available only as a prescription drug; it is widely available as tablets, though the liquid form has to be specially ordered by a doctor. Like other CNS depressants, Zopiclone is not meant to be taken for more than a couple of weeks. If consumption continues after four weeks, the brain will develop tolerance to the drug and the user may develop a dependency.

Eszopiclone (known by its brand name, Lunesta) is a stereoisomer of Zopiclone. It is less restricted than Zopiclone, as it’s considered less addictive. However, both Lunesta and Zopiclone are known to have a potential for dependency and addiction. Side effects of both drugs are quite rare, but include dry mouth, metallic taste and sleepiness during the day. When a doctor prescribes Zopiclone or Lunesta, it’s important they are not used alongside drugs used to treat conditions such as schizophrenia and epilepsy.

Those who use the drugs for more than four weeks are at risk of developing a tolerance to them. This causes the users to increase the dosage in order to feel the initial effects. Combining either Zopiclone or Lunesta with any other CNS depressants (such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and recreational drugs such as cannabis, heroine and methadone) will cause an increase in the sedative effects. This could lead the user to enter a deep sleep, from which it may be difficult to wake up. Zopiclone can be used as an intentional suicide drug, which is another reason why it is a tightly controlled substance.

Addiction to Zopiclone and Lunesta tends to occur without warning. One noticeable sign of addiction is the practice of visiting different doctors to prescribe the drug, long after the recommended dosage has ended. Doctors advise that the dosage should be reduced slowly, as attempting to stop suddenly can result in withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, intense insomnia, mood swings and hypersensitivity.

In European countries, Zopiclone is marketed as Imovane. Street names include zimmers, zimmies or zim-zims.

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Amytal (the brand name of Amobarbital) is a barbiturate drug, popularly used to treat sleep disorders. It is also used to treat anxiety and manage epileptic convulsions when administered in small doses. Amytal is classed as a sedative-hypnotic drug and a central nervous system depressant. It’s usually administered as an intravenous liquid or controlled-release capsule. It’s known to have a high risk of abuse and dependency, and was phased out when benzodiazepines – thought to be safer – were developed. The potency of Amytal has made it resilient, as some doctors still prescribe it for certain conditions.

In the UK, Amobarbital is unlicensed, due to its highly addictive properties and can only be obtained on a named-patient basis; therefore, access to the drug is very limited. When taken in high doses, Amytal produces an intoxicating feeling, similar to that of alcohol. An individual who is ‘high’ on Amytal can easily be mistaken for someone who is drunk, and will exhibit signs such as sluggishness and loss of inhibition. However, there are negative signs and symptoms that can manifest when the drug is being abused. These include:

  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia

Continuous abuse of Amytal can cause users to become dependent on the drug, whereby the brain alters its chemistry and continues to build tolerance. As a result, the dosage is increased or the drug may be combined with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol, benzodiazepines and various types of barbiturates. Overdosing on Amytal – either alone or combined with another substances – can be fatal. Consequently, this could cause the user to stop breathing, resulting in a coma or sometimes, death.

Addiction to Amytal occurs rapidly and often without the user’s knowledge. One sign of addiction is the desperate need to obtain the drug, which in a tightly regulated system like that of the UK, can lead to financial and criminal issues. Because of the changes in the brain caused by tolerance, any attempt to abruptly stop using the drug can result in severe withdrawal symptoms. These include:

  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Death (in extreme cases)

Street names for Amytal include red, downers, blue velvets or redbirds.


Ambien is the brand name for a drug known generically as Zolpidem. It is often prescribed for acute insomnia and classified under a group of drugs known as sedative-hypnotics. Like Zopiclone, Ambien was developed as an alternative to benzodiazepines, which had developed a reputation for being highly addictive. It works in relatively the same way as benzodiazepines, by increasing the presence of GABA in the brain. Strong, long-running marketing campaigns portrayed Ambien as the less addictive alternative to drugs such as Xanax and Valium.

Ambien is administered orally, though some users crush the pills into powder and snort it to feel the effects more quickly. It works by binding to GABA neurotransmitters that slow down brain activity, depressing the central nervous system. When taken in high doses, it produces a euphoric or hallucinatory effect. Ambien is meant to be taken immediately before going to bed.

However, some take the drug hours before sleep to feel relaxed. Addiction to Ambien can occur in just two weeks. As a result of the belief that Ambien is not as addictive as benzodiazepines – and the fact that it is a prescription drug – many people don’t notice that they’re addicted until after withdrawal symptoms begin to manifest. Continuous use of Ambien for more than a couple of weeks causes it to become less effective with each passing day. Eventually, users build up a tolerance and begin to increase the dosage to achieve the same effects. It could eventually reach a point where users can’t sleep without taking the drug.

When taken in its correct dosage, Ambien initiates and maintains sleep. When abused in high doses, it results in pleasant and relaxed feelings. Continuously increasing the uptake of Ambien causes the user to become dependent; this leads to changes in brain structure and how the drug is processed by the brain. Ironically, Ambien acts in the same way as other benzodiazepines when taken in high doses. Signs of an Ambien addiction include:

  • Craving the drug
  • Withdrawal symptoms when the user stops taking the drug
  • Continuously increasing the dosage
  • Refilling prescriptions quicker than usual
  • Financial distress due to over-spending on the drug
  • Isolation from friends and family

Ambien addiction is often induced by combining the drug with alcohol and benzos, such as Valium and Xanax. This is a dangerous practice, and can cause the user to exhibit an unusually slow heartbeat and slower breathing, leading to a fatal overdose.

Street names for Ambien include A-minus, sleepeasy, tic-tacs, no-go pills or zombie pills.

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Addiction Treatment

Addiction is a debilitating disease that sufferers rarely overcome by themselves. Blackouts and memory loss are common symptoms of sleeping pill addiction, which affects every aspect of normal life, from family relationships to work or school. Behavioural changes can occur and financial problems may arise, as addicts spend more to fuel their addiction. Some who have developed a high tolerance for a particular type of sleeping pill may combine it with another variant of the drug to achieve the desired sleeping effect. When undertaken continuously, addiction to both pills is likely to occur. For recreational users, most sleeping pill addictions occur alongside the abuse of alcohol and drugs such as heroin, methadone and cocaine.

Treatment for sleeping pills addiction is usually delivered via medical and psychosocial interventions. The first step is a medical detox, whereby addicts undergo a detoxification programme under strict supervision from medical staff, who are trained to help the addict manage symptoms caused by withdrawal. Attempting to undergo withdrawal alone is dangerous, as symptoms can range from mild to severe and even life-threatening. Round-the-clock nursing care in detox facilities ensures that individuals complete the process unharmed. In some cases, alternate medication is used to ameliorate the more severe withdrawal symptoms.

Once the detox phase is complete, the rehabilitation process commences. Rehabilitation can be residential, whereby patients move into a rehab facility for the duration of the programme. It can also be outpatient based, with individuals commuting from their homes to the treatment centre. The duration of the rehab programme usually depends on a number of factors (though 28 days is most commonly advised by addiction experts). Most rehab centres can accommodate a longer recovery period, as needed. During this time, patients undergo psychosocial therapies, mostly focusing on the 12-step method of recovery.

Other talking therapies are often included in the programme. Rehab serves to help individuals rebuild their lives after addiction and reduce the risk of relapse. Regular counselling and therapy sessions are held, focusing on understanding the effects of addiction, rebuilding relationships and understanding measures needed to prevent relapse. Peer support via groups such as Drug Abuse Anonymous is often helpful. These groups comprise recovering addicts who come together to share their experiences and offer help and support to each other. There are also organisations that provide employment and educational support for recovering addicts.

Family support is an integral part of recovering from addiction. If you suspect your loved one is struggling with addiction issues, it’s important to be non-confrontational. Rather, advise the individual to seek help from addiction service providers in the UK. It’s also important that you provide support during the treatment and recovery process.

Remember, addiction is deadly. The sooner you seek help, the better your chances of recovery.

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