Although genetics play a role in the development of addiction, environmental factors are equally if not more influential. Some people, especially adolescents and young adults but even business professionals too, may begin using a substance or engaging in a behavior to fit into a social situation (Read Peer Pressure: Help Your Kids Say "No!"). Others may feel compelled to abuse illegal drugs, alcohol, or prescription medications to numb negative memories or to dull the pain of a present reality that they have trouble facing. Others, including many of those who are addicted to sleeping pills, may at first use a medication properly to treat a genuine medical problem or symptom only to later find themselves addicted.

Why do people use and become addicted to sleeping pills?

Perhaps the most common reason is insomnia, which can occur because of stress, anxiety, depression, and other physical and mental health problems. Other times, sleeping pills may be used to counter the effects of abuse of stimulants like Adderall. The person may begin to crave the physiological state that they experience after a restful night sleep that they have after using one of these meds.

What medicines are abused by people who need help sleeping?

There are two primary classes of drugs for sleep: benzodiazepines and GABA-enhancing pills (aka "Z drugs"). Benzos have been on the market longer and include such medications as Valium. The other group functions by enhancing the effects of neurotransmitter and helps with anxiety, muscle tension, and sleep. Among these drugs are zaleplon (Sonata), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and zolpidem (Ambien). Another new drug that does not fit into either of these categories is ramelteon (Rozerem).

How common is sleeping pill addiction?

As reported in 2009 by the LA Times, 56 million prescriptions were written for sleeping pills in 2008. They also reported that financial stresses related to a down economy have led to a larger number of individuals experiencing difficulty sleeping – in part reflected in growing audiences for late-night television programming. A number of celebrities – including Eminem and Heath Ledger whose lethal mix of substances included sleeping medicines – have abused or been addicted to them.

What are some signs of sleeping pill addiction or abuse?

  • Using sleeping pills more frequently or at higher dosages than directed by a physician
  • Mixing sleeping pills with alcohol or other drugs
  • Blackouts – periods when the person does not remember all or a large part of what happened
  • Asking different doctors to fill the same prescription at different pharmacies
  • Needing stimulants ("uppers") to be able to function during the day
  • Frequently engaging in other activities while asleep – like preparing food, eating, or even driving – that you discover evidence of later or others tell you about
  • Being secretive about the extent of use
  • The onset of withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them