Therapist Blog

Are There Any Sleep Medications That Do Not Endanger Recovery?

Are There Any Sleep Medications That Do Not Endanger Recovery?

My answer is, "Probably Not", but with explanation. Generally speaking, individuals in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction tend to develop dependence-like problems with use of any substance or behavior that results in feeling good, from candy (for ex., chocolate turtles, my favorite), to ice cream, to gambling (a few wins seems to ignite interest), to sex, to video games, to golf, to you name it. Sleep problems, however, are common and potentially serious problems in early recovery and beyond. I can say categorically that recovering individuals should not use any of the following central nervous system depressants as sleep aids: benzodiazepines (for ex., Xanax, Ativan); the newer medications like Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata; older medications such as the barbiturates (for ex., Nembutal and Seconal) and what we used to call "nerve pills", meprobamate (Miltown, Equanil). These substances have been called freeze dried alcohol or alcohol in pill form and have the same (usually greater) effects as alcohol and clearly endanger the recovery of the alcoholic or addict, whether the drug is prescribed by a physician, or not. The central nervous system of the alcoholic or addict does not react to why the drug is taken but just whether it IS taken. But, you say, what about some medications that I have heard are not addictive, such as, diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl and Tylenol PM, and other over-the counter (OTC) drugs), Trazadone, and Ramelteon? My research of these drugs reveals that Trazadone, an antidepressant, and Ramelteon, a melatonin triggering drug (melatonin is a naturally occurring chemical in our brains that regulates the sleep cycle) are not considered addictive, are not regulated as controlled substances, and may be safe from an addiction potential standpoint to treat insomnia in the recovering alcoholic or addict. Diphenhydramine is also not regulated as a controlled substance, seems to have low addiction potential, but has a long-acting sedative effect that could cause problems with drowsiness and confusion the next day, especially in the elderly.

I just have a few comments and cautions. First of all, before taking any medication, even OTC medications (melatonin is available OTC at low cost), please check with your doctor and be sure to tell him/her about all the medications you take. Second, I suggest that before taking any sleep medication you make every effort to find non-chemical ways to sleep. Click herer for a website has great tips on learning to sleep: National Sleep Foundation. Third, be aware that addiction is sneaky and that, if you decide to use a sleep aid, be sure that you are not, by doing so, opening the door in your mind to use of other drugs (for example, some consider marijuana a good sleep aid). This is a controversial topic that I have raised before. As always, I invite comments. Jan Edward Williams, http://www.alcoholdrugsos.com. 07/15/2013.