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Can Sleep Aids Be Abused By Teens?


teen holding sleeping pills

The short answer to the question of whether sleep aids can be abused by teens is: Yes; teenagers can abuse sleep aids. With all the physiological changes that occur during one’s adolescence, it is no surprise that it is not uncommon for teenagers to experience difficulty sleeping. This can manifest as an inability to remain asleep throughout the night and/ or a difficult time falling asleep at night. There are, however, a number of sleep aid medications that can be incredibly helpful, when used properly. As is true with taking any type of substance, there will always be associated risks. Prior to prescribing a sleep aid medication to a teenager, a medical professional will conduct a thorough evaluation and consider all specific risks directly as they relate to the patient. 

Types Of Sleeping Pills

There are two main categories of prescription sleeping pills that are currently used in the medical field to treat sleep disorders. These include: benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines include medications that are not only used as sleep aids, but also used to treat anxiety disorders. They work by interacting with the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid). The medication interacts with the neurons in one’s brain to suppress and calm down electrical excitement. Benzodiazepines have highly addictive qualities and if abused can quickly lead to addiction. Commonly known benzodiazepines medications include Ativan (lorazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam). Non-benzodiazepines are sedative-hypnotic medications. They also work by interacting the GABA, but primarily focus on and activate the receptors in one’s brain that have to do with sleep, instead of benzodiazepines that also target anxiety. Non-benzodiazepines hold significantly less addictive qualities than benzodiazepines. 

How Are They Abused?

Abuse of sleeping pills can occur even if the medication is prescribed. Abuse of sleeping aids can occur in a variety of ways, such as a young person taking sleeping medication that he or she was not prescribed, taking prescribed sleep aids more frequently than directed, ingesting sleeping pills in a method other than prescribed, increasing the dosage taken without medical authorization and/ or mixing sleeping medications with other drugs and/ or alcohol. It is important to note that not every teen that is prescribed sleeping pills will inevitably go on to abuse them.

Signs and Symptoms

Every teenager is different and could present with a unique combination of signs and symptoms when it comes to the abuse of sleep aid medications. Common examples of signs and symptoms that may indicate sleep aid abuse in a teen, as provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Memory loss
  • Appetite changes
  • Headaches
  • Shaking
  • Dizziness
  • Coordination problems
  • Dry mouth
  • Weakness
  • Constipation 

There are many possible side effects that can manifest as a result of sleep aids even in a teen using the medication exactly as prescribed. Some teenagers that do not take any sleep aid medications may even exhibit several of the above examples. 

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at

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