What’s the difference between painkillers and sleeping pills?
There are a variety of prescription sleeping pills currently on the market; these drugs are prescribed by a doctor to treat chronic insomnia. Unlike the sleeping pills of years past, most sleeping pills are not habit forming, so there is no risk of addiction. In the past benzodiazepines such as Halcion, Restoril, and Xanax were commonly prescribed as sleeping pills, but this use is uncommon today because of the high risk for dependence.
Some of the most commonly prescribed sleeping pills include Ambien (brand name for zolpidem), which is available in an extended release version and will soon be released as a spray; Belsomra (suvorexant), a drug that acts on the brain chemicals that regulate your body’s sleeping and waking cycles; Lunesta (eszopiclone), which is popular but has a high risk of impairment effects such as confusion; Rozerem (ramelteon), which is considered safe for long-term use; Sonata (zaleplon), a newer sleeping pill, which is unique in that it’s safe to take in the middle of the night; Silenor (doxepine), which is designed for people who have trouble staying asleep. In addition, some antidepressants, such as trazodone, are prescribed to treat insomnia.
Unlike prescription sleeping pills, which are generally safe, many prescription painkillers have a high risk of addiction and other dangerous side effects. Pain medications are also much more likely to be abused than sleeping pills, since they act on the pleasure centers of the brain and often create a feeling of euphoria and a “high” when abused.
Commonly prescribed painkillers fall into several different categories. Oxycodone is an opioid that causes the same effects to the brain as heroin, a related street drug. Brand names for prescription oxycodone include Percodan, Endodan, Roxiprin, Percocet, Endocet, Roxicet and OxyContin. This is the most commonly abused painkiller, and tablets are often crushed and snorted or injected.
Hydrocodone based drugs are less common, but reports of abuse of these drugs is rising in recent years. Commonly prescribed brands of hydrocodone include Vicodin. A third category of prescription drugs includes Meperidine (brand name Demerol), hydromorphone (Dilaudid) and propoxyphene (Darvon). These surgical-level pain medications are considered particularly dangerous when abused. Darvon is among the top ten abused drugs that lead to overdose in the United States and is banned in the UK, while Dilaudid is eight times more potent than morphine.
When you take painkillers, the drugs act directly on the pleasure centers of the brain, causing overproduction of the chemicals that lead to feelings of happiness and joy. However, once use is discontinued, the brain has trouble making these chemicals, leading to depression, anxiety, and other severe mental health effects. Those who abuse painkillers are also subject to serious physical withdrawal symptoms. These can include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, and involuntary leg movements. Medical and ongoing mental health treatments are both necessary for effective weaning from the drug.
If you or a loved one has been abusing painkillers, talk with your doctor. He oro she can refer you to resources that can help you overcome your addiction.