About 15 million adolescents do not get enough sleep, various sleep studies have found, and researchers believe that biology is at least partly to blame because of the evidence that teen brains are programmed to fall asleep later and also to wake later.
Despite this, most teenagers are forced to begin school at 8 in the morning, and some even earlier than that. Although teenagers are thought to need between nine and 10 hours of sleep each night, just like pre-teens, most teens get around seven.
Many teenagers also develop full-blown sleep disorders that result in even more delayed sleep phases or in irregular sleep patterns with frequent waking. With chronic tiredness an issue for so many middle school and high school students, teens and parents are forced to look for a solution. Some look to lifestyle changes or sleep therapy, while others turn to sleep medications.
The use of sleep medications comes with risks because these drugs have the potential for both physical and psychological dependence. Some people make the mistake of viewing sleeping pills as a long-term solution for sleep disorders, when in fact the ideal use of sleeping pills involves taking them for no more than a few weeks to help establish healthy sleeping patterns.
Depressants Are Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs
Sleeping pills can be abused as well as misused. The potential for prescription drug addiction increases significantly when sleeping medications are used improperly, such as when they are taken without a prescription or for recreational purposes. Along with stimulants and opioids, depressant drugs like sleeping pills are among the drugs that teenagers abuse most frequently.
Physical signs of depressant abuse include dizziness, poor judgment, unsteady walking, confusion, drowsiness and involuntary eyeball twitching. Teenagers who begin to abuse sleeping medications habitually may also display mood swings and hostility or have sudden major changes in their sleep habits.
The way that teenagers manage their prescriptions can also indicate misuse or abuse of sleeping pills. If a teen is running out of his prescription earlier than he should, it is a sign that he may be taking higher doses than prescribed by the doctor. Teens who repeatedly claim to lose their prescriptions may also be misusing or abusing their medications.
Although depressant medications are among the most popular drugs for teens to abuse, that does not mean that every teen or even most teens will misuse their prescription medications. However, sleep medications in particular have been found to carry the risk of psychological dependency. This is by no means the same as a chemical addiction, but it can make the process of quitting medications and learning to sleep without chemical aids much more challenging.
Sleep difficulties can create a great deal of anxiety and psychological distress. As a result, patients can become psychologically attached to drugs that help them sleep. If they use sleeping pills for too long, patients can become emotionally dependent on their assistance and experience greater anxiety than ever if they try to sleep without them.
This can be worsened by the fact that insomnia and other sleep difficulties can easily return once a patient stops taking medication. The return of a sleep disorder can make patients even more eager to resume taking the drugs and even more reluctant to try quitting again in the future. As a result, physicians prefer to use sleeping pills as a short-term aid in conjunction with behavioral treatments that allow patients to develop healthy sleep habits.