Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Breaking Down Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Table of Contents

Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder is a health problem where a person has trouble controlling their use of sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics —drugs that calm the brain and help people sleep or feel less anxious.

This disorder affects many people and causes problems with health, relationships, work, and school. If not treated, it can lead to more serious issues.

Understanding Sedatives, Hypnotics, and Anxiolytics

Understanding these different types of drugs that can slow down the brain is crucial. Let’s break them down one by one:

Definition and Classification of Sedatives, Hypnotics, and Anxiolytics

These substances, often prescribed by doctors, can help with different conditions. Here’s a simple breakdown:

  • Sedatives: These drugs are like the calm-down crew for your brain. They help to slow things down and help you relax.
  • Hypnotics: These are the sleep starters. They help you fall asleep when it’s tough to do so because of conditions like chronic insomnia.
  • Anxiolytics: These are like the worry warriors. They help people who feel anxious a lot of the time. An example of an anxiolytic drug is Xanax.

Sometimes, these drugs can be used in ways that are not safe, leading to problems like anxiolytic intoxication. It’s crucial to use them as directed by a doctor.

Commonly Prescribed Medications in Each Category

There are many drugs in these categories. Here are some common ones:

  • Sedatives: Common sedatives include drugs like barbiturates and some types of sleep medication. Prescription sleeping medications can be useful but can cause problems if not properly used.
  • Hypnotics: Zolpidem (also known as Ambien) and eszopiclone (known as Lunesta) are two widely prescribed hypnotics. These sedative hypnotic drugs can help with sleep but must be used under a doctor’s care.
  • Anxiolytics: You might have heard of drugs like Ativan or Valium. These anxiolytics help to ward off the feelings of anxiety.

But remember, using these drugs too much or in the wrong way can lead to problems like developing a substance use disorder. This can include withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop the drug. It’s always important to use these drugs the right way and to talk to a doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

Prevalence and Risk Factors

Understanding the prevalence and risk factors associated with Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder is essential for prevention, treatment, and support. Let’s delve into each of these aspects:

Global Prevalence of Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder

These substances are prevalent globally, and their misuse leads to a disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and recorded in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. According to studies, it is estimated that millions worldwide struggle with this condition.

  • Around 1% of the global population suffer from Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder at some point in their lives.
  • The United States records high prevalence rates, with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reporting that nearly 2% of adults experienced this disorder in the past year.

These statistics underline the global challenge of substance dependence and the urgent need for effective interventions.

Demographic Factors and Vulnerability

Certain demographic factors can influence vulnerability to this disorder. The risk often rises in young adulthood, peaking between the ages of 18 to 25. It’s also common to see an increased risk in individuals suffering from mental disorders such as anxiety or depression. In these populations, prescription drug abuse may start as an attempt to manage symptoms, leading to a problematic pattern of use over time.

Co-occurring Mental Health Disorders

Many people with Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder also experience other mental health disorders. Depression, anxiety, and other substance use disorders often co-occur with this disorder. For example, a person may develop symptoms of anxiolytic dependence after trying to self-medicate with anxiolytic drugs for their anxiety or depression. Or, they may start abusing benzodiazepines, leading to a benzodiazepine overdose and withdrawal symptoms.

Don’t hesitate to take the first step towards a brighter future by calling us now at (323) 307-7997.

Causes and Development of Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder

The reasons and factors that lead to Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder often mix and interact with each other in complex ways. This disorder is mainly marked by an ongoing desire or failed efforts to lessen or control the use of these types of drugs. Let’s look into this more deeply:

Genetic Predisposition and Family History

Family history and genetics play a significant role in the potential development of this disorder. This is usually manifested in two ways:

  • Genetic Factors: Research suggests that some individuals may have a genetic predisposition that increases their susceptibility to substance abuse and dependence. This could influence how a person’s central nervous system reacts to certain substances.
  • Family History: Exposure to family members struggling with substance use disorders can also increase the risk. This is a complex interplay between genetic factors and the environmental influence of growing up in a family with substance abuse.

Environmental Factors and Stressors

Various aspects of a person’s environment can heighten the risk of developing this disorder. These may include:

  • Stress: Chronic or high levels of stress at home, school, or work can increase the risk of turning to substances as a coping mechanism, which may lead to misuse.
  • Availability of Drugs: Greater availability or exposure to anxiolytic substances, sedative-hypnotic agents, or other drugs in one’s environment can increase the chance of misuse and, ultimately, dependence.
  • Social Influence: Pressure from peer groups or societal expectations can contribute to initial substance use, which may escalate into abuse or dependence over time.

Psychological Factors and Coping Mechanisms

Psychological factors are often entwined with substance use disorders. For many individuals, these disorders are a maladaptive method of coping with psychological stressors:

  • Co-existing Mental Health Conditions: Many individuals with this disorder also suffer from co-existing mental disorders such as anxiety or depression. These conditions may lead individuals to misuse prescription drugs in an attempt to self-medicate, which can lead to dependence over time.
  • Poor Coping Mechanisms: Individuals who have not developed healthy coping mechanisms may turn to substances as a way to manage stress or difficult emotions. Over time, this can evolve into a problematic pattern of substance use.

Signs and Symptoms of Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder is crucial in providing timely help and intervention. People affected may exhibit a range of physical, cognitive, and social symptoms. The following list details possible signs to look out for in these categories:

Behavioral and Physical Indicators

  • Increased Use: The person might take more of the drug than they intended and for longer than planned.
  • Difficulty in Control: They may struggle to cut down or control their drug use, even with several attempts.
  • Time Spent: Significant time could be spent on activities necessary to obtain the drug, use it, or recover from its effects.
  • Physical Signs: This might include respiratory depression, decreased blood pressure, slurred speech, or psychomotor agitation. In severe cases, grand mal seizures may occur.
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: When the person tries to stop using the drug, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, restlessness, anxiety, or seizures.
  • Use Despite Risks: Continued use of the drug despite knowing its harmful physical and psychological effects.

Cognitive and Emotional Changes

  • Strong Desire: People with this disorder might experience a strong desire or craving to use the drug.
  • Perceived Need: They might feel like they need the drug to deal with their problems and might feel anxious or worried without it.
  • Impaired Judgment: Decision-making abilities can be compromised, leading to potentially risky behaviors.

Social and Interpersonal Impact

  1. Neglected Activities: Important social, occupational, or recreational activities might be given up or reduced due to drug use.
  2. Strained Relationships: The disorder can lead to problems with friends and family, as the person might become withdrawn or neglect their relationships.
  3. Performance Issues: It could cause academic or work-related problems, like declining grades or decreased productivity at work.

Remember, these symptoms are signals that you or a loved one may need professional help. Reach out to NuView Treatment Center. Call us today at (323) 307-7997 or send us a message from our contact page to schedule your personalized consultation. We’re here to assist you on your path to recovery.

Diagnostic Criteria and Assessment

DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) includes Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder as a mental disorder. This disorder is characterized by a problematic pattern of drug use leading to significant impairment or distress, as demonstrated by at least two of the following symptoms occurring within 12 months:

  • Taking sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to reduce or control sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use.
  • Recurrent sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use failing to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Continued sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused by or exacerbated by the effects of its use.
  • Recurrent sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: (a) A need for markedly increased amounts of sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics to achieve intoxication or desired effect. (b) Markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics.
  • Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following: (a) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics. (b) Sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics (or a closely related substance) are taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Sedative-hypnotic and anxiolytic medications are often taken for symptomatic treatment of a neurologic or psychiatric disorder. However, some people use them in non-medical settings for self-medication for psychiatric symptoms but also to enhance euphoria or curb withdrawal from other drugs. The severity of Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder is rated as mild with the presence of 2-3 symptoms, moderate with 4-5 symptoms, and severe with 6 or more symptoms. Treatment for this disorder includes lifestyle changes and continued support from family and friends.

Clinical Assessment and Evaluation Process

To diagnose this disorder, a doctor will ask about a person’s drug use and other health problems. They might also do physical tests or lab tests.

Differential Diagnosis and Comorbidity Screening

It’s important to make sure the person’s symptoms aren’t caused by something else. The doctor might also check for other mental health problems.

Effects and Consequences of Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder

The impacts are not just confined to the person’s physical health but extend to their mental well-being, relationships, and productivity. This disorder can cause both short-term effects and long-term consequences.

Short-Term Effects on Physical and Mental Health

  • Physical Symptoms: Short-term use of these drugs can lead to drowsiness, confusion, problems with balance, and slurred speech. These are all direct results of the drugs’ action as central nervous system depressants.
  • Mental Health Impact: The person might experience mood swings, heightened anxiety when the drug wears off, or symptoms of depression.
  • Risk of Overdose: There’s a high risk of overdose, particularly with high doses or when the drugs are used in combination with other substances like alcohol, leading to potentially life-threatening situations like respiratory depression.

Long-Term Consequences and Complications

  • Cognitive Impact: Prolonged use of sedative-hypnotics or anxiolytic drugs can lead to memory problems and difficulty with thinking and concentration.
  • Physical Health Issues: Recurrent physical health problems can occur, such as prolonged withdrawal symptoms (including seizures), physiological signs of dependence, and potential for anxiolytic withdrawal after abrupt cessation of drug use.
  • Risk of Comorbid Conditions: There’s a heightened risk of developing other mental disorders and medical conditions, often linked to long-term substance abuse.

Call us at (323)307-7997 to book an appointment and get the help you need!

C. Impact on Personal Relationships and Work Productivity

  • The decline in Performance: Individuals might struggle with their responsibilities at work or school, leading to decreased productivity and potential job loss or academic failure.
  • Strained Relationships: The disorder can lead to issues in personal relationships, resulting in isolation, family problems, and potential loss of friendships.
  • Neglected Self-Care: Basic self-care activities and previously enjoyed recreational activities might be neglected, leading to a decline in overall quality of life.

Treatment Approaches for Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder

  • Detoxification and Withdrawal Management: The first step in treatment is often to stop using the drug. This can be hard and can cause withdrawal symptoms, so it’s important to have medical supervision.
  • Pharmacological Interventions: A doctor might prescribe medications to help with withdrawal symptoms or to help a person stay sober.
  • Psychotherapy and Behavioral Therapies: Therapy can help a person understand why they use drugs and learn new ways to deal with problems.
  • Holistic and Alternative Treatment Options: Some people find that things like yoga, meditation, or acupuncture can also help them stay sober.

Recovery and Relapse Prevention

Recovery often takes time and involves many steps. Having a plan that includes ways to stay sober and deal with setbacks is important.

Strategies for Maintaining Sobriety

Sobriety, particularly from sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic substances, is not just about abstaining from these drugs. It requires significant lifestyle modifications, attention to mental health, and the development of coping mechanisms for stress and triggers. Here are some detailed strategies:

  • Identify and Avoid Triggers: Recognizing circumstances or emotions that prompt the desire to use anxiolytic drugs or sedative hypnotics is crucial. Once these triggers are identified, one can either avoid these situations or develop healthier ways to manage them.
  • Adopt Healthy Habits: Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can significantly contribute to overall well-being and resilience, thus making cravings more manageable.
  • Cultivate New Stress Management Techniques: Learning new ways to manage stress, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga, can be helpful. Regular practice of these techniques can reduce anxiety levels and lessen the perceived need for anxiolytic substances.
  • Maintain a Support Network: Building and maintaining a network of supportive individuals who understand the journey to sobriety is critical. This could include therapists, support groups, family, and friends.

Relapse Warning Signs and Coping Mechanisms

Understanding the signs of potential relapse and having a prepared action plan is an integral part of recovery. Here’s what to consider:

  • Recognize the Warning Signs: Early signs may include increased stress, changes in attitude or behavior, denial of these changes, and withdrawal from social support networks. Recurring thoughts about using drugs, starting to hang out with old using friends, or seeking out high-risk situations can also indicate a relapse is imminent.
  • Develop a Coping Mechanism: If you notice these warning signs, it’s crucial to have a plan. This might include reaching out to a trusted person, attending a support group meeting, practicing stress management techniques, or scheduling an appointment with a therapist or counselor.
  • Stay Committed to Treatment: Even after achieving sobriety, it’s important to continue attending therapy or counseling sessions and support group meetings. Ongoing treatment can provide the tools and support necessary to cope with challenges and prevent relapse.
  • Avoid Unsuccessful Attempts to Moderate Use: Trying to control or moderate drug use often leads to a full-blown relapse. Continued abstinence remains the best strategy for those recovering from Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder.

Support Systems and Resources

  • Support Groups and Peer Recovery Programs: Support groups can be very helpful. They can provide encouragement and understanding from people who have had similar experiences.
  • Individual and Family Counseling Services: Counseling can also be very helpful. Counseling can help a person understand their problems, find new ways to cope, and make positive changes in their life.
  • Online Resources and Helplines: Some many online resources and helplines can provide information and support for people with Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder.

Take Control of Your Recovery Journey with NuView Treatment Center

Achieving and maintaining sobriety from sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorders can feel overwhelming. But remember, you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. NuView Treatment Center is here to offer personalized, compassionate care at every stage of your recovery process.

At NuView, we understand that every individual’s path to recovery is unique. Our dedicated team of professionals is committed to creating a tailored treatment plan that addresses your specific needs. We utilize the most up-to-date, evidence-based therapeutic strategies and prioritize creating a supportive and nurturing environment.

Whether you’re working towards identifying triggers, developing healthier habits, learning stress management techniques, or need support to avoid relapse, we’re here to help.

Don’t wait to start your journey toward a healthier, substance-free life. Reach out to NuView Treatment Center today and take the first step in reclaiming your life from Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder.

We believe in your ability to recover. Do you? Let’s embark on this journey together. Contact us today. Call us at (323) 307-7997 or send us a message from our contact page to schedule your friendly and personalized consultation.


Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder is a serious problem that can have big effects on a person’s life. But there is help available, and recovery is possible.

If you or someone you know might have this disorder, it’s important to seek help. There are many resources available to provide support and treatment.

While it can be a challenging journey, many people have successfully overcome this disorder and have gone on to live fulfilling lives. With the right help and support, recovery is achievable.

Simone CG, Bobrin BD. Anxiolytics and Sedative-Hypnotics Toxicity. [Updated 2023 Jan 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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