Sleeping Drug Poisoning

In most cases, intoxication with sleeping pills is deliberately brought about by the patient. Early medical intervention can be life-saving.

Sleeping Drug Poisoning

What is sleeping pill poisoning?

Medicine speaks of sleeping pill poisoning when there is an excessive amount of drugs with a sleep-promoting or calming effect in the organism of a person affected. Corresponding drugs can have a toxic (poisoning) effect if overdosed. See biotionary for What does BWS stand for.

In most cases, overdosed medications, which can lead to sleeping pill poisoning, are consciously taken by those affected. Such persons often intend to kill themselves (suicide). Poisoning with sleeping pills that is only mild can be expressed, for example, by slackening of the muscles, unsteady gait and/or drowsiness.

Possible symptoms of severe sleeping pill poisoning include a drop in blood pressure and loss of consciousness. In addition, the body reacts less sensitively to pain stimuli. Shortness of breath is a life-threatening symptom of severe intoxication caused by sleeping pills.


The drugs that are the most common cause of sleeping pill poisoning include so-called barbiturates and benzodiazepines. Both groups of drugs are primarily sleep-promoting or calming due to their different mode of action.

Benzodiazepines are mostly used in medicine to combat insomnia or anxiety. In addition, barbiturates are even used as narcotics (anesthetics) if the dosage is appropriate. Because of their effectiveness, barbiturates usually lead to sedative intoxication at lower doses than is the case with benzodiazepines.

In addition, intoxication with sleeping pills usually occurs more quickly when sleeping pills are combined with alcohol. Because alcohol increases the effects of barbiturates or benzodiazepines on the nervous system of an affected person.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The symptoms of sleeping pill poisoning depend on the degree of poisoning. It is also important how quickly the person concerned gets help. An accidental overdose of sleeping pills is potentially just as dangerous as an intentional suicide attempt. But the patient can often be saved.

He may notice an unusual lightheadedness or vomit due to severe nausea. However, since those affected usually fall asleep after intoxication with sleeping pills, they may not notice the symptoms of an accidental overdose.

It is different with an intentionally taken overdose of sleeping pills. Severe drowsiness and fatigue is followed by unconsciousness. You may experience difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, and a sudden drop in blood pressure. The breath can turn into a shortness of breath caused by the poisoning.

The symptoms of poisoning, which are usually initiated by a combination of sedatives and sleeping pills or alcohol, can no longer be managed by the detoxification organs. The probability of fatal circulatory arrest or cardiovascular failure is high. Death occurs due to the self-induced symptoms if the patient is not found in time.

Sleeping drug poisoning leaves symptoms and discomfort with a suicidal dose of sleeping drugs even if the patient is rescued in time. Pumping out the stomach can lead to pneumonia. Interactions with other medications can lead to severe damage to the detoxification organs and long-term health problems.

Diagnosis & History

The suspected diagnosis of sleeping pill poisoning is often initially possible on the basis of the typical symptoms mentioned. If a patient is unconscious, the suspicion can be substantiated, for example, by appropriate packs of medication in the immediate vicinity of the person concerned.

However, since symptoms of severe intoxication with sleeping pills, such as unconsciousness and weak breathing, can also stem from a large number of other causes, the latter must be checked or ruled out in further steps.

If the medication that led to sleeping pill poisoning in an individual case is unknown, the corresponding medicinal active ingredients in the organism can be identified with the help of a blood test. The course of a sleeping pill poisoning depends on various factors.

The severity of the poisoning and the time that elapses before medical measures are taken play a role here. If the drop in blood pressure and weak breathing as a result of severe intoxication with sleeping pills persist untreated for a long period of time, circulatory failure and/or respiratory arrest can lead to the death of the person concerned.


Sleeping pill poisoning initially causes the affected person to become unconscious. Depending on the dose taken, serious cardiovascular problems and finally circulatory arrest can occur after a short time. If not treated promptly, it almost always leads to death. This is accompanied by a drop in blood pressure and breathing difficulties. Eventually, breathing stops and the patient falls into a coma.

Gastric lavage is not always without complications. If the saline solution gets into the lungs, this can lead to shortness of breath or pneumonia, among other things. The concomitantly administered sedatives can cause interactions with the swallowed preparations and thus trigger serious health problems. Artificial ventilation sometimes causes symptoms such as pneumonia, gastric bloating or an increase in intracranial pressure.

The heart, kidneys and liver as well as the vessels are also damaged by the mask or tube. It can also cause skin irritation and wounds that can become infected. Finally, in the case of sleeping pill poisoning, the antidotes administered can also cause complications. Typical are nausea and vomiting as well as interactions that cannot always be foreseen before the corresponding medication is used.

When should you go to the doctor?

If irregularities or a significant deterioration in the state of health occur after taking medication, a doctor should be consulted. Signs such as shortness of breath, fatigue or disorientation are worrying. In severe cases, the support of an ambulance service is required. If there is a loss of consciousness or a loss of perception, an emergency doctor must be called. First aid should be administered by bystanders to avoid complications. Heart palpitations, acute lack of oxygen and anxiety attacks indicate an impairment that needs to be examined and treated.

Severe tiredness, shortness of breath and a sudden drop in blood pressure are to be understood as warning signals from the organism. They should be discussed with a doctor as soon as possible. If the person concerned suffers from nausea, vomiting or unexpected diarrhea, it is advisable to clarify the symptoms. Sweating, irregularities in the cardiovascular system, headaches or stomach cramps should also be examined.

Since in severe cases the premature death of the person concerned can occur, a doctor should be consulted immediately at the first discrepancies or a feeling of illness after taking the drug. If the symptoms of intoxication are mild, drink a sufficient amount of water. At the same time, it is advisable to contact an emergency service by telephone so that a decision can be made on how to proceed in a conversation.

Treatment & Therapy

Medical measures that become necessary in the event of intoxication with sleeping pills are based, among other things, on the individual symptoms of the person concerned.

If the person concerned is unconscious, the stable lateral position (a body position used in first aid) initially serves to keep the airways free. In addition, blankets are often used to maintain a sufferer’s body temperature.

If the patient has severe barbiturate intoxication with sleeping pills, antidotes often need to be administered. Since there is also a risk of the contents of the stomach getting into the lungs in connection with unconsciousness, artificial respiration may also be necessary. As part of further medical measures in the case of severe sleeping pill poisoning, the circulatory system is usually stabilized with the help of medication.

In order to remove various toxins that have been ingested from a patient’s stomach, gastric lavage is often one of the components of therapy for severe sleeping pill poisoning. This measure can be supplemented by the use of diuretic drugs. In the case of very severe symptoms, sleeping pill poisoning can ultimately also make blood washing necessary.


The primary way to prevent intoxication with sleeping pills is to avoid overdosing on sleep-inducing drugs. Severe effects of sleeping pill poisoning can be counteracted by early medical measures. If a person expresses concrete thoughts of suicide, psychotherapeutic measures in particular can help to stabilize the person concerned. This can reduce the risk of intentional intoxication with sleeping pills.


In most cases, those affected by intoxication with sleeping pills only have a few direct follow-up measures available. For this reason, a doctor should be consulted as early as possible to prevent the recurrence of these symptoms. Self-healing cannot occur in this case. In the worst case, death can occur if no treatment is initiated.

As a rule, those affected are dependent on intensive therapy so that sleeping pill poisoning does not occur again, provided that this did not occur as a result of a suicide attempt. In many cases, the help and support of one’s own family is necessary to prevent depression and other mental disorders.

The further course cannot generally be predicted. In some cases, sleeping pill poisoning can damage some organs, making the damage beyond treatment. In some cases, the life expectancy of those affected may also be reduced. First and foremost, the cause of this poisoning should be identified so that it does not occur again.

You can do that yourself

If intoxication with sleeping pills is suspected, the emergency doctor must be called immediately or the patient taken to the nearest hospital. The patient should be kept awake until the emergency doctor arrives or the hospital is reached. If the poisoning was accompanied by vomiting or severe diarrhea, the patient should drink liquids, preferably water or fruit tea. In addition, it is important that the medication that has been taken is secured and taken to the hospital. If the sleeping pill was consumed together with alcohol, or if there is at least a suspicion of it, the doctor treating you must be informed.

If the poisoning was due to an accidental wrong dosage, the patient should be informed immediately after the incident by a doctor or pharmacist about the correct intake of the sleeping pill in order to prevent accidental poisoning again. Taking sleeping pills together with alcohol is life-threatening and must be avoided.

Poisoning with sleeping pills often represents a suicide attempt. Unless the treating doctor initiates appropriate measures, it is important that the person concerned, and if they are not able to do so, their relatives, seek the necessary psychological support To take care of. Psychotherapy is urgently required after a suicide attempt.