What is Halcion? Is It Addictive?
Halcion (triazolam) belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, which is made up of sedative, hypnotic, and anxiolytic medications that act as central nervous system (CNS) depressants.1
Benzodiazepines are typically prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders or to initiate sleep. A short-acting, potent benzodiazepine, Halcion is indicated for the short-term treatment of severe insomnia.2 It is sometimes also prescribed for highly anxious dental patients prior to oral surgery.3
Effects of Halcion
Halcion’s intended effect is sedation and inducing sleep. Adverse side effects include:2
- Difficulty with coordination.
- A feeling of “pins and needles” on the skin.
- Abnormal thoughts and behavior ranging from outgoing to aggressive or a worsening of depression.
- Memory loss.
- Complex sleep behavior, such as driving a car, sleepwalking, or making and eating food.
- Increased anxiety.
Compared to a single-dose of other benzodiazepines, Halcion is highly potent with fast onset of action and a very short single-dose half-life (1.5-5.5 hours).2,4 This contributes to its use as an effective, temporary solution for many individuals with difficulty falling or staying asleep, as the drug is eliminated from the body fairly quickly and there is decreased likelihood for next-day drowsiness.2,4
Halcion Risks and Dangers
It’s important to note that Halcion is not indicated for long-term insomnia as tolerance and dependence develops quickly. In sleep laboratory studies, subjects who took Halcion nightly for two weeks experienced “rebound insomnia” on the first and/or second night after discontinuation. On these nights, the duration of sleep, percentage of time asleep and rapidity of falling asleep were frequently worse than it was prior to taking the medication.2
Adverse side effects are highly dose-dependent, which means there is a high risk of oversedation or experiencing complex—and potentially dangerous—sleep behaviors should a person overdose accidentally or if the initial prescribed dose is too high.5,6 This characteristic resulted in the drug being banned for use in the United Kingdom over safety concerns. Halcion is still legal in the United States, however, as the FDA determined the drug is safe when used a prescribed and when the drug is prescribed starting at the lowest possible dose.5,6
The risk of experiencing adverse side effects of Halcion, including oversedation to the point of life-threatening or fatal respiratory depression, is also higher when the drug is combined with another CNS depressants, like alcohol or other benzodiazepines.2 Concomitant use of Halcion (or any other benzodiazepine) and opioids can also result in profound sedation, respiratory depression, coma, and death.2
Halcion Abuse and Addiction
Benzodiazepines like Halcion, are a Schedule IV controlled substance in the U.S., acknowledging the drug’s potential for abuse.7 According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 5.4 million people aged 12 or older (2% of the population) misused prescription benzodiazepines in the past year.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder to benzodiazepines include two or more of the following occurring within 12 months:
- Repeatedly taking benzodiazepines for longer periods of time or in higher amounts than originally intended.
- Recurrent cravings to take benzodiazepines.
- A number of unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control use of benzodiazepines.
- Spending significant amounts of time using, trying to get, or recovering from use of benzodiazepines.
- Continuing to use benzodiazepines despite having problems with work, personal relationships, school, or other areas of life.
- Giving up important activities as a result of using benzodiazepines.
- Failing to maintain important obligations as a result of benzodiazepine use.
- Continuing to use benzodiazepines despite it causing emotional, personal, or occupational problems.
- Repeatedly using benzodiazepines in situations where it is dangerous to do so, such as mixing it with alcohol or opioids, using it while driving, etc.
- Needing more of a benzodiazepine to get the same effects that were once received with lower amounts (i.e., tolerance).
- Developing withdrawal symptoms when not using benzodiazepines (i.e., dependence).
Treating Benzodiazepine Use Disorders
The treatment for Halcion or benzodiazepine addiction is often multilayered, especially if the individual is abusing other benzodiazepines or other substances like opioids or alcohol.
The first step in the recovery process is typically medical detox, which helps a person to more safely and comfortably experience withdrawal as the body clears itself of drugs. Halcion or another benzodiazepine may be administered in controlled doses that decrease slowly over time (i.e., tapering off the drug), and/or other medication may be used to mitigate withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be potentially dangerous and even life-threatening, although experiencing seizures or other severe withdrawal symptoms is rare.9
Following the completion of medical detox, it is generally recommended that someone with a benzodiazepine or other substance use disorder receive cognitive-behavioral therapies, education, and individual and group counseling in order to prevent a relapse of drug misuse. Effective treatment will take into account the individual’s medical and mental health history and an individualized treatment plan will be developed to help a person develop the skills and coping techniques to avoid future substance abuse. Individual treatment plans also include post-treatment aftercare, such as attending and participating in mutual help groups like Narcotics Anonymous, which can help sustain and support the skills learned in treatment over a longer period.9
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). DrugFacts: Prescription CNS Depressants.
- Food and Drug Administration. (2016). Halcion Drug Label.
- Donaldson, M., Gizzarelli, G., & Chanpong, B. (2007). Oral sedation: A primer on anxiolysis for the adult patient. Anesthesia Progress, 54(3), 118–129.
- Kim, D., Lee, S., Pyeon, T., & Jeong, S. (2015). Use of triazolam and alprazolam as premedication for general anesthesia. Korean Journal of Anesthesiology, 68(4), 346–351.
- Ashton, H. (1995). Toxicity and adverse consequences of benzodiazepine use. Psychiatric Annals, 25(3), 158–165.
- Gladwell, M. (1992, June 2). Why the FDA Cleared Halcion. Washington Post.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2019). Benzodiazepines.
- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2020). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). TIP 45: Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.