Dear Prudence

Help! I Secretly Use Allergy Pills to Fall Asleep. What if My Partner Finds Out?

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

A hand holds a pill. In the background, "ZZZ" is seen graphically.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Phoenixns/iStock/Getty Image Plus.

Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.

Q. Secretly supported sleeper: Six years ago, I went through a period of deep depression and anxiety, and could not sleep. I resorted to a sleep aid that I grew dependent on. I had to increase my dose until I was taking four times the recommended amount and, consequently, falling asleep in the middle of the day. Luckily, I managed to wean myself off this, but now I take a common over-the-counter allergy medicine every night to help me sleep. My dose is pretty standard and has remained constant for the past three years. I’ve tried to wean myself off this too, but life gets in the way and I just miss being able to sleep. I’m about to move in with my partner and I’m terrified he will find out about this habit. It’s pretty obvious (I take pills) and he’s a nurse, so I’m worried he will give me a hard time. I also don’t want to seem like an addict. I’ve purposefully kept this a secret for our two-plus years of dating, and I’m worried he will be upset at my lack of candor up to this point. Is it worth trying to hurriedly wean myself off this regime in the week before we live together? I’m worried I will be a zombie without it. What should I do?

A: The first person you should talk to about this is your doctor. You’re by no means alone in your off-label allergy medication use, but it’s important to share this with your doctor, not only so they can bear this in mind if they ever prescribe you something that’s contraindicated with the pills you’re taking every day, but also so you can discuss other possible treatments for depression, anxiety, and occasional insomnia. You don’t have to join NA or take a confessional, self-reproaching attitude to discussing this with your boyfriend, but your anxieties around insomnia and your deep shame over sleep aids may ease up if you’re able to seek professional advice, suggestions, and feedback first. The most critical thing is to make sure you seek a doctor’s opinion before doubling or quadrupling the recommended dose of even relatively “safe”-seeming OTC medications, because that can have serious health risks. And it will help if the professional whose *medical opinion* you’re seeking isn’t also your live-in boyfriend—you deserve confidentiality, impartiality, and emotional distance from your care provider. You also deserve help and support with your very real problems sleeping, not just an interrupted sense of shame that you can’t “hack it” and fall asleep calmly and on demand every night.

Once you’ve done that, you can start thinking about how you want to bring this up with your boyfriend. But you don’t have to do that first, or alone, or with the expectation that he has the right to give you “a hard time” about something that’s caused you a lot of distress.