The Relationship Between Insomnia and Addiction by Rehab Recovery Centers

Many people who struggle with substance abuse also have a co-occurring disorder. Insomnia is a sleep condition that causes people to have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Unfortunately, many people with insomnia abuse drugs or alcohol to help themselves fall asleep. After long-term abuse of these substances, people may become addicted. Let’s take a deeper look into the connection between insomnia and addiction.

Insomnia: Symptoms and Causes

People who struggle with insomnia may find it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep through the night, or fall back asleep after waking up too early. The condition causes people to feel extremely tired when they wake up and throughout the day. This constant fatigue can deplete a person’s mood, energy, mental health, physical health, work, and school performance, and overall quality of life.[1]

Insomnia: Symptoms and Causes

Symptoms of insomnia are:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at bedtime
  • Waking up throughout the night
  • Waking up too early in the morning
  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • Irritability, anxiety, and depression
  • Not feeling rested even after getting a full night’s sleep
  • Difficulty paying attention and concentrating
  • Difficulty recalling memories
  • Making accidents or errors due to being tired
  • Frequently worrying about sleeping patterns

The average adult needs approximately 7-8 hours of sleep each night. People with insomnia may suffer from it acutely (short-term) or chronically (long-term). Acute insomnia lasts for several days or weeks while chronic insomnia lasts for more than a month at a time.

Insomnia may exist by itself or it may be the result of another condition, such as chronic stress or anxiety. Common causes of insomnia are:

  • Stress or traumatic life events like divorce, death of a loved one, or job loss
  • Jet-lag from traveling or working an inconsistent work schedule can lead to insomnia
  • Poor sleep habits like eating before bed, watching TV, or having other screens turned on while trying to sleep
  • Eating a high-sugar meal before bed
  • Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression
  • Certain medications
  • Medical conditions
  • Drinking too much caffeine or alcohol
  • Using nicotine

Studies estimate that 8-10% of the population suffers from chronic insomnia. In addition, approximately 4% of the population uses sleeping pills on a regular basis.[2]

Co-Occurring Insomnia and Addiction

Even though drug and alcohol abuse are known to disrupt sleep, many people suffer from co-occurring addiction and insomnia. In fact, people who struggle with sleep disorders are between 5 and 10 times more likely to struggle with substance abuse than people without sleep conditions.[3] One primary reason for this is because some people with insomnia will use depressant substances, like alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines to help them sleep.

Similarly, sleeping pills like Lunesta and Ambien are often prescribed to people who struggle with acute insomnia. These medications have a high potential for abuse and addiction. If someone with insomnia takes Ambien or Lunesta for longer than two weeks or in a higher dose than prescribed to them, they may become addicted to sleeping pills.

Whether a person is abusing prescription sleeping pills or illicit substances, long-term use of any substance can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. When people who are addicted to depressant drugs quit taking their drug of choice, they will experience withdrawal symptoms that make it even more difficult to get sober.

In many cases, these withdrawal symptoms will produce symptoms of “rebound insomnia.” Rebound insomnia refers to a condition where a person’s insomnia symptoms return even stronger when they quit taking the substance they were using to self-medicate with.

The Dangers of Self-Medicating for Insomnia

Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in the United States. Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the central nervous system (CNS). As a depressant, many people with insomnia abuse alcohol to help them fall asleep. While alcohol may make it easier for some people to fall asleep, the effects are misleading. Alcohol doesn’t make it easier to sleep – it actually makes insomnia symptoms worse by disrupting REM sleep.[4]

REM sleep is a sleep cycle responsible for restorative sleep. Without REM sleep, people will not feel rested. As a result, drinking alcohol or abusing any substance to cope with insomnia is not effective. In the end, self-medicating insomnia can lead to severe drug or alcohol addiction.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Addiction and Insomnia

Treatment for insomnia and drug or alcohol addiction consists of detox, inpatient rehab, and outpatient treatment. People with co-occurring disorders can benefit most from dual diagnosis treatment programs that target both the person’s health condition and substance use disorder.

During treatment, patients will need to detox from the substances they are addicted to. Detox may consist of difficult withdrawal symptoms and worsening symptoms of insomnia. Fortunately, detoxing in a medical facility gives people access to clinical and medical care that can help mitigate their symptoms and make the withdrawal process earlier.

Using a combination of behavioral therapies, medication, and peer support, anyone can overcome sleep disorders and substance abuse. Addiction and insomnia can both be managed with therapy and lifestyle changes.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a co-occurring disorder, pick up the phone and contact one of our dedicated treatment providers today. We can help you get your sleep habits back on track without the use of drugs and alcohol.



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