Alcohol and Insomnia
Addiction to alcohol and insomnia commonly co-exist, as many who have trouble falling asleep mistakenly turn to alcohol in order to help them get rest.
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The Relationship Between Alcohol and Insomnia
What Is Insomnia?
Alcohol and insomnia have a complex relationship. Insomnia is a disorder that prevents someone from achieving a restful night’s sleep. This could mean that they aren’t reaching a deep level of sleep, are waking several times through the night, or can’t fall asleep to begin with. Any of these possibilities mean that when the person wakes, they aren’t feeling rested. On a day-to-day basis, this doesn’t seem like that pressing of an issue. In the long-term, however, it can be detrimental to one’s mood, energy level, physical and mental health, work performance, and quality of life.
Insomnia can be easily treated for most and, if it is caught early enough, completely avoided before any permanent damage has taken hold. Unfortunately, many attempt to use the sedative effects of alcohol to combat their insomnia through self-medication. However, alcohol can greatly complicate the issue.
Causes of Insomnia
Causes of Insomnia vary greatly from case to case, but most come down to some external stressor. Something as simple as a change in schedule that disrupts our circadian rhythms, commonly referred to as our “internal clocks,” can be the cause. Other causes can include:
- Poor sleep habits
- Eating too much too late in the evening
- Other mental health disorders
- Medication side effects
- Medical conditions
- Other sleep disorders
- Using caffeine, nicotine, and/or alcohol too late in the evening
How Alcohol Affects People with Insomnia
When people in America notice they’ve developed issues falling asleep, their first reaction is often to have a drink. 20% of adults in the United States will use some form of alcohol to help them fall asleep. Alcohol may help many fall asleep on occasion; however, the use of alcohol, even a single serving, will make it more difficult for someone to reach deep sleep, also known as REM sleep. Without deep sleep, our mind and body are unable to do what’s necessary to prepare for the next day.
The major issue is that people may not feel the negative effects at first. They can try it a few times and think their sleeping problems are cured. Eventually, however, they notice that they are tired when they wake up. The solution seems simple; they have another beer, another glass of wine, another shot. The more they take, the more they feel they need, and soon, they’ve built a dependency on alcohol in order to feel relaxed.
Alcohol and Insomnia Statistics
- 20% of adults in the US use alcohol to help them fall asleep.
- In 2011, it was estimated that 252.7 days are lost across the US Workforce due to the symptoms of Insomnia, every year.
- It is estimated that 30% to 35% of adults in the US deal with some kind of Insomnia symptoms.
Insomnia as a Co-Occurring Disorder
While Insomnia can lead to a dependency on alcohol, the opposite, like many mental disorders, is also true. In general, the use of alcohol can prevent someone from falling into deep sleep, which is crucial to maintaining normal brain function, physical health, and emotional well-being. The toll this takes could already cause strain to one’s life and relationships. This means that someone self-medicating spirals deeper into their dependency, turning it into a full-blown addiction faster.
Someone looking for treatment for their Insomnia, without taking their alcohol use into consideration, could make the problem worse. If they aren’t forthcoming about their dependency or possible addiction, then a doctor can’t prescribe proper treatment. This may mean they are given medication that should not be mixed with alcohol or are given poor treatment because they have given insufficient information.
Treatment for Alcohol and Insomnia
Treating a co-occurring disorder without treating someone’s alcohol dependency, and vice versa, can mean setting up a possible relapse before treatment has truly begun. Rarely is it the cravings of alcohol that drive those in recovery to relapse. It is, rather, the symptoms of withdrawal taking physical and mental toll on the person quitting that pushes them back. Insomnia is a very treatable disorder and taking the time to treat it can mean the difference between recovery and relapse.
If you or a loved one are suffering from Insomnia that you believe is tied to an alcohol use disorder, then your problem is likely more severe than you realize. Please reach out today. There is a dedicated treatment specialist waiting to help.
Author — Last Edited: December 10, 2018
Kessler, Ronald C. Ph.D.; et al. (2011). Insomnia and the Performance of US Workers: Results from the America Insomnia Survey. Retrieved April 4th 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3157657/
Mayo Clinic. (2016). Insomnia. Retrieved April 4th 2018 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2016). Why is Sleep Important? Retrieved April 4th 2018 from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/node/4605
Research Society on Alcoholism. (2016). Alcoholism Worsens Insomnia, but There is Hope. Retrieved April 4th 2018 from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161006092315.htm