As with any substance use, alcohol may increase the undesirable symptoms of narcolepsy. Though it may be used to self-medicate for a better night’s sleep, alcohol can obstruct a good night’s rest.

Can Alcohol Consumption Cause Narcolepsy?

Alcohol is commonly thought of as a sedating or calming substance. While alcohol may induce a sleepy sensation in people who have consumed a few drinks, sleep quality tends to decrease after ingesting alcohol. Someone who drinks a glass or two of wine may feel drowsy after drinking. However, this is not likely, as alcohol consumption makes a person more likely to wake up during the night, worsening their overall quality of sleep.

This sleep disruption typically occurs during the second half of the sleep period once alcohol’s relaxing effect wears off. The disruption keeps the body from experiencing the critical REM state and may lead to daytime fatigue and sleepiness. A continued cycle of consumption and REM disturbances can lead to symptoms similar to those experienced with narcolepsy, like:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Disrupted REM sleep
  • Vivid dreams
  • Possible hallucinations caused by lack of sleep

Alcohol should be avoided before or close to bedtime. It prevents people from getting the deep sleep and REM sleep they need because alcohol keeps them in the lighter stages of sleep.

Hypocretin is an important chemical produced by the brain for regulating wakefulness and REM. Lack of the chemical in the brain can cause narcolepsy-like symptoms.

Alcohol-Induced Narcolepsy

Alcohol-induced narcolepsy is caused by alcohol consumption and characterized by overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep. If the urge becomes irresistible, patients fall asleep for periods lasting from a few minutes to several hours. These episodes of random sleep can occur at inappropriate times and places such as while driving, at bars, work and restaurants. In turn, people with sleep disorders are also at risk to develop substance use disorders in an attempt to induce sleep. Most often, the substances of abuse for individuals with sleep disorders are alcohol, narcotic medications and benzodiazepines.

Alcohol-induced narcolepsy should not be confused with passing out from excessive drinking, which usually consists of a person falling asleep, waking up, drinking more, actively engaging in activities and then falling asleep again. This cycle may repeat throughout the day and into the evening.

Co-Occurring Treatment of Narcolepsy With Alcohol Abuse

Patients who meet the formal diagnostic criteria for both narcolepsy and alcohol abuse disorder would need to treat both disorders simultaneously. Trying to address one disorder while ignoring the other would be counterproductive and result in negative effects.

Someone with these co-occurring diagnoses requires combined treatment. The purpose of the combined treatment is a long-term success, including aftercare planning. Ultimately, with a comprehensive treatment approach, people who suffer from narcolepsy and alcohol abuse can embrace a healthy life in recovery.

Key Points: Narcolepsy and Alcohol Use

  • Alcohol use is not proven to be a distinct cause of the sleep disorder narcolepsy.
  • However, the use of alcohol could create narcolepsy-like symptoms for the person drinking alcohol.
  • If a person with narcolepsy ingests alcohol, they may increase the challenging symptoms they are already dealing with.

If you are or a loved one is in need of help or assistance in treatment, The Recovery Village can help. Individuals who struggle with symptoms of narcolepsy and alcohol addiction can receive help from our experienced medical team. If you or a loved one suffers from co-occurring narcolepsy and addiction, call The Recovery Village to find the right treatment for you.

    

Wang, X. “Narcolepsy induced by chronic heavy alcohol consumption: a case report.” NCBI. October 2012, Accessed December 2018.

Dimitrova, A M.D. “Reward-Seeking Behavior in Human Narcolepsy.” NCBI. June 2011, Accessed December 2018.

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