It is common for individuals with narcolepsy to abuse alcohol or drugs, including prescription sleeping pills.

Individuals who take illicit drugs or have a few drinks at night may experience difficulties sleeping. While some of these substances may make the body feel calm and sleepy, neither is a good substitute for the relaxation and healing process that sleep provides.

Drug Abuse as a Hindrance to Narcolepsy Treatment

It is common for individuals with narcolepsy to abuse alcohol or drugs. It is also not uncommon for patients to abuse their prescription sleep medications, taking them much more often than recommended. Even when treatment incorporates therapy, medications can be slow acting, which causes patients to feel desperate for a good night’s sleep to avoid fatigue during the day. Many people take higher and higher doses as they develop a tolerance for the medication.

However, these medications may cause unpredictable behaviors, which may hinder an individual’s sleep disorder treatment.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Narcolepsy Symptoms

Many people notice that alcohol and other drugs have a relaxing effect that helps them fall asleep. Others find caffeine or other stimulants may help them stay awake for longer during the day when they are usually sleepy. However, alcohol and drugs interfere with the body’s natural process of relaxation.

Substance abuse may lead to either difficulty falling asleep or less deep sleep throughout the night. The substances may create a relaxing feeling, making the individual think they are receiving more rest. However, this is not the case as they are getting less rest and are more likely to use a substance again. Substance abuse hinders treatment and may cause worsened symptoms of sleep disorder.

Narcolepsy and Alcohol

Alcohol can disturb sleep. If an individual is seeking treatment for narcolepsy, they should try to avoid drinking alcohol, including wine or beer, a few hours before bedtime. Even though drinking makes them feel drowsy, it causes a higher likelihood of waking up during the night and can hinder quality sleep. If you don’t sleep well, you’re more likely to feel drowsy and have other narcolepsy symptoms the next day.

Narcolepsy and Marijuana

Now that marijuana is becoming more accepted in some states, it is even more important to understand the impact that it might have on an individual’s health. While it may seem that marijuana use might result in better sleep, this is often not the case.

Marijuana links to sleep problems. Studies from the CDC state that individuals who started using marijuana at an early age are more likely to develop sleep problems in adulthood. Narcoleptic patients should avoid marijuana use to avoid worsening symptoms.

Narcolepsy and Stimulants

Individuals who have narcolepsy may use stimulants to stay awake during the day, hoping for better rest at night. Stimulant use often has an adverse effect. Stimulant medications may affect sleep, causing insomnia and other disorders linked to a lack of sleep. Even when stimulant use links to treatment therapy, it has still shown to impact sleep disorders. Ironically, when there is an absence of stimulants, this too may lead to increased drowsiness, insomnia and other negative symptoms.

Statistics on Narcolepsy and Drug Abuse

There has been quite a bit of research that has investigated the association between sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and substance misuse. Some studies have found different connections between symptoms of narcolepsy and impulsiveness, which suggest an increased likelihood of engaging in risk-taking behavior, including substance misuse.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggested that individuals who are diagnosed with narcolepsy and had cataplexy were significantly more impulsive than those individuals whose narcolepsy did not include cataplexy. A study reported in the journal found that a significant number of individuals with sleep disorders reported having substance use disorders, particularly alcohol use. Over half of these individuals reported using drugs to induce sleep or to assist with sleep issues.

Drug Abuse as a Cause of Narcolepsy

Prescription medications, nonprescription medications and alcohol can create sleep problems. The severity of sleep problems caused by a drug will vary from one individual to the next.

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs that may cause sleeping difficulties to include:

  • Steroids, including prednisone
  • Diet pills
  • Drugs that treat high blood pressure, like beta blockers
  • Hormones, such as oral contraceptives
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder stimulant medications
  • Some antidepressants

Nicotine, which may reduce total sleep time, is also commonly used among the population of people who have sleep disorders. Smokers report more daytime sleepiness than nonsmokers, especially in younger age groups. Quitting smoking has shown to improve the quality of sleep.

Treatment for Narcolepsy with Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder

Individuals who meet the formal diagnostic criteria for both narcolepsy and a drug or alcohol use 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. Treatment for narcolepsy and the treatment for the substance use disorder would depend on the substance involved as well as specifics of the individual’s condition, such as the type of narcolepsy.

Individuals with these co-occurring diagnoses require combined treatment or dual diagnosis care. 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 substance use disorders can embrace a healthy life in recovery.

If you or a loved one needs treatment for a drug or alcohol use disorder, The Recovery Village can help. People who have a substance use disorder with co-occurring narcolepsy symptoms can receive help from one of the facilities located throughout the country. To learn more, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Krisi Herron, LCDC
Krisi Herron is an Adjunct Psychology Professor, a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and a freelance writer who contributes to several mental health blogs. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.