It is common for individuals with sleep disorders to abuse of alcohol or drugs. It is also not uncommon for patients to abuse their prescription sleep medications, taking them much more often than recommended.

People who take illicit drugs or have a few drinks at night may experience difficulties with sleeping. While some of these substances may seem to make the body feel calm and sleepy, neither is a good substitute for the physical restoration that sleep provides.

Drug Abuse as a Hindrance to Sleep Disorders Treatment

It is common for individuals with sleep disorders to abuse of alcohol or drugs. It is also not uncommon for patients to abuse their prescription sleep medications, taking them much more often than recommended. Even if therapy is incorporated into treatment, medications can be slow acting, which causes patients to feel desperate for a good night’s sleep. Many take higher and higher doses as they develop a physical tolerance for the medication.

Regrettably, these medications may cause unpredictable behaviors in some, such as driving under the influence and other dangerous activities. Because the substance use may lead to erratic behavior and a lack of sleep, it may hinder an individual’s sleep disorder treatment.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Sleep Disorders Symptoms

Many people perceive that alcohol and other drugs have a relaxing effect that helps them fall asleep. Other people find caffeine or other stimulants may help them stay awake for longer during the day when they are normally sleepy.

It has been well established that alcohol and drugs interfere with the body’s natural process of relaxation. This leads to either difficulty falling asleep or less deep sleep throughout the night. The substances may seem to create a relaxing feeling, making the individual think they are getting more rest, however, they are getting less rest and are more likely to use a substance again to attempt to get to with sleep. This hinders treatment and can contribute to more severe symptoms of the sleep disorder.

Sleep Disorders and Alcohol

When having difficulties sleeping, some people drink to relax their mind. An alcoholic beverage at bedtime can seem like sleep aid, as their eyelids become heavier and they more easily fall into a sleep state. The effects of alcohol may induce sleep; however, the quality of sleep may be compromised. Furthermore, individuals who drink alcohol to help them fall asleep may not think they are able to fall asleep using another method.

According to a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, alcohol use shortens the amount of time it takes for people to fall asleep but it also reduces the amount of time people spend in REM or deep sleep. Individuals who spend enough time in REM sleep often wake up feeling rejuvenated. The same study suggested a lack of REM or deep sleep could cause anxiety when awakened and some individuals may feel depressed.

After the alcohol’s calming effect wears off, the number of times a person wakes up during the night increases due to alcohol keeping the individual in the lighter stages of sleep.

Sleep Disorders and Marijuana

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

Marijuana has been linked to sleep problems. Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that individuals who started using marijuana at a young age are more likely to develop sleep problems in adulthood.

Sleep Disorders and Stimulants

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

There is no proven approach to managing stimulant-dependent sleep disorders, however, prevention is possible, and some medications may help manage the symptoms.

Statistics on Sleep Disorders and Drug Abuse

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, up to 19 percent of all individuals with sleep disorders abuse alcohol. Additionally, marijuana use is also high among people who have sleep disorders. In 55 percent of individuals with REM behavior disorder, the cause is not known and in 45 percent, the cause is linked to alcohol or drug withdrawal, or use of antidepressants.

Drug Abuse as a Cause of Sleep Disorders

Prescription medications, non-prescription medications and alcohol can create sleep problems in the first place. 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 include:

  • Steroids, including prednisone
  • Inhaled respiratory medication
  • Diet pills
  • Seizure medications
  • High blood pressure medications, 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.

Treatment for Sleep Disorders with Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder

Many individuals seeking treatment for their sleep disorders and substance abuse. These individuals may find that self-medicating will only cause more difficulty with sleep unless they continue to use drugs or alcohol. Addictions can cause sleep troubles, but an ongoing sleep problem can also lead to a setback in substance use. Over time, the two conditions become linked. While this may complicate treatment, it doesn’t mean the individual is destined to have a sleep disorder for life.

Effective, dual-diagnosis treatment can help individuals begin recovery. Treating both the sleep disorder and the substance use disorder is the first step to healing. Proper treatment will allow the individual to achieve a sober life with restful sleep.

If you or a loved one need addiction treatment and help with a co-occurring issue like a sleep disorder, The Recovery Village can help. You can receive comprehensive care from one of the facilities located throughout the country. To learn more about dual-diagnosis treatment, 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.