Insomnia and Alcohol Addiction

Insomnia and alcohol are closely linked, though their relationship is complex. Insomnia isn't a direct cause of alcoholism, and alcoholism doesn't directly cause insomnia, however, the two do have effects on each other. Drinking alcohol virtually always decreases your quality of sleep. Insomnia is one of the most common symptoms of withdrawal. Learn more about how the connection between alcohol and insomnia here.
Evidence Based
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There is a link between insomnia and alcohol addiction. Consumption of alcohol interferes with a person’s ability to get quality sleep. It’s also common for someone who is alcohol dependent to experience long-term sleep problems. Insomnia and other sleep disturbances are common symptoms of alcohol dependence.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia occurs when a person has sleep difficulties. It might include:

  • Falling asleep
  • Staying asleep
  • Returning to sleep after waking up
  • Awakening after not getting enough hours of sleep
  • Feeling sleepy, lethargic, or fatigued while awake
  • Nightmares

The Academy of Sleep Medicine describes insomnia conditions in the following ways:

  • Primary insomnia – occurs without a separate underlying physical or psychological disorder
  • Secondary insomnia – occurs because of another issue, such as a medical condition, psychological disorder, or due to the use of a drug or medication
  • Chronic insomnia – occurs for at least three nights a week for a month or more
  • Acute insomnia – occurs for any duration less than three times a week

Risk factors that increase a person’s potential for developing insomnia include:

  • Age – older people develop insomnia more than younger people
  • Gender – women are more prone to insomnia than men
  • Health – Some physical and psychological medical conditions trigger insomnia
  • Drug and alcohol use and abuse – insomnia can be a side effect of certain drugs and alcohol
Graphic of graphs and statistics.

Alcohol and Insomnia Statistics

People with alcohol use disorder experience insomnia at higher rates than those who do not abuse alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal can cause insomnia.

20 percent of adults in the US use alcohol to help them fall asleep.

In 2011, it was estimated that over 252 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.

Alcohol and insomnia have a “bidirectional” relationship. This means people with insomnia tend to have a higher risk of alcohol abuse and other substance disorders.

Insomnia doesn’t directly cause alcoholism, nor does alcoholism always cause insomnia. The relationship between the two disorders is complicated and closely linked. And in general, the use of alcohol – even healthy use – affects the quality of sleep. Even occasional alcohol intake can:

  • Increase the time needed to fall asleep
  • Disrupt total sleep time
  • Increase a person’s likelihood to snore or experience sleep apnea
  • Interfere with REM sleep

Additionally, individuals dealing with co-occurring medical conditions have an even higher risk of developing insomnia and/or alcohol use disorder.

For instance, according to reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

  • Roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse
  • 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness
  • Of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse either alcohol or drugs.
  • Estimates show that at least 30 percent of individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder also have co-occurring substance use
  • Approximately half of all people with chronic lower back pain experience insomnia, though it’s unproven whether the pain leads to insomnia or insomnia came before the back pain
  • As many as 28 percent of people with chronic pain use alcohol to alleviate their symptoms
Graphic of person in bed having difficulty sleeping or insomnia.

Alcohol Withdrawal and Insomnia

Someone with alcohol use disorder has a high risk of developing insomnia as part of the withdrawal and recovery process.

In one study, 58 percent of men in observational treatment for alcohol use disorder experienced insomnia during their first six days of withdrawal.

There are a few reasons why the link between insomnia and alcohol withdrawal is strong. For instance:

  • People with alcohol use disorder experience sleep problems before or early on in their dependency on alcohol.
  • People with alcohol use disorder tend to use alcohol to help them sleep. An alcoholic drink might even be part of their bedtime routine.
  • Alcohol use disorder might co-occur with other medical conditions such as anxiety or depression, both of which have insomnia as a symptom. When a person is using alcohol to cope with the effects of these disorders and he or she stops drinking, the symptoms of the co-occurring disorder tend to heighten.
Graphic of teacher and students

Treating Insomnia and Alcohol Addiction

Treatment for alcohol use disorder can be more challenging when the person also has insomnia. The problem worsens when there is an additional co-occurring psychological or physical health condition. In part, this is because a lack of sleep affects the quality of life and a person’s ability to perform optimally even under the best conditions. The inability to get enough rest during detox and recovery tends to exacerbate the already challenging circumstances.

The best option is to take an integrated and comprehensive approach to help a person cope with alcohol use disorder, insomnia, and any co-occurring condition. This means the person receives support and guidance from a multi-disciplinary team of treatment providers.

Treatment begins with an assessment to evaluate a person’s physical and psychological health and identify all problem areas. Next, he or she undergoes medical detox that allows the patient to manage withdrawal symptoms as effectively as possible.

Medical care related to insomnia and any co-occurring conditions will continue throughout the treatment process. In addition to medications, this might also include different types of therapy that address a person’s use of alcohol, co-occurring issues such as depression or anxiety, and insomnia. The use of coping skills aid in falling asleep too, such as meditation and breathing techniques. In some cases, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps to support a healthy sleep schedule.

Graphic of two people with one on a couch showing talk therapy or psychotherapy.

Improving Sleep during Alcohol Withdrawal

Some things that help to manage insomnia and alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Altering an existing bedtime routine so it does not include alcohol consumption
  • Maintaining a consistent sleeping and waking time
  • Unwinding with relaxing activities (that don’t involve drinking alcohol) before bedtime
  • Avoiding stressful situations, especially within a few hours of bedtime
  • Utilizing safe, natural sleep aids such as magnesium or melatonin (under a doctor’s supervision)
  • Utilizing over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids (under a doctor’s supervision)
  • Exercising daily or several times a week at least four to six hours before bedtime
  • Creating a cool, comfortable sleeping environment
  • Avoiding naps
  • Refraining from using computers, cell phones, and e-readers

Creating and adhering to a consistent bedtime routine is one of the best things a person can do to help with sleep.

Alcohol dependency is rarely the only issue a person in withdrawal is dealing with. This is why a comprehensive approach to treatment is often the key to a successful recovery.


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Resources

Ornelas, Christopher, and MD. “Chronic Back and Neck Pain’s Close Connection to Insomnia.” SpineUniverse, https://www.spineuniverse.com/wellness/sleep/chronic-back-neck-pain-s-close-connection-insomnia

“Insomnia.” Www.Instituteforchronicpain.Org, https://www.instituteforchronicpain.org/understanding-chronic-pain/complications/insomnia

“Using Alcohol to Relieve Your Pain: What Are the Risks?” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 25 Apr. 2019,https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/using-alcohol-to-relieve-your-pain

Arnedt, J. Todd, et al. “TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR SLEEP DISTURBANCES DURING ALCOHOL RECOVERY.” Journal of Addictive Diseases, vol. 26, no. 4, 2007, pp. 41–54, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2936493/

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Updated on: June 24, 2020
Author
Addiction Group Staff
About
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Medically Reviewed: March 24, 2020
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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