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Insomnia Sucks (And is Made Even Worse By Substance Abuse)

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Insomnia Sucks (And is Made Even Worse By Substance Abuse)

We all have those nights where the neighbors are too loud or anxiety over a morning work meeting keeps us awake. Sleepless nights aren’t an uncommon thing. But they do suck. No matter if you got a good eight hours or only one hour of sleep, you still have to wake up, put on a happy face, and go take on the world. Luckily, there’s always the next night to make up for it… unless you have insomnia. And to add yet another struggle on top of addiction, insomnia and substance abuse pretty much go hand-in-hand.


What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is defined as the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. While that may not sound too serious on the surface, insomnia can have significant negative effects on a person’s health. Someone who suffers from insomnia likely also experiences fatigue, mood swings, low energy, and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms can also decrease a person’s performance at work or school.

Acute Insomnia

Acute insomnia is brief and usually lasts one night to a couple of weeks. It’s typically the result of environmental factors (noisy neighbors, construction, etc.) or life circumstances, such as work stress or bad news. Most times, acute insomnia will eventually resolve without any outside treatment methods.

Chronic Insomnia

Insomnia is classified as chronic if it lasts at least three nights per week for three or more months. Things like unusual work shifts, other medical disorders, certain medications, and substance abuse can cause chronic insomnia.

Substances that Can Cause Insomnia:


Many people drink alcohol before bed to help them fall asleep. It’s known as a “night cap.” Alcohol may help induce sleep, but it also interferes with the body’s sleep homeostasis. Sleep homeostasis is what balances a person’s need for sleep based on how long they’ve been awake. So, if a person doesn’t get enough sleep, their body will produce adenosine, which naturally makes them sleepy. Alcohol disrupts this homeostatic process. Using alcohol to induce sleep actually pressures the body to fall asleep before it has enough time to naturally induce itself. This will shift a person’s whole sleep period and cause their sleep to become disrupted. They might wake up too early or have trouble staying asleep throughout the night. If the habit continues, the episodes of disrupted sleep will turn into chronic insomnia.

insomniaA person who constantly uses alcohol to induce sleep can also have trouble falling asleep without it. They’ll start to feel like the need alcohol just to sleep normally. This kind of dependence will quickly turn into addiction if left unmanaged. On the other hand, many people who struggle with insomnia use alcohol to self-medicate for their sleep difficulties. But self-medicating with alcohol will only have temporary effects and is very likely to turn into addiction.

Stimulants (Cocaine, Amphetamines, Ecstasy, etc.)

These stimulants are appealing to people because they produce feelings of high energy, wakefulness, and increased focus. However, those feelings will eventually affect the body’s natural sleep patterns. Cocaine, meth, and ecstasy all alter the brain’s natural levels and production of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Stimulants will trigger the production and release of these hormones and cause a person to become alert and awake, which may sound appealing in the moment but not when the sun is coming up and you have yet to fall asleep… for the fifty-seventh night in a row.

Some stimulants, like meth and cocaine, can cause anxiety and paranoia. Both side effects will wreak havoc on a person’s mental health, effectively contributing to the risk of developing insomnia, among other disorders.

Be Wary of Hidden Paths to Addiction

Insomnia opens the doors to addiction even when it’s not directly related. For example, chronic pain is a common cause of insomnia. Chronic pain and insomnia is actually a pretty vicious cycle. As pain worsens, insomnia worsens. And when insomnia worsens, pain worsens. Therefore, if a person is treated for their pain, their sleep difficulties are likely to get better as well. Prescription pain medications are often the first thing people (and doctors) turn to in order to treat severe or chronic pain. And while the medications may be effective in treating pain, they can eventually become a crutch for people who use them to treat symptoms rather than seeking treatment for the source. And, like the classic snowball effect, a crutch becomes a dependency, which becomes an addiction.


So, yes, a person’s insomnia may be temporarily managed as a side effect of prescription painkillers, but the addiction that grows out of that crutch dependency will be a much more lethal disease.

Natural Remedies for Insomnia:

  • 1. Watch your diet – Greasy, fattening, and unhealthy foods actually make you temporarily sleepy immediately after eating them. But this will disrupt your body’s sleep homeostasis later on. It’s actually a lot better for your sleep cycle if you eat healthy during the day so that your body can naturally induce its own sleep.

  • 2. Put your phone down – The blue and white light produced by our phones actually prevent our brains from producing melatonin (our body’s sleep/awake hormone) when we look at our phones at night. It’s best to put your phone down at least an hour before you go to bed. 

  • 3. Exercise in the morning – Exercise, no matter what time of day, is good for your overall health as well as your sleep habits. But exercising early in the day is actually best for healthy sleep. When you exercise, your body temperature rises and takes about six hours to fall back down to normal. That temperature rise can negatively affect a person’s ability to fall asleep. So it’s best to exercise long before you go to bed.

  • 4. Reduce stress – Sometimes stress is unavoidable. Unfortunately, it has a huge impact on our ability to get a good night’s rest. Managing your stress can help you sleep better. If you need tips on how to manage stress, check out our blog article about healthy ways to relieve stress.  

  • 5. Seek treatment – If your insomnia is related to substance abuse, you should seek treatment immediately. Finding remedies for insomnia will not cure an addiction. The addiction needs to be treated on its own. Leaving a substance abuse disorder untreated will also cause co-occurring disorders like insomnia to worsen.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, New Start can help. Addiction treatment won’t cure every other ailment, but it’s definitely the right start. Call our addiction staff at 855-737-7363 or reach out to us on our live chat so we can get you the help you need.

Posted in Addiction, Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, Health and Wellness