Sleep Problems Lead to Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Sleeping disorders are very common among adults with alcohol and drug abuse problems. In the past, many addiction specialists have just assumed that the substance abuse is causing the sleep disorder–after all, drugs and alcohol are well-known sleep disruptors. However, scientific studies are finding that sleep disorders seem to occur before substance abuse, not as a consequence of it

Sleep disorders predict substance abuse

Observational studies of young adolescents have found a strong correlation between sleeping difficulties and subsequent drug/alcohol abuse. A more recent study confirmed these findings. Adolescents who slept less were more likely to go on to engage in risky behaviors such as heavy drinking and drug use as older adolescents and young adults. A study of even younger children–age two to five–also found a correlation between poor sleep habits and going on to develop alcohol and drug problems during adolescence. 

But does lack of sleep cause substance abuse? 

These predictive studies in children seem to strongly disprove the long-held idea that substance abuse is the cause of sleep disorders in addicts. Among recovering addicts, the occurrence of insomnia is a very strong predictor of relapse. These relapsing addicts usually report that they are trying to self-treat the lack of sleep with drugs or alcohol. 

It is very possible that in many cases the sleep disorder is the initiating event that starts the substance abuse. For example, some people may begin using alcohol or other substances to help them sleep, and over time this use changed into abuse. Other people report that their substance abuse problems seem to have begun when they started taking prescription benzodiazepines as a sleeping aid. 

Treat sleep to prevent problems

It is therefore possible that treating sleeping disorders, particularly in teens and children, may be able to prevent substance abuse in the future. It is possible that treating insomnia in recovering addicts may improve their chance of achieving long-term sobriety. Plus, preventing substance abuse is only one of the reasons to treat a sleep disorder. There are many good reasons to overcome poor sleep, including better mental health, more energy during the day, and decreased risk of conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

Parents shouldn’t just brush off sleeping disorders in children. While it is quite natural for adolescents to experience a shift in their sleep-cycle that makes them become “night owls”, parents should be on the lookout for signs of excessive sleepiness, extreme difficulty in arising in time for school, and other signs that a sleep disorder may be occurring. 

Parents can encourage good sleep habits in children, such as scheduled bed times and wakening, using the bed only for sleep, and discouraging the use of energy drinks and caffeine-laden soda. If this does not work, it is important to talk to a doctor or a sleep expert to ensure that your child is getting the best sleep possible. 

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Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski


  1. Dwayne Reply

    Thank you for taking the time to publish this information. very useful!

  2. Eugene Miller Reply

    These relapsing addicts usually report that they are trying to self-treat the lack of sleep with drugs or alcohol.

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  4. 1v1 Battle Reply

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