Insomnia can be caused by a medical condition, stress, depression or a host of other factors. Insomnia can also be caused by drug abuse. Treating the underlying cause for insomnia requires a physician certified in addiction medicine and mental health disorders.



Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. It can be caused by stress, medical problems, shift work, mood disorders, substance abuse or other underlying issues. No matter the contributing factors, insomnia diminishes one’s ability to get enough rest. This lack of adequate sleep can impact one’s physical and emotional state.

Risk factors for insomnia include:

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Emotional distress
  • Night work or frequent work schedule changes
  • Travel between time zones
  • Medical conditions
  • Sleep disorders
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Poor diet
  • Substance abuse or withdrawal from drugs/alcohol

Insomnia is the most common form of sleep disorder and can contribute to the development of other sleep issues if left untreated. The formal diagnosis of Primary Insomnia involves significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning without influence from external sources.

Insomnia can vary in its duration. It can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). Lack of quality sleep for three nights a week lasting a month or longer is considered chronic insomnia.

Symptoms of Insomnia:

  • Lying awake for long periods of time before falling asleep
  • Sleeping for short periods of time
  • Waking too early
  • Waking feeling tired
  • Feeling anxious, depressed, and/or irritable

(Adapted from National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)

Causes of Chronic Insomnia:

  • Mood disorders
  • Chronic stress
  • Pain
  • Medical conditions

(Adapted from

Combating insomnia may require lifestyle adjustments such as changing sleep habits, changing medications or stopping unnecessary drugs, reducing intake of caffeine, sugar, or tobacco and avoiding eating heavy meals late at night.

Many people are prescribed sedative/hypnotics to help decrease symptoms of insomnia. These medications are extremely addictive and are often abused along with alcohol in a desperate attempt to find relief from insomnia symptoms.

Substance Abuse and Insomnia

Research has revealed that substance abuse disrupts healthy sleep patterns. According to a 2004 Psychiatric Times article on insomnia and substance abuse, drinking alcohol disrupts the last phase of sleep. The more one drinks before bedtime, the more sleep is disrupted. Furthermore, when an alcohol abuser stops drinking, insomnia may be one of the withdrawal symptoms. According to the same article, sleep patterns may never return to normal after alcohol abuse. This lack of sleep may result in a return to drinking alcohol and a greater risk of depression.

There is a tendency for primary care physicians to prescribe a new class of benzodiazepines such as Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta (zopiclone) to treat insomnia, which has led to alcoholics switching from abusing one substance to another. For the last decade, researchers have been looking for medications that can address an addict’s sleep disorder without running the risk of a new addiction. There have been some promising studies using Neurontin and antidepressants such as Remeron and Serzone. The author also argues that Seroquel and Topamax present promising alternatives while reducing anxiety.


Cocaine, alcohol, marijuana, and opiates are all drugs that induce sleep fragmentation. “For instance, studies have shown that 28 percent of those who complain of insomnia reported using alcohol to help them sleep. Individuals who reported having two or more weeks of insomnia were more likely to have met diagnostic criteria for alcoholism at a one-year follow-up.”


Medication Treatment for Insomnia Associated with Substance Abuse

There are a variety of drugs used to treat insomnia. Not all of these drugs are used for treating insomnia in addicts because of their potential for addiction. For example, benzodiazepines are avoided while treating addicts in drug rehab centers. The use of benzodiazepines to treat alcoholics or drug addicts who suffer from insomnia is not considered optimal, as addicts can easily misuse the medication and form a new addiction. Such benzodiazepines include such drugs as Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata.

Drugs that do not have as high a potential for addiction are:

Looking For Treatment?

You suffer from insomnia and have been drinking and using drugs. As a result, you have made the problem worse. Drugs and alcohol can cause insomnia as well as other mental health disorders. Call Recovery Connection at 866.812.8231 and let our specially trained coordinators help you get appropriate treatment for your needs.

24/7 all conversations are confidential

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