The Relationship Between Sleep, Addiction & Relapse


Troubled sleep can lead to a more troubled road to recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol. In one study of 74 alcoholics, relapse occurred in 60 percent of those initially reporting insomnia but in only 30 percent of those without insomnia. Numerous other studies have shown similar ties between sleep disorders and the risk of relapse. While this link is clear, the relationship between the two can take form in surprising ways. For example, studies have shown that adolescents with insomnia are more likely to abuse substances later in life. One can also cause the other; sleep disorders can lead to the abuse of prescription drugs, while the abuse of various substances may also cause sleep disorders to occur. Such disorders are especially dangerous for those in recovery from addiction. The association between sleep disorders and high relapse rates applies to both alcohol and other kinds of psychoactive drugs. Along with having a direct connection to the risk of relapse, sleep disorders are also linked to anxiety and depression – two conditions that make recovery more difficult and are themselves linked to addiction.


Sleep is tied to reward centers in the brain – the same reward centers that are involved in addictive drug-seeking behaviors. One study finds that the section of the brain responsible for directing the sleep-wake cycle also affects addictive behaviors. The study concludes that activating this section of the brain causes increased stress and addictive impulses. While it is not fully understood how sleep disorders can increase the likelihood of relapse, these findings make the relationship clearer.


Many people