How Detox Can Help you Cope with Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia

Published: 11/10/2014 | Author:

Understanding how alcohol affects the body and its capacity to interrupt life-essential rhythms and patterns in life, is essential to recognizing the importance of ease in the transitions to recovery and normalcy. A “normal” sleep period is defined as having two distinct cycles and consisting of 4-9 hours of changed consciousness or semi-unconsciousness in a twenty-four hour time period. Alcohol interferes with sleep when the neurotransmitters in our brains that control sleep are interrupted. It is important to note that sleep deprivation occurs in both those under the influence and those going through alcohol detox, the latter of which being labeled, “alcohol withdrawal insomnia.”

While small amounts of alcohol can cause early sleepiness and sedation, the natural process of elimination of alcohol from the body can drastically interrupt the second half of the sleep period with sudden arousal and “sleep fragmentation.” Smaller amounts of alcohol appear to suppress the REM cycle of sleep. Alcohol is associated with sleep apnea as well. Sleep apnea is a condition that is defined by the constriction and narrowing of the upper airways resulting in several instances of wakefulness often accompanied by gasping and an elevated heart rate.

Alcohol withdrawal can have any number of symptoms that are hard to manage alone. The symptoms vary from mild to severe and are individual to each patient and the patient’s level of addiction.

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Alcohol withdrawal has many symptoms that range in severity from:

Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia

Alcohol detox programs can provide medication to help alleviate insomnia.

  • Tremors/shakes
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • AW seizures
  • Alcoholic hallucinosis
  • Delirium Tremens (DT)

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), detoxification is a set of interventions aimed at managing acute intoxication and withdrawal. “Detoxification alone is not sufficient in the treatment and rehabilitation of substance use disorders.”

In the United States, Benzodiazepines (BZs) are a sedative used in conjunction with detox programs to aid in the relief of withdrawal symptoms and help ease the patient into sobriety. BZs are typically prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. Some cases are based on inpatient/outpatient status, while others focus more on the severity of the symptoms the patient experiences. However, Benzodiazepines are not without side effects and the individual and situation should be carefully evaluated and considered before a prescription should be introduced to their treatment plan.

BZs negative side effects:

  • Oversedation
  • Incoordination (ataxia)
  • Confusion
  • Can intensify and trigger negative symptoms associated with certain pre-existing conditions (if present)

Because of on-going research, physicians and clinicians need to be aware of the growing body of evidence that exists about the relationship between substances of abuse and sleep disorders. Evidential proof from these studies indicates that when diagnosed and treated effectively, treating sleep disorders in those with addictions can improve their chances of recovery. Recognizing these facts will surely help them incorporate these measures into their treatment plans/options and boost the success of their patients and their programs. Continual research coupled with pro-active treatment can help ensure an improved road to recovery and reduce the risk of relapse.

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