Teen Insomnia and Addiction: Is There a Connection?
What is bad is parents lying awake at night worrying about whether their children will succumb to the temptation of drugs or alcohol. What is worse is their kids lying awake at night as a result of their abuse of drugs or alcohol.
Parents may not be aware that about one out of every nine American teenagers suffers from insomnia on at least an occasional basis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that percentage is almost as high as the proportion of U.S. teens who engage in substance abuse.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is defined as simply an inability to fall or remain asleep. If the sleep deprivation only lasts a few days, it is called transient insomnia, while short-term insomnia is characterized by up to three weeks of sleeplessness. Chronic insomnia means that someone is having trouble sleeping at least three nights a week for more than a month.
Primary insomnia describes a standalone condition of sleeplessness. If another health condition is impacting a person’s sleep, he or she is diagnosed with secondary insomnia. It is this latter category that describes teens who are staying awake due to the use of alcohol or drugs.
Many Teens are Insomniacs
To be sure, a little teenage insomnia is not a firm indicator of substance abuse. A more common source among adolescents is nighttime technology use; a study in 2015 revealed that 62 percent of teens use their smartphones after bedtime, and two-thirds of those admit that their sleep patterns are affected.
Other frequently-seen causes of adolescent insomnia include:
- Hormonal changes
- Family problems or stressors
Alcohol and Insomnia
Even so, the link between drug use and insomnia among teens is solidifying the more it is being studied. An article published earlier this year in the journal Addictive Behaviors showcased research on the topic by a team from Rutgers University, Camden.
The researchers surveyed underprivileged adolescents in the seventh and eighth grades and asked them questions about bedtimes, sleep disturbance pervasiveness, and how long it took them to fall asleep. The students were also polled on their use of alcohol during the previous four months. The results indicated a relationship between frequent alcohol use and difficulty falling asleep as well as daytime drowsiness.
Drugs Impact Sleep Patterns
Those findings are not all that surprising given previous studies which report a decrease in deep sleep (i.e., REM sleep) when alcohol is consumed, which in turn can produce insomnia symptoms. Stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine can also retard the body’s sleep processes. Moreover, abusing non-stimulant prescription medications (even sleep aids like Ambien) can lead to dependence or addiction and the side effects which accompany those conditions. Even teens who smoke marijuana can become dependent on the drug and see their sleep patterns disrupted by withdrawal symptoms.
How to Spot Insomnia
If you are a parent of a teen who is not forthcoming enough about his or her sleep quality, you should keep an eye out for some of the signs of insomnia, such as:
- Exhaustion or lethargy
- Frequently falling asleep during the day
- Waking up exceptionally early
- Not feeling refreshed after a full night’s sleep
- Dark circles under their eyes
The first response to these symptoms is to identify more common reasons for sleep problems, such as nighttime digital device use, late-night studying, school or life-related stress, or another health condition which may be impacting sleep. If you can eliminate these issues and/or you see other signs of substance abuse, you should entertain the possibility that drugs or alcohol may be depriving your teen of sleep.
Because of the importance of adequate sleep and its effect on humans’ physical and mental processes, insomnia is a condition that should not be ignored. If your teen is losing sleep because of substance abuse, you should seek help from a treatment facility or a medical provider immediately – or risk having even more worries that keep you awake at night.