Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia

Insomnia is a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal. Treating insomnia and alcohol problems simultaneously can help people reach full recovery. Those who deal with insomnia during recovery should address their sleep problems to avoid relapse.
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Alcohol withdrawal occurs when a person with alcohol addiction suddenly stops drinking. Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms might include headaches and loss of appetite. Severe effects include delirium tremens symptoms, a life-threatening form of alcohol withdrawal that can cause agitation, fever and seizures.

People battling alcohol withdrawal often experience insomnia. Insomnia is characterized by difficulties falling asleep, prolonged wakefulness and poor sleep quality. One study showed that 58 percent of alcoholic men developed insomnia during the first six days of alcohol withdrawal.

Restful sleep is often reduced during alcohol withdrawal. People who attempt to quit drinking without medical supervision may experience numerous alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including sleep problems that lead to hallucinations. Insomnia can last many weeks into abstinence.

Research has shown that sleep disturbances are common during alcohol withdrawal and can linger after detoxification. If left untreated, insomnia can lead to alcohol relapse in the first several months of recovery. Properly treating alcohol-related insomnia is an important step toward achieving sobriety.

How to Overcome Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia

Treatment for alcohol withdrawal insomnia often involves a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes and choosing a medication for alcoholism. Nonpharmacological treatments are often used by medical professionals because many medications for insomnia can be addictive.

Drug Therapy

People dealing with alcohol withdrawal insomnia should avoid taking medications not prescribed by a physician. However, treatment specialists have found certain medications, such as acamprosate, useful in treating people battling insomnia during alcohol withdrawal.

One study found that tetrabamate and diazepam can help improve sleep among people undergoing alcohol detox. Tetrabamate is often used to treat anxiety and alcohol withdrawal problems, and diazepam treats anxiety, muscle spasms and seizures.

Additionally, anticonvulsant medications have shown effectiveness in treating people with alcohol withdrawal insomnia. A 2002 study showed that carbamazepine was superior to lorazepam in treating sleep disturbances during alcohol withdrawal.

Benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines are types of prescription drugs that may be prescribed for insomnia. In general, non-benzodiazepine sedative drugs should be used in place of benzodiazepines, which can be addictive.

Benzodiazepines can be used during acute alcohol withdrawal. But people suffering from alcoholism have an increased risk for abusing sedative-hypnotic drugs, and most addiction treatment experts do not recommend sedative-hypnotic drugs for clients with drinking problems.

Behavioral and Relaxation Therapies

Behavioral therapies can assist individuals in dealing with insomnia and alcoholism. Studies have shown that behavioral techniques, such as stimulus control and biofeedback, can help nearly all people with primary chronic insomnia.

A 2014 study suggested that cognitive behavioral therapy may help reduce sleep problems, depression and alcoholism. However, researchers said that the effectiveness of CBT among people experiencing alcohol addiction and sleep disturbances remains relatively inconclusive.

One study showed that muscle relaxation therapy can improve the sleep quality of people with drinking problems. During a two-week period, patients battling alcoholism and insomnia received progressive relaxation training, while other patients received no treatment. The treatment group reported better sleep quality than did the control group.

Sleep Hygiene

Learning good sleep habits can help clients understand the importance of quality sleep and encourage lifestyle changes that reduce the risk for sleep problems during recovery. Sleep hygiene has minimal positive effects on people with persistent sleep problems, but it can be helpful as a component of full treatment plan.

Good sleep habits include:

  • Going to bed at the same time each night
  • Taking a hot bath a couple hours before bedtime
  • Keeping the bedroom relatively cool and well ventilated
  • Spending at least 30 minutes in daylight each day

Good sleep hygiene also includes exercising before dinner, avoiding naps and engaging in a quiet, relaxing activity in preparation for bedtime. Getting quality sleep can assist people in maintaining sobriety during recovery.

Treating Alcoholism and Insomnia

Alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. If someone is experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia, treatment is needed.

Health care providers identify the cause of sleep disturbances by:

  • Determining which medications should be used during treatment
  • Asking the client about their sleep difficulties, including questions about length of sleep and daytime drowsiness
  • Ruling out other causes of sleep problems, such as stress or side effects of a medication
  • Asking the clients to track their sleeping patterns in a journal
  • Determining the frequency and duration of insomnia

Rehab centers strive to safely and effectively support individuals as they detox from alcohol. During this stage of rehab, trained medical professionals monitor vital functions, ensure breathing, prevent dehydration and comfort the client until withdrawal symptoms subside and alcohol completely leaves the body.

Additionally, treatment centers provide healthy, balanced meals as part of every recovery program. An alcohol detox diet plan ensures that clients avoid sugary snacks and caffeinated beverages, which exacerbate insomnia and other withdrawal symptoms.

Insomnia is a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal. Simultaneously treating insomnia and alcoholism is important for achieving full physical and mental health. People in recovery who deal with insomnia should seek immediate assistance, as sleep problems increase the chances of relapse.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Matt Gonzales
Content Writer,
Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for He graduated with a degree in journalism from East Carolina University and began his professional writing career in 2011. Matt covers the latest drug trends and shares inspirational stories of people who have overcome addiction. Certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in health literacy, Matt leverages his experience in addiction research to provide hope to those struggling with substance use disorders.
Medical Reviewer
Ashraf Ali
Psychiatrist, Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health

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