Alcohol and Insomnia: Dangerous Synergy

Excessive drinking and insomnia are concerns on their own, but when combined, they may aggravate psychosocial problems.


According to a University of Pennsylvania study, 75% of 123 participants reported having insomnia: 36 reported mild insomnia, and 56 reported moderate-to-severe insomnia. On average, participants said they drank 15.7 drinks per day over the previous 90 days. The only difference between the insomnia groups was on the number of heavy-drinking days; those with moderate-severe insomnia had a significantly higher number. Insomniacs also reported a higher need for addiction treatment, compared with the no-insomnia subjects.

Individuals with moderate-to-severe insomnia had significantly higher scores on the total Short Index of Problems scale, as well as higher subscale scores for physical problems, social problems, and impulse control problems. They had the highest scores for serious conflict with others over the previous month and lifetime conflicts with spouses and mothers. Employment problems increased significantly with severity of insomnia symptoms.

Interestingly, those with only mild insomnia had the most lifetime driving violations. The researchers suggest that when insomnia is at its worst, it intensifies daytime sleepiness, which may keep the sufferer off the road.

Insomnia has been independently associated with psychosocial problems, the researchers note. It’s possible, they say, that people plagued with insomnia and its related symptoms of irritability and anxiety are self-medicating with alcohol. They add that suicidal ideation is common among this group of patients and may be exacerbated by insomnia.

Chaudhary NS, Kampman KM, Kranzler HR, Grandner MA, Debbarma S, Chakravorty S. Addict Behav. 2015;50:165-172.
doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2015.06.021.

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