Sleep Disturbances in Adolescents Who Abuse Drugs and Alcohol

drugs alcohol and sleep

Adolescent sleep disturbances and habits may be a related to drug and alcohol abuse, according to a new study led by scientists out of the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology.  Published in Drugs and Alcohol Dependence, researchers noted that both quality and duration of sleep during later childhood years might be an indicator of drug and alcohol use in adolescence.  The drug, specifically, is cannabis.

Lead author of the study and associate professor of psychology and psychiatry, Dr. Brant P. Hasler, PhD, noted in his press release that it could be quite challenging to treat and/or prevent drug and alcohol problems once they exist.  It is notable, however, that doing everything possible to ensure proper sleep quality and duration in late childhood will go a long way to reducing risk of substance abuse in later years.

In order to determine if there is a link between sleep and substance abuse, 186 boys from West Pennsylvania were analyzed in this study.  Their mothers filled out the Child Sleep Questionnaire, which was part of a larger study that looked at how boys from low-income households may be at higher risk of abuse.  Additionally, researchers wanted to determine if they were more vulnerable and resilient.

The survey was done when the children were 11 years old and calculated their sleep quality and duration.  At the age of 20 and 22 years, the same boys were asked about their lifetime use of alcohol and cannabis.

Results were adjusted for socioeconomic issues, neighborhood dangers, internalization and externalization of problems, race, and self-regulation.  At age 11, sleep quality and duration were linked to the early use of substances all through adolescence.

In the study, participants who slept the most and those who slept the least were compared.  Those who slept the least were more likely to report earlier use, repeated use, and frequent intoxication of both cannabis and alcohol.  For every one hour less they got at the age of 11, there was a 20% increase in the first use of cannabis and/or alcohol, Dr. Hasler noted.

Furthermore, the worse the quality of sleep, the more likely they would use alcohol at an earlier age, become intoxicated by the alcohol more frequently, and return to use after short periods.  Additionally, poor quality sleep was linked to earlier use of cannabis, intoxication from its use, and repeated abuse; however, there was no link to first use of cannabis when compared to sleep quality.

In considering other factors and influences, like peer pressure, researchers were able to determine that sleep disturbances and problems were linked to the use of substances at an earlier age.  Therefore, it is safe to assume that the prevention of substance abuse starts with regulating sleep patterns in later childhood years, preadolescence.  Sleep treatments could also help with the treatment of current substance use problems.

 Reference:  http://www.drugandalcoholdependence.com/article/S0376-8716(00)00222-2/abstract

Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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