Sleep Apnea and Addiction

The connection between chemical or alcohol addictions and our health has been well known for many years. In modern science, we now understand how genetic and emotional issues play a role in substance use as well. Just as mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, ADHD or bipolar disorder can contribute to addiction, issues with getting a good night’s rest can also contribute to substance use issues. Sleep apnea impacts everyday life, and many people stumble into substance use issues while they try to find solutions that keep them going throughout the day.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person periodically stops breathing during sleep. These periods without breath may last anywhere from a few seconds to over a minute. People often are not aware that they have sleep apnea, so spouses or sleep partners are most likely to notice the problem first. Signs of sleep apnea may include daytime exhaustion, dry mouth when waking, snoring, or waking up frequently in the night.1

Sleep apnea disturbs solid sleep. This can lead to fatigue, irritability, and depression. Sleep apnea may also cause nighttime panic attacks in some people. Those emotional issues may make it more likely forpeople who suffer from sleep apnea to seek relief through drugs or alcohol, which may put them at greater risk of addiction.

Sleep Apnea and Alcohol or Other Drugs

Alcohol and medications can interact with sleep apnea and cause deadly consequences. Alcohol is a muscle relaxant and can make people who suffer with sleep apnea more susceptible to breathing obstructions. If alcohol use has become a problem for a person with sleep apnea, that person is putting his life at risk every time he drinks.

Opioid medications (also known as narcotic painkillers) are particularly dangerous when combined with sleep apnea. Opioids are unique because they can cause sleep apnea in people who do not have apnea, and they can make apnea worse for people who already have the condition. Because opioids are depressant drugs, they slow breathing, and can create deadly effects during sleep.2

When you feel like you can’t get a good night of solid sleep, it may be tempting to use sleep aid medications. Like alcohol and opioids, these medications may help you fall asleep at first, but they may prevent your body from correcting an episode of apnea. Most sleep aid medications are habit-forming, but even those rare sleep aids that are marketed as non-habit forming can be very dangerous for a person with untreated sleep apnea.

If you are already exhausted and feel that you can’t sleep well, it is a good idea to seek treatment from a licensed medical professional. Unfortunately, many people try to self-medicate these issues, without being aware of possible apnea. Combinations of alcohol or sleep-aids only make matters worse and may lead to addiction if they do not lead to suffocation.3

Addiction Treatment Help

The Oaks at La Paloma is committed to staying on top of new approaches to prevention and treatment of substance use disorders. If you or someone you love struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, please call our confidential helpline.


1 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Sleep Apnea. Nd. Accessed 28 February 2017.

2 Randerath, W., J.,George, S. Opioid-Induced Sleep Apnea: Is It a Real Problem? Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine (JCSM). 22 Feb. 2018.

3 Lyon, L. 7 Things That Make Sleep Apnea Worse. U.S. News and World Report. Aug 2009.

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