Sleep Problems Hamper Recovery From Alcoholism
> 12/11/2006 10:45:09 AM

Sleep disorders are but one of the many physical ailments resulting from dependence on and abuse of alcohol. By disrupting the brain's chemical functions, excessive amounts of alcohol can irreparably damage the body's ability to achieve quality sleep patterns. While one or more drinks before bed may help bring on the state of sleep, they will ultimately fragment the night's rest, particularly during its later stages. This process is of particular importance to recovering alcoholics, especially those going through the withdrawal period, according to a new study published in the December issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The study, performed in a collaborative effort between the University of Michigan's Sleep Disorder Center and its Addiction Treatment Services program, worked with a group of volunteers who'd recently quit drinking and signed up to try a new drug called gabapentin, an experimental medication designed to treat alcohol dependence. These subjects were monitored in the sleep center, then answered subsequent surveys about their sleep patterns and were asked to report on alcohol use in the weeks following the study. The researchers' most significant finding asserts that alcoholics frequently underestimate their own problems with sleep and that the further their beliefs are from the reality of their individual sleep patterns, the more likely they are to return to alcohol in the near future.

It's a long-established fact that alcohol use, particularly that of the habitual and abusive variety, adversely affects the quality of sleep, but this study's results are unusually specific. Most of the participants reported that their biggest problem was falling asleep and believed that they slept soundly throughout the night, but the opposite turned out to be true: the patients overestimated the amount of time it took them to get to sleep, and they did not sleep nearly as peacefully as they imagined. Most had problems with wakefulness during the night of which they did not seem to be fully aware. The brain is often awake when the body is not, resulting in periods of incomplete rest, but the alcoholics involved in the study were not aware of these lapses in sleep. Alcohol can serve to aggregate pre-existing disorders, and in the cases of longtime alcoholics, the brain's internal wiring can often been so significantly altered that related problems persist for years after the subject in question gives up alcohol. One need not be profoundly drunk to have trouble sleeping; very moderate amounts can have much the same effect Since most adults don't get enough sleep anyway, this is only one more reason to avoid excessive alcohol consumption. It's simply not necessary, and over time can cause problems that seriously curtail one's quality of life.

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