Sleep Apnea and Addiction

Addiction is a complicated disorder, but over the last few decades, it has become clear that there are a number of factors at play, from genetics and environment to trauma, depression and chronic pain. In recent years, researchers have added sleep apnea to the list.

One study suggested that the rate of apnea and other sleep disorders is five to 10 times higher in people with alcoholism or other substance use disorders. Sleep disorders are so serious that they can increase the risk of relapse following drug and alcohol treatment or rehab.

What is Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common sleeping disorder that occurs when the throat muscles relax during sleep. When the airway narrows or closes, people may stop breathing for periods lasting a few seconds or minutes, sometimes as often as 30 times or more every hour throughout the night.

Other symptoms of sleep apnea include shallow breathing or shortness of breath, snorting or gasping for air and loud snoring. Many people are unaware they have sleep apnea and they may be puzzled why they are constantly exhausted during the day. Individuals with sleep apnea may also experience poor concentration, depression, irritability, sore throats or early morning headaches.

Which Came First?

When it comes to sleep apnea and addiction, it’s difficult to tell which came first. The truth is, it could be either or both. For example, a person who experiences sleep problems may turn to alcohol to fall asleep, although alcohol actually decreases the quality of sleep, thus causing increased daytime sleepiness and fatigue.

On the other hand, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that contributes to sleep apnea by slowing down the rate of breathing. Alcohol also causes relaxation of the muscles in the throat, which may lead to period airway collapse during sleep. The combination of alcohol and sleep apnea may also significantly reduce the amount of oxygen circulating in the bloodstream.

Drugs such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates and opioids act in a similar fashion. In addition, they can increase the risk of accidental suffocation, which can be fatal. This is why most physicians are hesitant to prescribe sleep medications for people with apnea.

Treatment for Addiction and Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is diagnosed with a simple sleep study, often done in the comfort of home. The most common treatment for most people with sleep apnea is a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, which sends a constant flow of air to the throat, which ensures the airway remains open. Other treatments include weight loss, dental appliances, decongestants and surgery.

Unfortunately, many treatment centers have no understanding of sleep apnea and how it contributes to substance abuse and addiction. At Paracelsus, we consider biochemical restoration as a critical aspect of addiction treatment. Each client undergoes an extensive medical checkup and laboratory, followed by biochemical restoration that addresses a number of medical factors, including apnea and other sleep disorders.

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