Objective: This study was an investigation of the frequencies of insomnia and its self-medication with alcohol in a group of alcoholic patients, as well as the relationship of these variables to alcoholic relapse.
Method: The subjects were 172 men and women receiving treatment for alcohol dependence. They completed a sleep questionnaire, measures of alcohol problem severity and depression severity, and polysomnography after at least 2 weeks of abstinence.
Results: On the basis of eight items from the Sleep Disorders Questionnaire, 61% of the subjects were classified as having symptomatic insomnia during the 6 months before treatment entry. Compared to patients without insomnia, patients with insomnia were more likely to report frequent alcohol use for sleep (55% versus 28%), had significantly worse polysomnographic measures of sleep continuity, and had more severe alcohol dependence and depression. Among 74 alcoholics who were followed a mean of 5 months after treatment, 60% with baseline insomnia versus 30% without baseline insomnia relapsed to any use of alcohol, a significant difference. Insomnia remained a robust predictor of relapse after application of logistic regression analysis to control for other variables. A history of self-medicating insomnia with alcohol did not significantly predict subsequent relapse.
Conclusions: The majority of alcoholic patients entering treatment reported insomnia symptoms. Given the potential link between insomnia and relapse, routine questions about sleep in clinical and research settings are warranted.