Wednesday, April 7, 2010

One More Sign of Alcoholism

This occurred to me this morning while I was drinking coffee, waking up slowly, enjoying not having to go in early to work today because it's Spring Break. Alcoholics, it's plain, don't respond to booze the same way normal drinkers ("normies") do. I've blogged about the telltale signs of alcoholism, but there's one thing I forgot to mention.

It's called "alcoholic insomnia."

Normies have one or two drinks; it relaxes them, and they might even view alcohol as a sleep aid. Not so for an actively using alcoholic. For booze to knock us out, we have to drink a lot. And I mean a LOT.

Otherwise, when we just tie one on, say it's a night of moderate drinking of about five or six or whatever "moderate" may be, given one's level of tolerance, we have trouble falling asleep. For some weird reason, alcohol doesn't seem to depress our systems and slow us down. Oh, no. It ramps us up.

I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the sugar. But the University of Maryland Medical Center goes so far as to say that roughly 10-15% of insomniacs in general actually have problems with substance abuse, usually alcohol (not speed).

Or, if we fall asleep drunk, after a few hours of unconsciousness, we wake up and can't get back to sleep. It seemed as if every last alcoholic I met in rehab could hold forth with authority on this subject. My contribution to the conversation was this: Whenever I woke while sobering up from an alcohol-induced sleep, I at least would use the time to pound back bottles of water so I wouldn't be so dehydrated in the morning. Mostly, though, I'd lie there and watch the clock with mounting desperation, knowing I'd have to get up for work in a few hours and that if I didn't get more sleep, I'd be dragging and feeling like death warmed over all day.

Those were the days when I wasn't really hungover, but I'd be so tired I'd make this excuse to my students before class: "Did you ever have one of those nights where it seems like you wake up every hour? A night of restless sleep? Go easy on me today."

(Horrifying thought as an aside: my sponsor isn't going to have me make amends to every last student I've ever taught, is she?!)

One thing's for sure: I haven't had a bad night's sleep since I stopped drinking. In early recovery, it's common for an alcoholic to not sleep well, but you can chalk that right up to the disrupted sleep patterns. The sleepless nights after drinking, followed by a day in which you nap if you're lucky, then having trouble getting to sleep because you took a nap, and so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, all wreak havoc on your inner clock. Eventually it resets itself and starts working normally, just as if you'd had jet lag. Bad jet lag.

So, the moral of the story is: Add occasional insomnia to the list of signs and symptoms of alcoholism.

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