Substance Abuse as a Remedy for Chronic Jet Lag

Substance Abuse as a Remedy for Chronic Jet LagDesynchronosis, the medical term for jet lag, is a temporary physiological condition epitomized by fatigue, insomnia, headaches, irritability, anxiety, dehydration and other potential symptoms. Jet lag is classified as a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, and it is triggered by trans-meridian (east to west, or vice versa) air travel over multiple time zones. Each person has an internal clock within the hypothalamus, and rapidly passing through multiple time zones forces the body to adjust. This might take a day or two for the average person, but those who regularly travel for work can suffer chronic jet lag as the body constantly plays catch up. Drinking alcohol the day before, during or after the flight can contribute to jet lag through dehydration and disrupted sleep. Moreover, travelers who use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate chronic jet lag often develop more serious health problems.

Self-Medicating Jet Lag

When it comes to self-medicating jet lag, there are several substances a frequent flyer might abuse, including the following:

  • Amphetamines like Ritalin and Adderall to stay focused, alert and awake
  • Cocaine to overcome fatigue and boost energy, confidence and euphoria
  • Painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin to reduce physical discomforts
  • Benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium to induce sleep and curb anxiety
  • Alcohol to depress the central nervous system and promote sedation

People who travel for work might also engage in alcohol or drug consumption as a social function of the job. Coworkers might go out together at night, or the traveler might need to wine and dine a client. Others still might drink or use drugs simply out of boredom.

Drugs and Travel Effects

The Advances in Alcohol and Substance Abuse journal published a travel study in 1989 with several key findings, including the following:

  • Sedatives, opioids and alcohol can interfere with physiologic adjustments to changing altitudes, climates and time zones
  • Addictive substances can precipitate other travel-related issues like motion sickness, diarrhea and heat-related illness
  • Substance abuse is a major risk factor for legal problems and serious accidents, especially when traveling
  • Jet lag can be a substance use trigger for people with current or past issues with addiction and dependence

The University of Maryland Medical Center says traveling east to a later time zone is often less disruptive than traveling west to earlier time zones, but jet lag can be a problem either way. There are several holistic ways to minimize the disorder, including the following:

  • Drinking water throughout the day for added hydration
  • Getting up and moving around the plane every hour or two
  • Exercising regularly in general helps travelers reduce the effects
  • Avoiding caffeinated drinks before, after or during the flight

A professional sleep specialist can also help frequent travelers with behavioral tools and possible medication. Battling jet lag with substances of abuse, however, can make the matter worse and result in a debilitating addiction.

Substance Abuse Care

If a substance abuse problem develops, rehabilitation provides the most effective treatment options, including the following:

  • Strategic detoxification in a medically supervised setting
  • Integrated treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Counseling to address substance use cues that trigger cravings
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CTB) for healthier thought patterns
  • Holistic options like meditation, yoga and relaxation exercises
  • Group counseling sessions to promote sharing and support

Specialty tracks and private facilities are also available for business executives, flight attendants, pilots and other professionals with specific needs.

Recovery Helpline

If you or a loved one needs help, speak with one of our admissions coordinators 24 hours a day on our toll-free helpline. We can answer questions, recommend treatment plans and even look up coverage on health insurance policies. Please call now.

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