Alcohol and PTSD
Addiction to alcohol and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) are very commonly present together as those who have experienced trauma often turn to alcohol to numb their pain.
The Relationship Between Alcohol and PTSD
Addiction to alcohol and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) are a tragically common pairing, especially among veterans. PTSD is a mental health condition occurring in people after they have experienced a major traumatic event. PTSD impacts 3.6 percent of adult Americans, approximately 5.2 million people. This number is predicted to increase to 7.8 million people in the near future. PTSD can last for as little as a few months or continue for the rest of a sufferer’s life and can be acute, ongoing, or delayed.
After traumatic experiences, it is common for suffers of trauma to experience helplessness, suicidal thoughts, aggression, self-harm, depression and anxiety. Suffers of PTSD can endure hallucinations, nightmares and flashbacks. Once people experience traumatic circumstances, they can also develop guilt and shame which can manifest in alcohol and/or drug dependency. Alcohol dependency can worsen PTSD symptoms and create uncomfortable side effects.
Various incidents which can contribute to PTSD or PTSD-related symptoms are:
- Childhood trauma
- Emotional, physical, verbal, mental or sexual abuse
- Abusive relationships
- Natural disasters
- Childhood trauma
- Death of a loved one
- Job loss
- Military combat
- Health challenges
- Financial challenges
Victims of PTSD are more likely to develop alcoholism to self-medicate symptoms of trauma. Some studies suggest that up to 40 percent of women and men in the United States who have PTSD meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Factors contributing to addiction to alcohol and PTSD sufferers include the severity and type of PTSD the person experiences.
Alcohol and PTSD in Women
According to statistics, men are exposed to a higher number of traumatic events than women, such as combat threats and life-threatening accidents and also consume more alcohol than women. Women, however, are twice as likely to develop PTSD and are 2.4 times more likely to struggle with alcoholism as a result. Women are also more likely to experience a number of deeply impactful traumatic events such as rape and sexual abuse and often turn to alcohol to cope. Some studies suggest that alcohol consumption can increase the likelihood of the development of PTSD in women, due to the increased likelihood of exposure of traumatic events that occurs as a result of alcohol abuse.
Alcohol and PTSD in Veterans
Due to the nature of traumatic events veterans experience such as being threatened, high stress environments, death, severe injuries, violence, and sexual trauma, veterans are often deeply impacted after combat.
As a result, some experience flashbacks and intrusive memories from war and use alcohol as coping mechanisms. Sixty-eight percent of Vietnam veterans who sought help for PTSD suffered from alcoholism. 1 in 3 veterans currently getting treatment for substance abuse suffer from PTSD. From 2003 to 2009, there was a 56 percent increase of veterans getting treatment for alcoholism.
Studies report increases in veteran alcohol use after sexual abuse and/or sexual assault endured in combat. Female veterans experience unique traumas based on gender. 23 percent of female veterans have experienced sexual assault while in combat and may turn to drinking to self-medicate as a short-term solution.
Treatment for PTSD and Alcoholism
Trauma survivors don’t have to stay trapped in addiction to alcohol. Treatment facilities offer the safety needed to heal with caring, trustworthy staff members. Studies and surveys have shown tremendous healing and recovery from PTSD sufferers who attend rehab. Treatment methods used to help PTSD sufferers recovery from alcoholism include:
- Treatment for co-occurring disorders including PTSD
- Finding like-minded peer groups for connection
- Access to spiritual-based treatments like meditation
- Cognitive behavioral therapy to explore solutions to behavioral challenges
- Access to therapists to discuss underlying life challenges for alcoholism
- Treatment for other substances abused with alcohol
- Access to 12-Step groups
- Safe detox for expecting mothers struggling with alcohol addiction
Getting Help Now
Dual diagnosis conditions such as addiction to alcohol and PTSD should be treated together for the greatest chance of recovery from both. If you or a loved one needs help with alcoholism, contact a treatment professional today for guidance in selecting the right facility for you.
Clinical Reviewer — Last Reveiwed: April 24, 2019
Kachadourian, Lorig. K. Pilver, Corey. E. Potenza, Marc. N. (2015). Trauma, PTSD, and Binge and Hazardous Drinking Among Women and Men: Findings from a National Study. Retrieved on March 21, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3474251/
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (2017). PTSD and Problems with Alcohol Use. Retrieved on March 21, 2018 at https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/problems/ptsd-alcohol-use.asp
WebMD.com. (2018). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved on March 21, 2018 at https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder#1
Carter, Ashlee. C. PhD. Capone, Christy, PhD. Short, Erica Eaton, M.A. (2011). Co-Occurring Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Alcohol Use disorders in Veteran Populations. Retrieved on March 21, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3474251/
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