PTSD and Alcohol: How Does Alcohol Affect PTSD Symptoms?

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It is common to experience both Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and addiction together. It is unclear if one may trigger the other, but there is a likelihood of seeing trauma and addiction issues together during treatment. For example, people with PTSD often develop alcohol-use disorder to numb and avoid the feelings they are experiencing. People with alcohol-use disorder often experience traumatic events, as excessive alcohol use may trigger conflict, violence, and serious accidents. The importance is that a skilled provider can get a thorough assessment and understand the most effective therapies to treat PTSD and addiction together.

Let’s learn more about PTSD, how alcohol affects symptoms, and how you can seek treatment for mental health and addiction.

Have you experienced trauma and are struggling to cope without using alcohol? Please reach out to Guardian Recovery. At Guardian Recovery<, we have experts in both the field of addiction and mental health. We specialize in dual diagnosis, where psychological and physical health is a priority in treatment. When you call, you can speak with one of our Treatment Advisors to help answer any questions you may have. In addition to providing comprehensive and compassionate care, you will receive a highly individualized treatment plan designed to meet you where you are in your recovery journey. Please reach out to learn more.

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Do People Use Alcohol to Cope with PTSD?

When you think of PTSD or trauma, you may think of specific trauma-related events, such as war, abuse, violence, or natural disasters. However, it is believed that many people have experienced trauma and may not recognize it.

There is a belief in trauma therapy of Big T vs. Little t trauma. This means that people who experience typical trauma like war and abuse may have big T trauma. Little t trauma examples include comments from a critical parent, emotional neglect as a child, or feeling rejected by a peer. It is important to note that these traumas are just as traumatic as the “big” ones. However, the problem with Little t trauma is 1. We tend to blame ourselves for why it happened, and 2. We feel shame for still being bothered by these events years later.

So do people use alcohol to cope with PTSD? According to research, yes. People use alcohol to cope with well-known traumas, and it is also typically used to cope with unknown traumas. Up to three-quarters of people who have survived violent or abusive events report problems with alcohol use—one-third of people who say surviving an accident, illness, or disaster report using alcohol to cope. Finally, 60-80% of Vietnam vets seeking trauma treatment also report alcohol use problems. This research article suggests that childhood emotional neglect leads to higher levels of insomnia and later-onset alcoholism in adults.

PTSD & Alcoholism Statistics

In addition to a significant correlation between alcohol use and trauma, there was also a connection between gender, trauma, and alcohol use. Women who have trauma are 2.5 times more likely to exhibit alcohol dependence than women who never had PTSD. Additionally, men are 2x more likely to have alcoholism with PTSD than men who never have had trauma.

The National Center for PTSD reports that 75% of trauma survivors experience an alcohol use disorder.

PTSD & Alcohol Abuse in Veterans

The National Center for PTSD reports the common occurrence between PTSD and alcohol abuse in veterans.

Common Co-occurring SUD in Veterans:

  • More than 2 out of 10 veterans with PTSD have substance use disorder.
  • 1 out of 3 veterans seeking treatment for substance use report PTSD.
  • 1 in 10 returning vets from Afghanistan and Iraq has a problem with alcohol or drugs.
  • War vets with PTSD and alcohol use disorder tend to binge drink.

PTSD & Gender-Related Differences with Alcohol

As noted, women were found to experience a high likelihood of alcohol use disorder when they also experienced trauma. Men drink more heavily and frequently than women. However, women may not need to consume as much alcohol as men. It may be more socially acceptable for women to drink alcohol during social gatherings and more acceptable for men to drink alcohol altogether.

Men are also found to experience more traumatic events than women. Men are more likely to experience traumas such as fire, accidents, physical assault, combat, threats with a weapon, and being held captive. Women report sexual molestation, sexual assault, and child abuse more often.

Although men report higher exposure to traumatic events, women tend to have more significant PTSD diagnoses. Women are diagnosed 2x at greater levels than men, and their symptoms appear to be more persistent and chronic. Some explanations for these gender-related differences include a lack of social support for women. Additionally, it is suggested that since women tend to experience sexual assault and molestation, that particular type of trauma may be more devastating and difficult to heal.

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Dual Diagnosis: Treating PTSD & Alcohol Abuse

We have found that alcohol and mental health issues, particularly PTSD, are closely linked. It has been found that 9.5 million Americans experienced a dual diagnosis of mental health and substance use disorders.

Also, it is imperative to understand that alcohol can worsen PTSD symptoms which is why a comprehensive treatment in dual diagnosis is essential for recovery.

Dual Diagnosis Guardian Recovery Services Provide:

  • Psychiatric assessments upon admission.
  • One-on-one sessions with an on-staff psychiatrist.
  • Medication management services.
  • Informational workshops exploring the connection between alcohol use and mental health.
  • A focus on the development of crucial life skills and healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Relapse prevention training that applies to both mental health concerns and alcohol use and dependence.

Additionally, focusing on mental health interventions that treat addiction is essential. Experts recommend evidence-based therapies such as EMDR and Trauma Focused CBT to help treat the traumas a person has experienced and the alcohol use that was formed to numb or maladaptively cope with the trauma.

Benefits of EMDR Therapy:

  • Providing clients with a safe and non-invasive method of trauma recovery. 
  • Helping alleviate the more disruptive symptoms associated with unresolved trauma. 
  • Effectively healing the physical and psychological symptoms associated with SUD and PTSD.
  • Easing the stress that goes hand-in-hand with painful memories. 
  • Helping clients identify and work through potential triggers. 
  • Enhancing self-esteem and assisting clients in developing a vital sense of self-efficacy. 

How to Help a Loved One Struggling with PTSD & Alcohol Addiction

Do you love someone who is struggling with PTSD and an alcohol-use disorder? You may have tried talking to them, or maybe you don’t know what to say or do, or perhaps it leads to conflict because you feel like you’re not being heard or understood. How do we get someone to understand the importance of seeking treatment when they don’t think their drinking is a problem? Here are some helpful tips for a person struggling with PTSD and alcohol addiction. 

How to Help Loved One with PTSD & Alcohol Addiction: 

  • Educate yourself on PTSD and addiction.
  • Use Motivational Interviewing.
  • Be patient.
  • Remain compassionate and empathetic.
  • Remember to care for yourself first.
  • Do not lecture, blame, or argue.
  • Seek help from experts. 

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At Guardian Recovery, we believe that family is a crucial part of the recovery process. Addiction doesn’t just impact one person but the entire family. We have developed a comprehensive recovery program to address the whole family system, including family therapy and a Family Retreat Workshop.

In addition to a free telephone assessment to evaluate your family’s needs, we also can provide a no-obligation insurance benefit check at your convenience.

You don’t have to navigate this journey alone. Contact us today to begin hope and healing.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1)https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/related/problem_alcohol_use.asp

(2)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352853221000651

(3)https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/related/substance_abuse_vet.asp

(4)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4094352/

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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