Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Alcoholism: What are the Connections?

Man struggling with PTSD and Alcoholism

Article Contributed by Timberline Knolls Staff

For many individuals across the globe, consuming alcohol is a regular part of daily life: having a glass of wine with dinner, sharing beers with friends at happy hour after work, or having cocktails at a special event. However, for many adults and adolescents, alcohol is the means to self-medicate their struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that can severely compromise quality of life and lead to premature death.

Preexisting psychiatric disorders such as major depression, and nicotine dependence, increase vulnerability to PTSD. Simultaneously, having PTSD increases the risk of first-onset major depression; alcohol and drug dependence, and smoking.

Rates of PTSD and Alcoholism

Research has shown that individuals suffering from PTSD were between two to four times more vulnerable to addiction than their peers who do not also struggle with PTSD.

Furthermore, in a large survey of people from communities across the United States, it was found that 34.5 percent of men who had PTSD at some point in their lifetime also had a problem with drug abuse or dependence during their lifetime. Similar rates (26.9 percent) were found for women who had PTSD at some point in their lifetime.

However, significant differences were noticed between men and women experiencing alcohol dependence with a history if PTSD.  Kessler et al found where 27.9 percent women with a history of PTSD reported alcohol abuse at some point in life, almost twice as many men that is 51.9 percent, with a history of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder reported similar problems.

PTSD and Alcoholism Risk Factors

First responder at the scene of an incidentWhile various factors likely intertwine and influence the risk that a person may have a predilection for abusing alcohol, it is important to examine such conditions on an individual basis.

PTSD is a mental health condition that often goes hand in hand with alcoholism. 50 to 66 percent of those who suffer from PTSD also simultaneously struggle with alcoholism, as reported by an article in Times. The reverse also held true.

It is a potentially debilitating condition that can develop following the experience of a traumatic event, such as a serious accident, natural disaster, combat exposure, family violence, emotional abuse, physical or sexual abuse and/or assault, terrorist attack, and more.

Individuals who suffer from PTSD can experience flashbacks, struggle with hyperarousal, have difficulty sleeping or concentrating, experience increased feelings of distress, anxiety, despair, and depression, and avoid certain activities and relationships.

Many individuals with PTSD may turn to drug or alcohol use as a means of creating a temporary escape from the difficulties they experience as a result of this mental health disorder.

PTSD sufferers may attempt to “medicate” themselves with alcohol or turn to drinking as a means of coping with the overwhelming amount of stress and/or bad memories they may be reliving on a daily basis.

While alcohol may seem like an effective solution for managing symptoms related to PTSD, it can, in fact, worsen the condition and lead to many more adverse effects.

Biology and Genetics in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder & Addiction

Man sitting on a curb with a beer in his handYoung brains that are still developing toward their full potential, may be at a higher risk for developing PTSD as a result of trauma and for addiction later in life due to early exposure to drug abuse.

Environmental influences, biological elements, and genetics can also play a part in the formation of both disorders. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and drug abuse commonly co-occur with other mental health disorders. Research has shown that influences related to genetics in major depression, panic disorder, addiction, and generalized anxiety share up to 60 percent of the genetic variance seen in PTSD.

Parts of the brain that make a person more vulnerable to developing PTSD after a stressful or traumatic event may then be similar to those that may predispose a person to addiction. In addition, chronic stress heightens a person’s vulnerability to addiction and makes them more prone to relapse

PTSD & Seeking Appropriate Help for Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance Use disorders, such as alcoholism that occur alongside a mental health disorder, such as PTSD and eating disorders, are categorized as co-occurring disorders. If you or a loved one has been dealing with both alcoholism and PTSD, it is crucial to look for a substance abuse treatment program that adequately addresses both of these conditions.

Numerous symptoms of these disorders overlap and often stem from similar factors. Treating both of these conditions simultaneously has been shown by research to improve prognosis and increase the effectiveness of care.

Treatment programs that offer collaborative care and comprehensive treatment approaches can be an invaluable part of recovery for the individual suffering with both PTSD and alcohol use disorder.


[1] “Alcohol Facts and Statistics”, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Accessed 30 March 2016




Thank you to Timberline Knolls for providing this article.

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The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on July 16, 2019
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 12, 2021
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