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

Man struggling with PTSD and Alcoholism

Contributed by Kimberly Dennis, MD, Chief Executive Officer/Medical Director Emeritus Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center – Lemont, Ill.

For many individuals across the globe, consuming alcohol is a regular part of daily life, such as having a glass of wine with dinner, sharing beers with friends at happy hour after work, or having cocktails at a special event. But what about for those who struggle with PTSD and Alcoholism?

However, for millions of adults and adolescents in the United States alone, alcohol use disorders are problematic issues that can severely compromise overall quality of life and lead to premature death.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes on an annual basis, with alcohol contributing to over two hundred diseases and injury-related health conditions [1].

Understanding Factors That Increase a Person’s Susceptibility to Alcoholism

lady leaning on chairAlcoholism and related alcohol use disorders are conditions that affect individuals on a global basis. Many different factors can increase a person’s susceptibility towards alcoholism or alcohol use disorder, including biological, environmental, and psychosocial factors.

While the exact cause of alcoholism cannot be pinpointed on one specific factor, there are many different risk factors that can increase the likelihood that a person may engage in behaviors associated with alcoholism. These include but are not limited to:

  • Genetics: Individuals who have had family members with alcohol or other substance use disorders may be at an increased susceptibility to develop alcoholism.
  • Biological Factors: Abnormal neurotransmitter levels in the brain may affect basic brain chemistry and how a person responds to alcohol
  • Gender: Males are three times more likely than females to develop an alcohol use disorder
  • Early Exposure and Use of Alcohol: Individuals who were exposed to alcohol at an early age or began drinking during adolescence may have an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder
  • Environmental Conditions: Living in an environment or area with easy access to alcohol or around others who frequently engage in heavy drinking behaviors can influence the risk of alcoholism.
  • Mental Health Disorders: The presence of other mental health problems, such as a mood disorder, eating disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder and more can increase vulnerability towards alcoholism
  • Experience of Trauma: Individuals who have been affected by a traumatic experience, such as physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse and/or neglect may be more likely to abuse alcohol.

PTSD as a Risk Factor For Alcoholism

While 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.

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.

person leaning on wallIndividuals 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.

Seeking Appropriate Help For Co-Occurring Disorders

Two men in living room talkingSubstance 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 treatment program that adequately addresses both of these conditions.

Because many symptoms of these disorders overlap and are often rooted 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.


References:

[1]: “Alcohol Facts and Statistics”, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics Accessed 30 March 2016


About the Author:

Dr. Kim Dennis

DrKim Dennis is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorder treatment, addiction recovery, trauma / PTSD and co-occurring disorders. As CEO/Medical Director Emeritus, she provides consultation to the clinical director and participates in the Timberline Knolls Clinical Development Institute and other outreach initiatives. Dr. Dennis maintains a holistic perspective in the practice of psychiatry.  She incorporates biological, psycho-social and spiritual approaches into individually-tailored treatment plans. Dr. Dennis is published in the areas of gender differences in the development of psychopathology, co-occurring eating disorders and self-injury, and the use of medication with family-based therapy for adolescents with anorexia nervosa. 


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 discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of 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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 23, 2016
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.

One thought on “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Alcoholism: What are the Connections?

  1. Anne Hedreen

    Timberline Knolls near Chicago is a great program for women with co-occurring disorders. I went for ptsd and drug addiction, and it saved my life. If I hadn’t treated both issues simultaneously then I wouldn’t have made it to today. There is hope!

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