The Prevalence Of PTSD And Alcohol Use Among Domestic Abuse Victims

Alcohol Use Among Domestic Abuse Victims - Addiction Hope

Contributed by Serenity Knolls clinical team member Kathryn Taylor, MA, LPC/MHSP.

In light of PTSD Awareness Month (June), we’d like to shed light on an often-overlooked sufferer of the disorder: domestic abuse victims. Before we get into how domestic violence can cause the victim to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol problems, let’s look at what exactly domestic abuse is.

Defining Domestic Abuse

Many individuals, both men and women, experience domestic abuse and may not be aware they have experienced such a serious situation. This is because domestic abuse is not always completely obvious. Abusive relationships may involve emotional or mental abuse that often go undetected. In many cases, abusers will break down the victim’s self-esteem in subtle ways long before any physical violence takes place.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as, “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.

Domestic abuse, according to the NCADV, can include:

  • Physical violence
  • Sexual violence
  • Psychological violence
  • Emotional abuse

In a nutshell, domestic violence can be seen as one partner’s continuous efforts to control and maintain power over his or her significant other, according to the NCADV. [1]

Power and control are the central and most common goals of an abuser. This may include manipulation, deceit, guilt and blaming, “mind games,” jealous accusations, financial manipulation, or pressure to engage in undesirable activities.

Mental and emotional abuse can be just as mentally traumatic as physical abuse, and many abuse victims recall and struggle in similar ways with the mental confusion and abuse that went along with physical violence. [1] In more severe cases, abusers may engage in physical violence, destruction and even torture. All types of abuse can lead to post-traumatic stress.

Relationship abuse often operates in a cycle. Abusive individuals are not always abusive, and may be quite charming and apologetic. This causes a great deal of confusion for the abused individual. Social and financial pressures – as well as constant mental and emotional manipulations – often keep individuals embedded in these unfortunate circumstances.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder After Domestic Abuse

Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur after a stressful or violent relationship. Anyone and everyone can experience PTSD. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders outlines the following symptoms of PTSD:

  • Painful, hyper-real memories, intense dreams, or flashbacks of the traumatic events, or an inability to recall the traumatic memories at all
  • Frightening or disturbing thoughts
  • Physical symptoms that occur with traumatic memories, such as sweating or racing heart
  • Avoidance of things reminiscent of the experience
  • Feeling emotionally numb or blank
  • Feeling depression, guilt, shame or worry
  • Feeling alone, isolated or different from others
  • Experiencing intense anger or rage
  • Depression, anxiety or anguish that just will not go away
  • Failing to protect one’s self in different scenarios
  • Feeling despair, or accepting the beliefs of the abuser

All of these symptoms are highly troubling for anyone to experience, yet they can be treated with the help of a good mental health professional. Although it is easy to feel isolated under these circumstances, these symptoms make sense if you have experienced domestic abuse. However, it is possible to experience healing from these very disturbing experiences.

Why Alcohol Use Among Domestic Abuse Victims Is Common

Given the severity of domestic abuse and post-traumatic stress, it makes sense that victims would want to feel better by any means necessary. Unfortunately, alcohol often enters the picture as a “quick fix.” People who have post-traumatic stress are more likely than the general population to have a drinking problem. Unfortunately, alcohol use will only make PTSD symptoms worse in the long run. [5]

Additionally, the combination of PTSD and alcohol use disorder leads to an increased likelihood of experiencing other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. It may also lead the person into other dangerous situations and put him or her at risk of being traumatized again.

When To Seek Treatment For PTSD And Alcohol Abuse

It is absolutely vital that any person who struggles with PTSD, a history of abuse and/or alcohol use seek immediate support and treatment. It may seem overwhelming at first, but the right kind of supportive help can help ease these uncomfortable and distressing concerns.

If you or someone you care about has experienced emotional or physical abuse and may have a drinking problem, please consider looking into treatment today.


[1]:  (2015). National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. What is Domestic Violence? Retrieved on 4/6/16 from
[2]: Margolin, G., Vickerman, K. A. Posttraumatic stress in children and adolescents exposed to family violence. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol 1(S), Aug 2011, 63-73.
[3]: American Psychiatric Association. (2013) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, (5th ed.). Washington, DC
[4]: Kreger, R. High Conflict Relationships Can Lead to Stress Disorder. Psychology Today. Retrieved on 4/6/16 from
[5]: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. PTSD and Problems with Alcohol Use. Retrieved on 4/6/16 from

About the Author:

Serenity Knolls clinical team member Kathryn Taylor, MA, LPC/MHSP has several years of experience working in dual diagnosis addiction treatment, women’s issues and trauma treatment as a licensed mental health counselor.

Site Description:

Serenity Knolls is a premier residential alcohol and drug treatment center located in scenic Northern California. Serenity Knolls offers a multi-faceted approach including individual and group therapy, 12-Step meetings, family therapy, psychiatric care, recovery groups, addiction education and relapse prevention. By offering comprehensive care for any underlying mental health concerns along with the 12-Step philosophy, Serenity Knolls has successfully helped over 5,000 clients in over 25 years of service.

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 March 16, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 7, 2021
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