PTSD and Alcohol Addiction: How Are They Related?

ptsd and alcohol

15 million adults in the U.S struggle with alcoholism. 88,000 will die from it every year. The figures are even more alarming for alcoholics who have also been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Research shows a clear link between PTSD and alcohol abuse. We’ll take a closer look at the connection, the reason behind it and where to find help.

What Is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric disorder that occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. For example, many military veterans experience PTSD as a result of their time in combat.

PTSD can also affect people who survive a natural disaster, an accident, a terrorist act, sexual assault or childhood trauma. Someone can develop PTSD even if they didn’t experience the event themselves but only heard about it from a person close to them. 

PTSD affects 3.5 percent of adults in the U.S. Women are twice as likely as men to have it.

It’s most often seen in veterans. 11 percent of combat vets show symptoms of PTSD soon after deployment. Nearly 17 percent experience symptoms six months after returning home.

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

People with PTSD often relive the traumatic event through flashbacks or nightmares. They experience profound sadness, fear, and anger. They may appear detached from other people.

Other common symptoms can include:

  1. Intrusive thoughts like reoccurring dreams. Someone with PTSD might feel like they’re actually going through the traumatic experience again.
  2. Avoidance of anything that may remind them of the trauma. This can include people, places, activities, and situations. 
  3. Negative thoughts about themselves. They may experience feelings of horror, anger, guilt, or shame.
  4. Unusual reactions to everyday events. They may be irritable and demonstrate angry outbursts. They may act recklessly or in a self-destructive way. They’re easily startled and have trouble concentrating and sleeping.

Some people may experience one or more of these symptoms temporarily after a car accident, for example. In people with PTSD, symptoms can last for months and sometimes years. 

What Is the Connection Between PTSD and Alcohol Abuse?

The data is clear in establishing a connection between PTSD and alcohol abuse.

As many as 75 percent of people who survived abuse or traumatic events report drinking problems.  Up to a third of those who report drinking problems have survived traumatic accidents, illness or disaster.

The question often becomes, which came first? The drinking or the trauma? Mental health professionals now believe it can go either way.

Some people drink heavily to cope with the trauma they experienced. Others experience traumatic events as a direct result of their addiction to alcohol. 

Effective treatment then would involve integrated therapy to address both issues. The most commonly used treatments are talk therapy and medication. The goal is to help them recover from PTSD and also learn to enjoy a sober life

Final Thoughts

If you’ve experienced a traumatic event, know that you’re not alone. 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women have experienced at least one in their lives.

Treatment is available for PTSD and alcohol addiction. If you or someone you love needs help, please contact us any time.