For anyone dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction to alcohol, the relationship between their trauma and their alcohol abuse is complicated and closely intertwined.
A trauma is a shocking and dangerous situation that you see or experience. During a traumatic event, you think that your life or the lives of others are in danger.
You may not even realize that undergoing trauma can cause long-term changes in your neurobiology. It can affect the way you react to situations, how your brain and body process information, and how likely you are to crave alcohol when dealing with feelings of stress and anxiety.
Managing your symptoms of PTSD with alcohol is a common behavior that can lead to feelings of anxiety and social isolation, as well as chronic health problems. Understanding the relationship between your alcohol use disorder and the trauma you’ve experienced — including any childhood trauma — is essential to connecting the two disorders and finding a way to recover from your experience in a healthy and sustainable manner.1
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is your response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms your ability to function, causes feelings of helplessness and depression, and diminishes your sense of self and your ability to feel a full range of emotions.
What one person perceives as a traumatic experience may be different from someone else’s perception of the same situation.
However, trauma is typically defined by a few key components which include:
Does Past Trauma Increase Your Risk for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction?
Recent studies have indicated that a person will begin using drugs and alcohol after experiencing a trauma up to 76% of the time, and up to 59% of people with PTSD will develop a problem with alcohol and/or drugs following their experience.
For someone who has survived a traumatic event, drinking alcohol can provide a temporary relief from your feelings. Why? When you consume alcohol, dopamine levels increase in your brain, making you feel better for a short time. However, alcohol abuse can worsen symptoms of trauma in people who have experienced a traumatic event.
While some individuals are more susceptible to developing PTSD, the abuse of alcohol is oftentimes a go-to coping method when you’re unable to adapt to the psychological or physiological responses to stress. Not to mention that over time, the brain begins to recognize alcohol as a necessary means of survival, making you crave alcohol to soothe those difficult feelings that arise from traumatic stress.
This routinely leads to alcohol dependency and is an indicator of an alcohol use disorder that requires clinical assistance.3
How Can Trauma Impact Future Behavior?
Multiple studies have shown that trauma is directly tied to alcohol abuse. In fact, some research has suggested that if you have gone through a trauma, it’s common to develop alcohol use disorder.
That’s because alcohol can provide temporary relief to the areas of your brain that are often hyper-vigilant and overactive after experiencing a trauma. After drinking excessively for an extended period of time, your brain associates alcohol as a way to help you to feel safe from danger.
If you’re dealing with PTSD, you can subconsciously believe you need alcohol to survive daily life experiences. Due to this cognitive interference, the psycho-social and behavioral impairment associated with long-term alcoholism leaves you unable to properly cope after experiencing a traumatic event.
This routinely leads to excessive impulsivity, heightened emotional responses to everyday occurrences, difficulties managing healthy social connections and an inability to process normal social situations without alcohol to help ease your pain.4
Your Trauma Doesn’t Define You. A Healthy, Thriving Future Awaits.
As you work through your traumatic past and addiction issues, finding the best place to help you address both disorders can seem overwhelming at times. The signs that typically indicate you need clinical guidance include:
- Feeling increasingly anxious or on edge
- Avoiding certain situations
- Being easily startled
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing flashbacks of the traumatic event
The first step is to recognize that despite the signals in your brain’s reward center, alcohol use is not a sustainable coping mechanism. It’s important to acknowledge that a previous traumatic event may have changed the way you react to stress and made you more likely to seek alcohol for relief.
If you’re dealing with both PTSD because of a past traumatic event and an addiction to alcohol, entering the right rehabilitation program — specifically one that specializes in the treatment of dual diagnoses — can prove to be life-changing and the start of a thriving future.
- Why dual diagnosis treatment (also known as a co-occurring disorder treatment)? When both disorders are addressed, the chances of you successfully recovering significantly increase.
Dual diagnosis treatment will not only help you overcome your addiction, but it will also heal the wounds of your past traumas properly so you can forge a healthy, happy life.
Holistic Co-Occurring Treatment for PTSD and Alcohol Addiction at Ranch Creek Recovery
Dealing with co-occurring disorders in any form can be extremely difficult to face, but there are proven therapies available to help you. You can achieve better mental health, deal with your addiction, and learn vital, effective coping skills to avoid a relapse.
At Ranch Creek Recovery, we take a holistic, non-12-Step approach to drug and alcohol rehab and mental health disorders, and address the root causes and triggers of addiction, including trauma.
The trauma you experienced and the addiction that may have entered your life has deeply affected your mind, body, and spirit. Because of this, these vital pieces of your being must be given the support and nurturing they need to help you fully heal. We work with every aspect of you to ensure complete care and healing.
Learn more about what we treat.
Have questions? We’re here to help in any way we can. Contact us today.
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1 Good Therapy. Alcohol and Trauma: Drinking as a Way to Cope with the Past. Accessed July 28, 2021. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/alcohol-trauma-drinking-as-way-to-cope-with-past-0602174.
2 Trauma-Informed Care. What is Trauma? Accessed July 28, 2021. https://www.traumainformedcare.chcs.org/what-is-trauma/.
3 DualDiagnosis.org. The Link Between PTSD and Addiction. Accessed July 28, 2021. https://dualdiagnosis.org/mental-health-and-addiction/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-and-addiction/.
4 PsychiatryOnline. Substance Use Disorders in Patients With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Review of the Literature. Accessed July 28, 2021. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdf/10.1176/appi.ajp.158.8.1184.