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How Alcohol Affects PTSD

Alcohol problems commonly result from self-medication for PTSD. Over time, this may lead to co-occurring alcoholism. The dual diagnosis aggravates PTSD and makes it more difficult to treat. The right treatment, though, can help a person learn to manage both disorders and enter recovery.

Alcohol can worsen post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

The direct effects of alcohol consumption or drug abuse may make you feel temporarily numb. They will also lessen your ability to deal with your symptoms.

If you have PTSD and regularly use alcohol, you may find that stress and trauma memories are particularly difficult to handle while you’re under the influence.

While alcohol use can exacerbate symptoms of PTSD, and vice versa, dual diagnosis treatment can help a person manage the symptoms and side effects of both disorders in order to seek recovery.

Why People Use Alcohol To Cope With PTSD

People with PTSD are about twice as likely to have substance abuse problems. For women, the rate of prevalence is somewhat higher.

The reason for the correlation between PTSD and alcohol use disorders (AUD) is imperfectly understood. Both mental health disorders are complex and multi-faceted.

Coping Mechanism

Alcohol abuse can have a numbing effect. If you have PTSD, there may be times when you just don’t want to feel anything.

The numbness can temporarily help you to feel like you’re doing alright. In reality, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence can actively make your mental health condition worse.


Self-medicating is slightly different from coping. When you use alcohol to self-medicate, there’s a specific goal in mind.

Sleep is a perfect example. If your PTSD makes it difficult to fall asleep at night, then you may use alcohol to address that particular symptom.

In reality, alcohol is more likely to aggravate your existing sleep disorder resulting from PTSD. While it can make you fall asleep, it is not restful sleep.

Effects Of Alcohol On PTSD

Consuming too much alcohol can make your PTSD worse. You’re more likely to feel isolated, angry, and depressed. You’re less likely to reach out to others and get the help you need to get better.

If you’re using alcohol to aid your sleep, you might notice that you have fewer nightmares. Experts warn that suppressing your nightmares is actually harmful.

Using alcohol to self-medicate will prolong your PTSD symptoms.

If you stop drinking at any point after forming a dependence, the nightmares will usually come back in a more aggressive fashion.

Common Symptoms Of PTSD

PTSD can present in a variety of ways depending on the nature of the inciting traumatic experience. In order to effectively diagnose PTSD, there are four specific criteria.

If you’ve met all of these criteria for at least one month in response to an inciting incident, your condition is considered PTSD.

You must have experienced at least:

  • 1 re-experiencing symptom
  • 1 avoidance symptom
  • 2 arousal or reactivity symptoms
  • 2 cognition and mood symptoms

Intrusive Memories

Intrusive memories are an example of a re-experiencing symptom. These are thoughts, flashbacks, or dreams that force you to relive parts of the inciting incident.

Avoidance symptoms may form as a reaction to these intrusive memories. You may try to squash these thoughts by avoiding people, places, and things that trigger them.

Sudden Mood Changes

Arousal and reactivity symptoms can cause changes in your mood. You may feel on edge and be easily startled. These feelings can make you outwardly tense, irritable, or aggressive.

Cognition and mood symptoms are slightly different, as they are mostly inward-facing. You may experience self-destructive thoughts, displaced feelings of blame, and difficulty feeling positive emotions.

Risk Factors For PTSD-Related Symptoms

Any traumatic event has the potential to cause PTSD symptoms. Abuse, violence, and loss are just the tip of the iceberg.


Trauma is an umbrella term that refers to a whole range of possible causes for PTSD. Trauma can be physical, mental, and emotional. When trauma is discussed in relation to PTSD, the inciting event is often extreme.

Natural disasters, sexual assault, and child abuse are a few examples.


PTSD resulting from active combat is one of the most frequently discussed forms. The men and women who are sent into war zones are forced to witness things that no one should ever be made to see.

We’ve had many names for combat-related PTSD over the centuries. Vietnam veterans were some of the first to be directly diagnosed.

However, war veterans have been dealing with symptoms of PTSD for as long as we have a historical record.

Financial Challenges

When you’re experiencing financial challenges, it isn’t just about money. You have to worry about feeding your family and putting a roof over your head.

That comes with a tremendous amount of social pressure. When times are tough, all of that pressure to be independent and provide can be soul-crushing.

Financial struggles may not be in the same vein as sexual abuse or war, but the feelings of shame and guilt are exactly the same.


Your brain and your body are built to handle temporary, high-intensity stress. Your stress responses are there to keep you alive and let you go back to living.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. With PTSD, your brain holds onto that stress after a particularly traumatic event.

People with PTSD continue to show high adrenaline levels and a malfunctioning hippocampus. This is physical proof that your brain is still experiencing trauma.

How To Treat PTSD And Alcohol Addiction

PTSD and alcohol addiction affect the brain in different ways, requiring their own approaches to treatment.

While some forms of psychiatry have promising results with these co-occurring disorders, an integrated approach is often most successful.

Integrated treatment for a mental illness and a substance use disorder is called dual diagnosis treatment, or co-occurring disorder treatment.

This type of care is offered in both inpatient and outpatient programs. For people with more severe disorders, however, an inpatient or residential program may be best.

Support Groups

Support groups aren’t for everyone, but they can be particularly helpful if you have PTSD and require addiction treatment.

These groups give you access to a room full of people who share many of your feelings and experiences. That validation alone can go a long way toward recovery.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is another great option to help you learn how to recognize and manage the thoughts that contribute to your addiction or mental health issues.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, you’ll learn to unpack self-destructive thoughts and behavior patterns.

Your therapist will provide guidance to help you see past those harmful cycles. From there, you can work on changing them together.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy works in an individual or group setting. While the therapy was initially developed for borderline personality disorders, it has proven effective with many other forms of mental illness.

Dialectical behavior therapy works well with PTSD and alcohol abuse, because your therapist will spend their time showing you techniques for coping with your most intense symptoms.

Find Effective Dual Diagnosis Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center

Bedrock Recovery Center offers all of these treatment programs as well as outpatient and inpatient treatment options.

We are dedicated to helping you get the healthcare you need to cope with PTSD and alcohol withdrawal.

If you or a loved one are facing PTSD and alcoholism, call our Massachusetts treatment center today for more information on our effective treatment plans.

Written by
Bedrock Recovery Editorial Team

©2023 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

This page does not provide medical advice.

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