PTSD and Alcohol Abuse

Mar 2020 PTSD and Alcohol Abuse

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) initially begins after a traumatic event and slowly develops over time. People can have PTSD for several years before they recognize the need for treatment. In the meantime, they may turn to alcohol as a way of self-medicating the symptoms of PTSD. As a result, PTSD often leads to alcohol abuse. PTSD and drinking can lead to numerous problems that complicate an individual’s life. 

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include:

  • Intense anxiety
  • Painful memories
  • Recurring nightmares
  • Flashbacks of the event
  • Addiction
  • Paranoia, fear, or isolation

Each of these symptoms can mentally paralyze a person as they try to cope with past trauma, often in the shadows. To further understand the connection between PTSD and alcohol addiction, you must first understand both of these conditions individually. 

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. This can take a psychological and physical toll on the victim. In many cases, the symptoms of traumatic events do not start to show until years later. This is because the person has not properly addressed his or her inner turmoil.

Some of the most common traumas that lead to PTSD include: 

  • Childhood neglect or abuse
  • Sexual assault or rape
  • Natural disaster that ends in a fatality
  • Death of a loved one
  • Military combat 

When a person starts to drink to cope with past trauma, they almost always end up experiencing both PTSD and drinking problems. This is especially true if that person’s symptoms include anxiety, depression, or feelings of isolation. Over time, these drinking problems can turn into alcohol addiction.

What is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction is a disease that causes a person to chronically drink excessive amounts of alcohol. Over time, chronically abusing alcohol can change the neurochemistry of your brain. Often, people start abusing alcohol as a way to cope with life’s stresses or a mental illness that they are dealing with. 

People from all walks of life can develop alcohol addiction. If you rely on alcohol to function and cannot stop drinking, even though you’ve tried, you probably have an alcohol addiction. 

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction?

Because alcohol is not an illegal substance and drinking alcohol is so common, alcohol abuse is harder to recognize than addictions to other drugs. For this reason, it’s important to know the symptoms of alcohol addiction. 

Symptoms of alcohol addiction include:

  • Increased quantity and frequency of drinking alcohol
  • High alcohol tolerance
  • No alcohol “hangover” symptoms
  • Drinking at inappropriate times and places
  • Only always wanting to be where the alcohol is
  • Changes in social circle to people that drink excessively
  • Avoiding eye contact with others
  • Hiding bottles of alcohol
  • Lying about or hiding drinking
  • Dependence on alcohol to function in day-to-day life
  • Reckless behavior
  • Getting into legal trouble such as getting a DUI
  • Losing your job or performing poorly at school or work
  • Willingness to do anything to get more alcohol

If you or any of your family members or friends are exhibiting many of these symptoms, you could have an alcohol addiction. Many substance use addictions develop due to the underlying cause of mental illness. This is always the case when it comes to PTSD and drinking problems. 

PTSD and Alcohol Abuse

Since PTSD symptoms can be intense, many victims are not emotionally equipped to deal with them. While some get help early on, others try to manage the symptoms on a day-to-day basis. When PTSD victims manage their symptoms without the proper help, it can become so overwhelming that they start abusing alcohol. The victims may drink to escape the pain or intense emotions that they feel from the trauma. 

Over time, PTSD victims increase their alcohol abuse so that they can bury their feelings. They may also experiment with drugs or start taking a prescription for anxiety or depression without addressing the real issues. Even if the medications they start taking make them feel better, they will increase the dosage as their body grows a tolerance to the substances. 

The end result is co-occurring disorders that include both PTSD and alcohol abuse. With increased use, PTSD victims will become so dependent on alcohol that they cannot function without it. They may even form a long-term addiction and continue drinking regardless of the consequences.

Health Consequences of an Alcohol Addiction

Chronic alcohol abuse takes a toll on the human body. As a result, there are negative health consequences that people with alcohol addiction often develop.

The negative health consequences of alcohol addiction include:

  • Ulcers
  • Diabetes
  • Low sex drive
  • Birth defects
  • Bone loss
  • Vision problems
  • Increased cancer risk
  • Suppressed immune system

Because of all the ways that alcohol addiction can negatively impact your health, it’s important to nip alcohol addiction in the bud by receiving treatment and remaining sober. When you are suffering from a co-occurring disorder, it’s best to treat both the substance use disorder and the mental illness simultaneously. 

One reason why many people allow their co-occurring disorder to be left untreated for so long is that they didn’t realize they had one to begin with. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, you need to check to see if your alcohol addiction is really a co-occurring disorder. 

Consequences of an Undiagnosed Co-Occurring Disorder

When a co-occurring disorder goes undiagnosed and medical professionals only treat the substance use disorder, this increases the chances that you will relapse from your substance use disorder. On the flip side, if you have a co-occurring disorder and medical professionals only treat the mental illness, it can cause your substance use disorder to continue. This could then lead to unhealthy habits that cause your mental illness to return. Below are other consequences of an undiagnosed co-occurring disorder:

Increasingly Severe Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorder Symptoms

As someone’s co-occurring disorder continues to be left untreated, the mental breakdowns that person has due to his or her illness will get worse. As a result, the abuse of substances to help that person cope with his or her mental illness will also worsen. 

Reckless Behavior

The deeper you fall into undiagnosed co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD and alcohol addiction, the more reckless behavior you’ll exhibit. For example, you can develop such a strong need for substances to cope with your increasingly severe mental illness that you are willing to steal or hurt yourself or someone else to get it. 

Another type of reckless behavior that a person with an undiagnosed co-occurring disorder is likely to exhibit is the sexual kind. When a person is suffering from a co-occurring disorder, he or she has lower inhibitions than normal. As a result, that person may become more promiscuous or engage in unsafe sex. 

Deteriorating Health

When people suffer from both a mental illness and a substance use disorder, they will stop taking care of themselves entirely. This could lead these people to have worsening physical health. Over time, these people can develop physical illnesses such as heart disease, and hypertension.

Deteriorating Relationships with Family and Friends

When you have an undiagnosed co-occurring disorder, you can start to get in unnecessary arguments with family members and friends due to you acting out. These arguments and issues with family and friends only continue as you become more reckless, irresponsible, and selfish, and your family and friends don’t understand why. That is, until you finally get your co-occurring disorder diagnosis. Once you finally receive a proper co-occurring disorder diagnosis, you can start receiving addiction treatment. 

PTSD and Alcohol Addiction Treatment

When treating someone with co-occurring disorders like PTSD and alcohol addiction, it is important to treat both illnesses at the same time. One of the first programs you should attend when receiving co-occurring disorder treatment is detox. This is especially true if you had an intense substance use disorder. You can even receive medication-assisted detox if you need medications to help you manage your withdrawal symptoms while in detox. 

Once detox is complete, you should attend a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, and possibly family therapy along with addiction treatment. While attending individual therapy, it’s important to use therapeutic techniques that are specific to treating PTSD. Some common forms of therapy that therapists use to treat trauma include eye movement desensitization therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and hypnotherapy. Finally, for aftercare services for such a co-occurring disorder, you should look into attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). 

While receiving treatment for PTSD and drinking problems, you’ll learn how to cope with past trauma in a healthy manner rather than an unhealthy manner. Once you learn how to do this, you will feel less inclined to use alcohol as a coping mechanism. 

Get Help for PTSD and Alcohol Abuse in Palm Springs, CA

If you suffer from both PTSD and alcohol abuse, you can get help at Phoenix Rising in Palm Springs, CA. We offer comprehensive treatment for both alcohol addiction and mental disorders

Contact us today to find out more about our treatment options. We are here to help you get on the road to recovery.