PTSD and Alcohol: Co-Occurrence and Treatment

Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on November 5, 2021.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs after someone experiences a highly stressful situation, such as witnessing or being the victim of violence, dealing with a loved one's sudden death or serving in combat. Symptoms of PTSD may include:

  • Intense anxiety.
  • Nightmares and instances of reliving the event.
  • Negative thoughts and moods.
  • Emotional and physical changes.
  • Guilt and shame.

Anyone can experience PTSD, and it affects 3.5% of Americans each year.

The Link Between PTSD and Alcohol Abuse

After experiencing an event that leads to PTSD, many people look for relief in any way they can find. Alcohol is often seen as a coping mechanism. Drinking can raise the brain's endorphin production, decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression following the traumatic event. This mirrors the overproduction of endorphins during the trauma, when the brain tries to shield physical and emotional pain, but that effect won't last.

Those seeking relief recognize that alcohol, too, can dull their pain and help them avoid dealing with the emotional consequences of the event. However, the more alcohol someone drinks, the more they need to consume to reach the same endorphin production over the long run. This cycle can lead to alcohol addiction.

PTSD and Alcoholism in Veterans

Veterans with PTSD have a much higher rate of alcohol abuse than the general public. About 20% of veterans with PTSD also abuse substances, and war veterans report high levels of binge drinking — having four to five drinks over a short time. The unique, intense trauma of war and being asked to make the ultimate sacrifice can produce memories many would rather forget or suppress.

How PTSD and Alcohol Abuse Can Be Treated

The most effective treatment programs address PTSD and alcohol addiction as a dual diagnosis. That means each condition is recognized and treated with a plan that addresses the root causes of trauma, helping those who have PTSD find alternative ways to cope beyond alcohol. A successful treatment plan may include detox, therapy, medication and more.

Dual diagnosis treatment allows clients to learn to manage PTSD symptoms and confront the lingering effects of the trauma. It stops the recurring cycle of rising stress levels and enables clients to unchain themselves from the past.

Get Help for PTSD and Alcoholism

If you're struggling with PTSD and a co-occurring substance use disorder, you're not alone. Diamond House Detox offers expertise in treating dual conditions such as PTSD and alcoholism. We also provide treatment for PTSD and alcohol abuse in veterans. Explore our programs and reach out today.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet