Alcohol Abuse And PTSD

PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a psychiatric disorder and chronic, debilitating anxiety disorder which occurs in subjects who have experienced a traumatic event.

When someone is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, they are plagued with disturbing thoughts and intense feelings and emotions for months, years, or even the rest of their life following the traumatic event.

PTSD Signs and Symptoms

Woman slumped in a chair, feeling nauseous

Symptoms of PTSD include but aren’t limited to;

  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Nightmares
  • Paranoia
  • Severe Anxiety
  • Hyperarousal (Constant Fight or Flight Response)
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Intrusive Thoughts
  • Guilt and Shame
  • Social Isolation
  • Memory Loss
  • Flashbacks

Typically, subjects suffering from PTSD experience an intense array of negative emotions such as sadness, anger, and irritability, following the traumatic event.

Because of the negative experiences which occurred, some subjects will avoid certain situations or environments to protest themselves.

Many subjects suffering from PTSD see a significant increase in arousal and reactivity, becoming hypersensitive and experiencing severe anxiety about things which may seem trivial to people who have not suffered from PTSD.

This will then lead to social isolation and an increased sense of fear and anxiety associated with specific places or environments.

Sometimes, a subject’s subconscious will repress memories associated with the traumatic event. This means that some subjects suffering from PTSD may suffer from memory loss, being unable to recall the event that happened.

While this may be a coping mechanism, memories can resurface and subjects may even experience nightmares.

If you have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event and you have been experiencing some of these symptoms, you may be suffering from PTSD.

It is possible to reduce symptoms and treat PTSD, and it is best confronted early to have a higher chance of overcoming it.

What Can Cause PTSD?

Man with his head in his hand, eyes closed, in a gesture of pain

Many things can cause PTSD, and it will vary according to the subject depending on their personal experience, gender, pre-existing health conditions, and so on.

Some of the things that can cause PTSD to include but aren’t limited to:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse such as rape
  • War
  • Terrorism
  • Death of a loved one
  • Witnessing death or violence
  • Childhood abuse
  • Health Problems and severe injuries
  • Death threats
  • Financial Insecurity & Stress

If subjects are suffering from other mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression and do not receive support, they are far more likely to develop PTSD following a traumatic event such as the ones listed above.

Subjects who suffer from substance use disorders such as alcohol addiction are more susceptible to suffering from PTSD.

Similarly, those who suffer from PTSD are far more likely to suffer from drug or alcohol addiction than those who have not experienced a traumatic event.

Some studies suggest that the subject experienced PTSD because of their Survival Mechanism.

This is because the patient’s instinctive mechanisms are to help subjects survive potentially traumatic events by facilitating Hyperarousal and the Fight or Flight Response.

The Relationship Between Alcohol and PTSD

People at a table toasting to a mix of drinks

Research has shown for over 4 decades that there is a strong connection between suffering from PTSD as well as alcohol addiction.

Veterans, for example, who have experienced PTSD have a high likelihood of developing an alcohol addiction, as do survivors of sexual abuse, childhood abuse, and other traumatic events.

The Epidemiology of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder suggests that those who do not suffer from PTSD are less likely to experience alcohol addiction as severe as those who do suffer from PTSD.

Whether studies are targeted or not, small or large, there is a strong correlation between PTSD and alcohol addiction in the scientific and medical literature.

The same study suggests that individuals suffering from PTSD are 200% more likely to suffer from alcohol addiction than those who are not suffering from PTSD.

This is because, after an event which can be described as traumatic, subjects will often consume alcohol or illicit substances to overcome symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Alcohol is consumed because it releases endorphins associated with pleasure and happiness.

However, while alcohol can relieve these symptoms in the short term, the endorphin withdrawal following a period of alcohol consumption can exacerbate feelings of post-traumatic stress and accentuate its negative symptoms.

Many studies suggest that both PTSD can expose subjects to alcoholism, and alcoholism can expose subjects to PTSD. Those suffering from PTSD are far more likely to turn towards alcohol and develop an addiction.

Similarly, those suffering from alcohol addiction are not only more likely to be put in situations which could lead to traumatic events but they would be in a worse mental state to cope with the event.

Alcoholism and PTSD in the UK

Man putting hand to the camera in 'no' or 'stop' gesture

The NHS estimate that PTSD develops in around 1 in 3 people who have experienced an event which can be described as traumatic.

PTSD UK suggests that around 10% of people suffer from PTSD at least once in their lifetime, with up to 70% of this figure not receiving the support that they require.

Certain demographics are more likely to be susceptible to developing PTSD, such as those who suffer from more discrimination and those who experience or witness accidents, injuries, or violence.

For example, firefighters, police officers, and healthcare workers are far more likely to suffer from PTSD than those who do not experience traumatic events.

Research suggests that women suffering from PTSD are 250% more likely to develop a drinking problem than women who do not suffer from PTSD, and men suffering from PTSD are 200% more likely to suffer from alcohol dependence than those without PTSD.

It is estimated that around 75% of people who survive abuse or violent traumatic events become dependent on addictive substances such as alcohol.

Around 1 in 3 people who survive traumatic accidents such as injuries, illnesses, or disasters also report that they are drinking excessively.

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

People seated at table drinking beer

Subjects suffering from alcohol addiction or dependence will experience a range of symptoms.

These symptoms will manifest themselves in many different ways according to the subject’s addiction history, physical and mental health, and so on.

Alcohol is a physically and psychologically addictive drug. This means it can present both physical and psychological symptoms.

These symptoms include but aren’t limited to;

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue and Lethargy
  • Seizures

If you identify with some of these symptoms and are struggling to cut down on your alcohol consumption, you are likely suffering from alcohol addiction.

Subjects can gain more insight into the severity of their addiction by undertaking questionnaires such as the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test and the CAGE Questionnaire. However, they must seek a diagnosis from a licensed professional.

Treatment for PTSD and Alcohol Addiction in Rehab

two people hugging at support group

When a patient enters a drug and alcohol rehab to overcome their addiction, they will also be treated for other issues.

Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD will be addressed in a rehab facility which utilises personalised addiction treatment.

During the admission assessment or health assessment before a subject enters a suitable drug and alcohol rehab, subjects will provide information to their rehab provider about their mental and physical health, addiction history, and co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD.

If it happens to be that the subject suffers from depression, PTSD, or any other condition which may affect their recovery, a dual diagnosis will be made.

Then, a consultant psychiatrist will evaluate the information provided to create a personalised addiction treatment programme to optimise their recovery.

What patients learn and obtain from their time undergoing therapy at rehab will not only be exclusive to addiction. What they learn will apply to most walks of life.

Therapy at rehab will help patients develop healthy coping mechanisms, reduce stress, manage intense thoughts and feelings, and so on.

It is said by professionals that avoidance is what sustains symptoms of PTSD. While avoiding these problems may seem to be a good idea for sufferers of PTSD, it will merely worsen symptoms in the long run.

Prolonged Exposure is a technique which is used to treat PTSD by allowing patients to engage with traumatic memories to overcome them.

By engaging, they can; emotionally process the event, understand that thinking about the event isn’t dangerous, learn how to manage these thoughts and emotions, and more.

1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Group Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is more often than not featured in a comprehensive addiction treatment.

This is because it is widely considered to be one of the most effective forms of therapy, not only in treating patients suffering from addiction but also those suffering from anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

During a typical session of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, a licensed counsellor will help patients identify negative thoughts and behavioural patterns which can exacerbate their addiction or PTSD.

Examples of these negative patterns include cognitive distortions, magnification, repressing memories, emotional reasoning, and so on.

The counsellor and the patient will then proceed to work on developing healthier habits and positive coping mechanisms for the patient to learn how to manage these difficulties which can exacerbate both addiction and symptoms of PTSD.

2. Dialectical Behavioural Therapy

two men sat at a table

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy is similar to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, however, this form of therapy places more emphasis on catering towards patients who suffer from intense thoughts and emotions, like the ones presented when suffering from PTSD.

The desired goal of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy is that patients will become much more capable of managing any intense thoughts or emotions that they are suffering from.

By being able to manage these feelings positively and constructively, patients will experience a stress reduction and an improvement in general well-being.

3. Family Therapy

two family members smiling

Family Therapy will also be available at a drug and alcohol rehab. The purpose of Family Therapy is to help the family understand what their loved one needs in terms of support.

Family Therapy sessions will help the family understand what they need to do to facilitate their loved one’s recovery, and they can understand the complexities of alcohol addiction as well as PTSD.

By becoming more proficient in these subjects, the addicted and traumatised person’s support network will become stronger.

4. Holistic Therapy (Aromatherapy, Acupuncture, and More)

person with horse

The term holistic means to consider or treat something as a whole. In the case of therapy and rehabilitation, Holistic Therapy aims to improve the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of patients.

Holistic Therapies such as aromatherapy, acupuncture, massages, and mindfulness, for example, can help facilitate recovery by reducing chronic stress and other symptoms that are primarily caused by PTSD.

Physical therapies such as massages and acupuncture can manipulate and stimulate connective tissues and muscles in the body which will then reduce tension and stress in the body, therefore promoting physical well being which can then lead to mental well-being.

Aromatherapy can also reduce stress and other symptoms of PTSD by creating a relaxing environment for patients which will then improve sleep quality, and reduce stress and agitation.

How to Minimise PTSD Symptoms Without Alcohol

A hand out stretched to a horse's mouth

Often, patients turn to addictive substances such as alcohol or drugs to self-medicate and relieve themselves of symptoms.

However, these substances can worsen symptoms of PTSD in the long run. Instead, there is a range of healthier habits and activities which can serve as coping mechanisms and treatment methods for PTSD.

There are activities and habits that subjects can adopt to minimise symptoms of PTSD outside of rehab.

While we highly advise subjects to seek professional help if they are suffering from alcohol addiction, PTSD, or both, there are things subjects can do to ease the severity of PTSD.

Some of these helpful activities include:

  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Prioritise Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Art Therapy

1. Mindfulness Meditation

person reading book

Studies suggest that mindfulness meditation treatment can help patients who are suffering from PTSD. The benefits of mindfulness meditation not only include a significant stress reduction but the increase of grey matter present in the brain.

Grey matter can help subjects control movement, memories, and emotions more effectively.

Other benefits include the ability to stay grounded and prevent intrusive thoughts from taking over. This is done by focusing their attention on the breath.

Mindfulness meditation also encourages non-judgemental acceptance, making it more manageable to navigate thoughts related to the traumatic event.

2. Yoga

Yoga presents many of the benefits that mindfulness meditation does, however, it also offers a range of physical benefits. Many patients who suffer from mental conditions such as PTSD also suffer from physical symptoms.

Neuropathologists stress that emotional trauma such as PTSA can have overlapping effects such as physical damage to the brain.

Other parts of the body, such as the hip muscles, for example, can experience a significant amount of tightening and stiffening whenever subjects confront stressful or traumatic events.

This can create a lot of tension in the area, and if patients exercise or stretch these emotional muscles, it can have a positive effect on the brain and mental well-being.

3. Physical Exercise

Woman jogging on the beach in shorts and a crop top

Other forms of exercise, whether it be walking, running, lifting weights, and so on, can help patients experience a reduction in PTSD symptoms.

Some studies even suggest that exercise intervention can be comparable to psychotherapy and pharmacology when it comes to treating patients with PTSD.

4. Art Therapy


Art therapy provides an outlet for subjects to express their thoughts and feelings without having to struggle to put them into words. It can come in the form of drawing, painting, crafting, and so on.

Art Therapy can facilitate the externalisation of past trauma by conveying thoughts and feelings onto an object or canvas, for example. This can unburden subjects of many of the symptoms that they’ve been experiencing.

It provides the subject with a new way of expressing emotions, in this case, they are expressing their experience and emotions visually. This makes it easier to communicate with others when the subject may struggle to accurately describe their trauma with words.

Contact Us Today

man with book, looking out at view

PTSD mustn’t be a sign of weakness, only that the subject has come face to face with traumatic events. PTSD can also be classified as a brain injury, and subjects who are experiencing symptoms of PTSD must seek the support of a professional.

Furthermore, if you think that you might be suffering from alcoholism, you need to seek support. By contacting Rehab 4 Alcoholism, we can assist you by identifying a suitable drug and alcohol rehab for you.

We will consider your additional requirements to find you an addiction treatment programme which can meet all of your needs and help you recover from both drug or alcohol addiction as well as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.


[1] What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

[2] The Epidemiology of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder

[3] The Role of Uncontrollable Trauma in the Development of PTSD and Alcohol Addiction

[4] PTSD and Problems with Alcohol Use,will%20develop%20a%20drinking%20problem

[5] Causes – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – NHS

[6] About PTSD UK

[7] Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,in%20certain%20groups%20of%20people

[8] Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test

[9] CAGE Substance Abuse Screening Tool

[10] Concurrent Treatment of PTSD and Substance Use Disorders Using Prolonged Exposure (COPE)

[11] Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Alcoholism

[12] Family Therapy for Addiction

[13] Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),medicate%20with%20alcohol%20or%20drugs

[14] Mindfulness-Based Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

[15] Can Emotional Trauma Cause Brain Damage?,emotional%20trauma%20upon%20the%20brain.

[16] Emotion Recognition From Gait Analyses

[17] Exercise Intervention in PTSD