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The impact of trauma is powerful. In fact, it’s often the root cause for many of the addictions and mental health disorders people deal with in our world today, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

If you’re struggling with PTSD due to past trauma, each day can bring unwanted feelings and uncomfortable experiences. That’s why it can be tempting to self-medicate with various substances just to find relief. But unfortunately, this do-it-yourself relief is only temporary. Consequently, PTSD and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand, leaving you struggling with co-occurring disorders and making things even worse. And some of the most common of these co-occurring disorders are PTSD and alcohol addiction. 

Defining PTSD and Alcohol Addiction

According to the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, up to 75% of people who suffer violent and traumatic events report having drinking problems. But why? To better understand the connection between PTSD and alcohol abuse, it’s important to define each condition individually:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can arise after being involved in (or simply witnessing) a life-threatening or terrifying event, including war, natural disasters, the passing of a loved one, serious accidents, or abuse. If you have PTSD, then you typically struggle with persistent distress, fear, and intense thoughts long after the event has transpired. Some people may continue to experience PTSD decades after the event took place. Your PTSD symptoms may include intrusive memories, nightmares, or flashbacks of the traumatic event, or you may easily get startled and always be looking out for possible dangers. Others may struggle with negative perceptions of the world around them (including themselves), hurting their relationships and outlook on life.

Alcohol Addiction

While drinking alcohol is a staple in the social rhythms of many cultures around the world, it’s possible for alcohol consumption to start controlling your life. If you’re drinking alcohol and unable to stop—despite any negative consequences, including harm to you or others—then you likely have alcohol use disorder. Also known as alcohol addiction, alcohol abuse, or alcoholism, your alcohol dependence can make a damaging impact on you physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. 

Why Alcohol and PTSD Don’t Mix Well

When you think about the persistent negative feelings, memories, and experiences associated with PTSD on a regular basis, it’s easy to see why someone would try to drink to forget what they’re going through. However, PTSD and alcohol combined is unfortunately a double-edged sword. 

When you experience trauma—or relive it later through triggering memories—you naturally want to seek out feel-good experiences to remedy the situation. When you engage in something that makes you feel better (such as drinking alcohol), your brain releases dopamine, called the pleasure chemical, and you remember that pleasurable experience as one worth repeating again when you encounter negative feelings in the future. So the next time a trigger or negative experience comes your way, you reach for that dopamine-boosting lifeline. This so often leads many people with PTSD into alcohol addiction. The connection between PTSD and alcohol addiction is pronounced especially among military veterans, who tend to binge drink if they have PTSD, according to the National Center for PTSD.

Once you’re struggling with both PTSD and alcohol abuse, any triggering event can actually cause you to crave the substance you’ve long used over and over again, so breaking free from alcohol addiction only becomes more challenging. And because alcohol can impact your brain’s ability to process your emotions and memories, it can also make your PTSD symptoms worse, exacerbating your nightmares and anxiety while impairing your judgment. In the end, your struggles with PTSD are not helped but further prolonged, and you have a full-blown addiction to alcohol on your hands as well. 

The Importance of Dual Diagnosis Treatment for PTSD and Alcoholism

So if PTSD and alcohol is not a good combination for long-term healing, what’s your alternative? If you’re struggling with these co-occurring disorders, you need to seek professional treatment. But not just any professional treatment; you need dual diagnosis treatment to address both PTSD and alcoholism simultaneously. Otherwise, using a treatment facility that only addresses one issue will leave the other untouched—and you’ll be vulnerable to going back to the drawing board once your treatment is over. 

Dual diagnosis treatment, when done well, will provide direct addiction treatment for your alcohol use disorder and trauma-informed therapy for your PTSD. At Sana at Stowe, we offer comprehensive mental health and addiction treatment in Vermont. Combining detox services and compassionate residential treatment with holistic and evidence-based therapy approaches, we’re able to simultaneously address the root causes of your PTSD and alcohol addictions, not just your symptoms. By partnering with one of the best dual diagnosis treatment centers in the US, you can find peace of mind and long-term healing that allows you to reclaim your life—free from PTSD and alcohol. To learn more, contact our team today