People drink for one reason alone: to alter their mental and emotional state. The reason why someone would want to alter their state of being ranges widely. For some, it may be simply to relax enough to have a casual conversation with a new acquaintance or date. For others it may be to unwind from a long and stressful day at work and for others it may be to forget something unpleasant. The point is that alcohol is always consumed for a reason and the reason which drives our drinking is also what dictates how much we drink. For someone with post traumatic stress disorder, the reason for drinking is typically to cope with the unpleasant persistence of past trauma. The person suffering from PTSD is starting from a point of intense need and the tragic thing is that while this person seeks relief through alcohol, the alcohol simply aggravates this delicate state of mind. This drives them to drink more and it quickly leads to alcohol abuse and sometimes active alcoholism or drug addiction.


The key word to remember here is self-medication. Alcohol is used as a form of medicine to alleviate mental and emotional pain. While this may be the case for anyone seeking relief from an endless variety of stressors, research indicates that people with PTSD seek out alcohol as a form of relief at an astoundingly disproportionate rate compared to those not suffering from PTSD. The reasoning for using alcohol as a form a self-medication is largely attributed to a personality trait common to those with PTSD. It is a combination of a reduced sense of self-control in regards to one’s own state of mind and a tendency to linger on negative emotions.


As with all problematic behavior, addressing the root cause is the only way to correct the behavior. Behavior is a direct result of belief. What we believe about any given circumstance is what dictates the actions we take. For the person trying to help someone suffering from PTSD, addressing the patient’s belief system can be extraordinarily challenging. However, there is strong evidence to support the effectiveness of some treatments. The best forms of treatment incorporate education and therapy in a supportive group environment. The education should be geared toward addressing the duality of the problem. PTSD poses one set of problems with its associated risks and alcoholism poses another. Effective methods of therapy address each problem and the fact that one aggravates the other. An understanding of each, and their interrelated nature, is crucial for successful treatment.

For more information on alcohol abuse and PTSD, contact our addiction counselors or browse through the archives here on the site.

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