Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an extremely emotionally-debilitating mental condition, can cause nightmares, flashbacks, aggressive behavior and acute anxiety. Many PTSD traumatized individuals turn to alcohol to combat these symptoms. This often leads to the dual condition of alcoholism and PTSD, which is much more difficult to address than each separate disease.

A recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Veterans Administration produced some promising results for treating combined cases of alcoholism and PTSD.[1]

Professional consensus regarding the combination of PTSD and alcoholism has been that treating them simultaneously can have negative consequences, as the alcoholism is usually a result of self-medication to deal with the PTSD, and any further exposure to the source of the trauma – such as intense therapy – will only result in exacerbating the alcohol use.

The University of Pennsylvania study, however, shows that it is possible to treat both diseases simultaneously.

Alarming Numbers

The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress (AAETS) released the following disturbing statistics related to the combination of PTSD and alcoholism:

  • 60 – 80 percent of Vietnam veterans seeking PTSD treatment also have alcohol use problems.
  • Veterans over the age of 65 with PTSD are at higher risk for a suicide attempt if they also have drinking problems or depression.
  • War veterans with PTSD and alcohol problems tend to be binge drinkers, which are individuals who consume excessive alcohol in a short time period (In a two hour window, four drinks for women and five drinks for men).
  • 10 – 50 percent of adults with PTSD and alcohol use problems have other serious mental disorders.[2]

Alcoholism and PTSD lead to other issues

For an individual suffering from both drinking problems and PTSD, other mental and physical health complications are likely to occur. According to the National Center for PTSD, the other issues include:

  • Panic attacks, extreme fears or worries, or compulsions
  • Mood problems, such as depression
  • Attention problems
  • Behaving in ways that harm others
  • Addiction to or abuse of street and/or prescription drugs
  • Long-term physical illness such as diabetes, heart disease, or liver disease
  • Ongoing physical pain[3]

The lethal combination can also lead to incarceration, homelessness, broken family ties and chronic employment problems.  With the long line of avoidance symptoms for each disease, an effective treatment regimen can be lengthy and difficult.

Promising Results

In an eight-year experiment, researchers monitored a group of over 150 people with PTSD and alcoholism and split them into several groups. The participants were selected through advertisements for individuals seeking treatment and doctor referrals. Once they passed the stringent selection process, they were assigned various forms of therapy for the PTSD and either naltrexone for the alcoholism or a placebo. Across the board, the participants in the study severely cut back on their consumption of alcohol.

The researchers behind the study hope the results will lead to increased efficacy in the treatment of comorbid PTSD and alcoholism, which has become increasingly common in the United States, especially among war veterans.

Contact the National Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Information Center (NASAIC) anytime toll-free at (800) 784-6776 or through our online form, and we will recommend the leading drug and alcohol rehab centers for you or your loved one.