Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) refers to the highly anxious and crippling recollection of memories of a physical or psychological trauma that goes beyond standard responses. Following a traumatic event, a person can feel fear and depression, have nightmares and overwhelming sensations of helplessness. While people in general can deal with these feelings within a few days, patients with PTSD are incapable of moving on with their lives following the distressing event. In fact, the flashbacks and intrusive memories can go on for months and even years.
The link between PTSD and alcohol
More often than not, in order to cope with the paralyzing feeling and memories, many substance abusers prefer to ‘self medicate’ their problems by consuming large quantities of alcohol. Regardless of whether they drink to dull their senses, numb their fear and thoughts or to punish themselves for bad things they did in the past, alcohol helps them forget about the traumatic episode. However, since we’re talking about alcohol, the results are temporary and as soon as its effects wear off, their memories will continue to haunt them.
Unfortunately, alcohol tends to exacerbate the issues that led to PTSD in the first place. Instead of making them forget about the disturbing experience or the overwhelming distress, alcohol makes violent people more aggressive, depressed people more miserable and anxious people more nervous. In addition, because alcohol alters disinhibition, PTSD patients who abuse alcohol will be willing to take more risks, such as:
- Careless driving that leads to traffic accidents
- Getting into fights
- Assaulting the spouse
- Participating in criminal activities
- Sharing needles
- Having unprotected sex with strangers
All of these actions will bring forth more serious and bigger problems in the long run, including unwanted pregnancies, financial problems, addiction, incarceration and sometimes even death.
Which one should be treated first?
When a patient is diagnosed with alcoholism and PTSD, prioritizing on which condition should be treated first can be problematic. In almost all cases, while the addiction is what drove the person to seek treatment, the core problem is in fact the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Therefore, the underlying psychological issue is the most probable cause of alcohol addiction.
According to clinicians, the priority should be on treating the physical dependency on alcohol first in patients with co-occurring diagnosis. In other words, the individual needs to undergo a detoxification treatment, which may or may not include hospitalization. After the detox, he can undergo any of the various treatments offered by co-occurring disorders, including but not limited to psychotherapy, behavioral therapies, group therapy or motivational enhancement therapy.
Which treatments are most effective?
Whether or not a certain co-occurring treatment will work depends greatly on the person’s will and motivation to face his problems. Giving up alcohol, meaning the only thing that kept you going for so long, is not going to be easy. However, don’t fool yourself because instead of helping you sleep better or enjoy yourself, alcohol threw you in a vicious circle and added to your misery. If you want to see for yourself how quitting alcohol improves your life, then I invite you to check out our forum.