The two-way street between alcohol and PTSD

Posted on May 17, 2016

Photo: flickr

First of all, it is important to identify symptoms of PTSD. Some possible symptoms are:
- Re-experiencing symptoms like flashbacks
- Bad dreams or trouble sleeping
- Intrusive thoughts
- Avoiding places, people or things (even words) that are reminders of the trauma
- Feeling numb
- Guilt
- Angry outbursts often as an offshoot of fight or flight (the fight is there for a reason)
- Depression

While these symptoms usually follow a stressful event involving an individual or a loved one, for those with heightened anxiety responses, seemingly mundane experiences may trigger similar symptoms. In addition, some who experience traumatic events never go on to have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It has been well documented that substance abuse and trauma go hand in hand, with trauma usually preceding the use of alcohol or other drugs. it appears that those with a history of trauma are simply using substances to deal with unwanted symptoms. However, recent research found that PTSD and alcohol use, as opposed to being a simple A causes B system, actually predicted each other over a three year assessment period. In this study, not only did having PTSD increase the risk of alcohol usage, but using alcohol increased the risk of having PTSD. Other reports have found similar relationships. Another study has found that found that over the course of three months, those with substance abuse issues had slower rates of recovery, showing more symptoms at the three month mark than women who had PTSD but did not drink.

Why does this happen? Some research indicates that alcohol might play a role in rewiring the brain, particularly in relation to anxiety and issues like PTSD. Research suggests that alcohol use reduces the brain’s ability to recover from the effects of stress. But, alcohol may play yet another role in the brain that actually triggers increased usage following traumatic events, a role that predisposes individuals to a self-sustaining cycle of brain damage and less resilience, leading to further depression and PTSD symptoms.

Trauma may also lead to alcohol cravings. Trauma increases the level of endorphins in the brain within minutes of a traumatic event, a physiological phenomenon that evolved to reduce the initial pain associated with the trauma. However, over time, those endorphin levels decrease, leading individuals to experience the physical or emotional pain that they may have missed during the event. And what increases endorphins? Alcohol. Because alcohol has the ability to increase endorphin levels in the brain, researchers believe that drinking after a traumatic event may serve to lessen the effects of an endorphin crash. This explains why higher rates of drinking are reported on days when people are experiencing more intrusive PTSD symptoms like avoidance, scary thoughts and low mood. Alcohol provides a release when symptoms are bad.

According to psychiatrist Peter Kramer, alcohol alters neurotransmitter function that can be persistent over time. In those with depressive symptoms, alcohol damages parts of the brain in areas that control the release of emotion controlling hormones. Alcohol primes the brain for further degeneration by increasing immediate damage and by impairing the ability to recover, actions which speed the degeneration and can make depression and trauma-related symptoms worse faster.

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Category(s):Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) / Trauma / Complex PTSD

Source material from Megsanity

Mental Health News