Can Alcohol Cause Traumatic Responses? The Two-Way Street Between Alcohol and PTSD

Posted on July 30, 2016

Early Trauma and Substance Abuse
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 is no small effect; some research indicates that childhood trauma like rape doubled the incidence of alcohol abuse symptoms for adult women.

From these numbers, it appears that those with a history of trauma are simply using substances to deal with unwanted symptoms. However, recent research, published in “The Journal of Abnormal Psychology”, 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.

Now, some will argue that this is simply a function of alcohol or other substances leading to risky behaviors that culminate in being traumatized again. But it isn’t so simple, because having a traumatic experience doesn’t always lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

But trauma leads to PTSD more often if you use substances.

One study, published in “The Journal of Traumatic Stress”, compared two groups of women, both of whom had been through traumatic experiences. They found higher rates of PTSD in women with any history of substance abuse issues. Not only that, but this study 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.

Alcohol, Endorphin and Brain Alteration: Why do i feel so good while i'm drinking and so bad afterwards?
Some research indicates that alcohol might play a role in rewiring the brain, particularly in relation to anxiety and issues like PTSD. In one study, researchers tested how long it took mice to lose their fear of a tone after being traumatized with shocks. The ones who had been exposed to heavy alcohol use took longer to recover, freezing(link) for longer periods than those who had not been exposed to alcohol. Further, the alcohol-exposed mice had changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, a site strongly linked to depression and negative thought processes in humans.

Seriously, crappy day for mice, no matter how drunk they got beforehand.

Drunk mice aside, what this suggests is 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.

Can trauma 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. If you’re going to be exposed to something shitty, you might as well feel less of it.

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 guess what increases endorphins?

You guessed it: 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. In other words, it numbs you from the pain so you can put off actually dealing with the event in question.

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.

And that’s not all. According to psychiatrist Peter Kramer in Listening to Prozac, alcohol alters neurotransmitter function that can be persistent over time. In those with depressive symptoms, Kramer notes that evidence of damage is usually found in areas that control serotonin and other emotion controlling hormones, and that glial cells—the brain’s way of processing toxins—are also damaged. 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.

So, as opposed to simply increasing the rate of risky behaviors, alcohol usage may increase rates of post-traumatic stress by altering brain chemistry, making PTSD more likely in those who use, and particularly during times of intoxication. Alcohol also primes the brain to crave it in times of stress, which may lead to a cycle of inadequate repair and trouble coping. And those changes may persist over time, setting up a bumpy road where healing is thwarted at every intersection.

But healing is possible, and there are a number of treatment options available. The road is long but it doesn’t last forever.

There is always hope. There is always help.

To read the full article, click the link below.

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

Source material from Megsanity

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