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Connecting the Dots: PTSD, Alcohol Use and the Support You Need

Did you know that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use problems are often related? According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), people with PTSD are more likely to have drinking problems and people with drinking problems often have PTSD. Understanding the connection between PTSD and alcohol use can help you find treatment that addresses both problems simultaneously.

How Are PTSD and Alcohol Use Related?

Experiencing trauma is not uncommon and PTSD can happen to anyone. PTSD is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident or a sexual assault. After this type of experience, it’s normal to have trouble sleeping, have nightmares, feel on edge, experience anxiety or have upsetting memories that continue to resurface. Alcohol is often used to get short-term relief from these symptoms. Alcohol may be used to avoid confronting bad memories or to help with sleepless nights. It may be used to forget or feel numb as you move throughout the day. But drinking can intensify, prolong and worsen PTSD symptoms:

  • Drinking makes it harder to concentrate and be productive.
  • Drinking can heighten feelings of depression, anger, anxiety and numbness.
  • Drinking can make it more difficult to get restful, quality sleep.
  • Drinking may help you avoid bad memories in the short term, but avoidance prolongs PTSD and its symptoms.
  • Drinking can make your PTSD treatment less effective.
  • Drinking, in combination with PTSD, makes it more likely that you’ll have other issues such as panic attacks, extreme fears, mood and attention problems or addiction to street or prescription drugs.

Understanding the connection between PTSD and alcohol use can help you find treatment that addresses both problems simultaneously.

According to VA, more than two of 10 Veterans with PTSD also have a substance abuse disorder, and one out of three Veterans seeking treatment for substance abuse also has PTSD. In addition, men with PTSD are two times more likely to have alcohol issues than those without it, and women with PTSD are 2.5 times more likely. It’s hard to be a good parent, spouse, friend or employee when your life feels out of control and you’re dealing with heavy alcohol use or PTSD. The good news is that the right treatment can help you work on both problems at the same time.

How Can I Get Treated for Both PTSD and Alcohol Use?

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Since having both PTSD and an alcohol use issue can make both problems worse, alcohol treatment should be a part of your PTSD treatment for it to be most effective. Treatment should be planned in a way that gets at both problems together. To get started:

  • Talk to your health care provider or therapist about the effects of drinking on your PTSD symptoms.
  • Find treatment that includes education, therapy and support groups that help you with your drinking in a way that works for you.
  • Try to find a therapist who has experience treating both issues.
  • Develop a plan to treat PTSD symptoms after you stop drinking to prevent relapse.

Learn more about PTSD treatments and how to effectively treat PTSD and alcohol use together.

Where Can I Turn for Help?

Here are some options to get you the support you deserve:

  • VA health care covers services and treatments designed to help you recover from alcohol and substance abuse. Treatments include proven medication options, short-term counseling, self-help groups, residential care and much more.
  • VA also offers treatment programs for PTSD that include:
    • Mental health assessments, proven medications and different therapy methods including psychotherapy, family therapy and group therapy for specific issues like anger management or for Veterans who served in certain combat zones
    • Outpatient care for Veterans with PTSD in every VA medical center
    • Inpatient care programs for Veterans with severe PTSD symptoms in each region of the United States
    • Outpatient care in community-based clinics
  • The Veterans Crisis Line is available regardless of whether you’re enrolled in VA benefits or health care. You can call 988 and press 1, chat or text 838255 24/7, 365 days a year.
  • VetChange is an app that can help users with PTSD build skills to reduce problem drinking. You can use it to set personal goals, track your progress and connect with people who can help you when you need support. You can find other VA mobile apps used to treat PTSD as well.

You do not have to suffer through this alone. Treatment for PTSD and alcohol use is available and can make your recovery a successful one.

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