According to the National Institute on Mental Health, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will affect seven or eight of every 100 people. Any type of trauma that someone experienced in their past can cause PTSD. During a stressful event, the body initiates something called the fight or flight response. The body alters its blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature to deal with the threatening or upsetting situation. Anyone who is still experiencing the effects of a fight or flight response after the stressful situation ends is experiencing PTSD.

PTSD symptoms can manifest through avoidance, flashbacks, and nightmares, having difficulty sleeping, having anger management problems or a negative view of oneself, feelings of guilt, and memory issues. It can last for a few months to multiple years after the incident. PTSD first drew attention mainly in combat veterans, but now the group of people who struggle with it has grown to include those who have experienced any type of trauma.

PTSD and Substance Abuse

There is a deep correlation between PTSD and substance abuse. One of the reasons people feel the need to use drugs is to cope with stress or upsetting emotions. Drugs and alcohol can provide a welcome distraction from intense anger, sadness, guilt, and other negative feelings.

The Link Between Childhood Trauma, PTSD, and Alcoholism: A young woman with a drinking problem as a result of childhood trauma.

The Link Between Childhood Trauma, PTSD, and Alcoholism: A young woman with a drinking problem as a result of childhood trauma.

Stress Lowers GABA And Raises Adrenaline

When someone feels stressed, the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) goes down and adrenaline goes up. Drugs can raise GABA levels, as well as introduce more dopamine into the brain, increasing the feeling of happiness. With more frequent drug use, it becomes increasingly difficult for the body to regulate dopamine, adrenaline, and GABA. If the brain struggles to regulate these hormones and neurotransmitters, the person is likely to use more drugs to try and keep the levels high.

PTSD Often Exacerbates Drug Use

Stress is even more difficult for people who are struggling with PTSD, as the PTSD symptoms are often more intense. An increase in PTSD symptoms will likely lead the person to use drugs again. Young people who experience trauma are often at a higher risk for having PTSD and developing a dependence on drugs. Specifically, young people who are genetically predisposed to mental illness are at elevated risk.

Healing Childhood Trauma With Therapy

Therapy has proven to be one of the more effective ways to combat PTSD. It can help people suffering with it to understand their experiences, develop healthy ways to cope, and encourage growth in the face of their traumas. Some of the common types of therapy used for PTSD include cognitive behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, exposure therapy, cognitive processing therapy, and hypnotherapy. Some patients take medications in addition to therapy. Most medications are used to treat PTSD and alcohol dependence separately, but recently developed medications can help both simultaneously.

The Link Between Childhood Trauma, PTSD, and Alcoholism: A woman wakes from a PTSD caused nightmare.

The Link Between Childhood Trauma, PTSD, and Alcoholism: A woman wakes from a PTSD caused nightmare.

Follow Guidelines For Effective Therapy

Though strategies for each patient vary greatly, there are a few base guidelines that therapists and patients should follow for therapy to be effective.

It is important that the patient and the therapist avoid explaining current adult behaviors with specific events that happened in the past. This is tempting, because it is the clearest and easiest way to explain emotional and mental difficulties. However, the effects of childhood trauma manifest differently in every person, so the explanation is rarely that clear-cut. Traumatic events are never independent events. A variety of other environmental factors brings on PTSD and ignoring those factors to solely examine the traumatic event is a far less effective treatment.

Assumptions Can Derail Successful Therapy

Many people believe that to fix a mental or emotional issue you must find the root of the problem, but there are too many factors that lead to PTSD to be able to determine a single cause. Looking for one single reason also implies that other people who experienced the same trauma are experiencing the same form of PTSD. Working under this assumption will greatly reduce the likelihood of therapy being successful.

Additionally, it is important for both the therapist and the patient to separate the reason for the past trauma from the current reason for their PTSD. Though there is a past event that began the trauma, there is a separate reason that the trauma is persisting into adulthood. It is important to differentiate between the two and keep that in mind throughout therapy.

Foster Patient’s Inner Strength

Finally, no matter how intense a patient’s PTSD is, they have strength and resilience within them. Encouraging and fostering that strength during therapy will help them recover. If a person struggling with PTSD believes he or she can recover, chances of overcoming the trauma are much higher.

Untreated PTSD can lead to a serious struggle with alcoholism. Traumatized people often turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication. The hard reality is that trying to battle PTSD alone will likely lead to substance abuse and addiction. This, in turn, ends up intensifying the symptoms of PTSD. Though alcohol may provide a temporary distraction from trauma, it only exacerbates the problem.

Mental Health and Addiction Recovery

If you are struggling with trauma and addiction, you need help from a trauma and addiction treatment center. Attempting to combat PTSD alone is a dangerous undertaking that will only lead to more issues. An alcohol treatment center can give alcohol addiction treatment and get you started on your road to recovery from PTSD.