PTSD and Alcoholism


“Man seeks to escape himself in myth, and does so by any means at his disposal. Drugs, alcohol, or lies. Unable to withdraw into himself, he disguises himself. Lies and inaccuracy give him a few moments of comfort.” --John Cocteau

This is the spiritual driver behind the connection between post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD and alcoholism, the inability to live with ourselves. At the root of it is a biological mechanism. The mental scars are just as real as any physical scars. The actual brain changes that come from continued stress are no longer disputed, although they continue to be investigated. One study showed an average 9% decrease in hippocampus volume in PTSD sufferers who were alcoholics when compared to "regular" alcoholics.

The hippocampus is an area of the brain associated with long and short term memory and how we react using those memories. It is one of the first areas to show damage in Alzheimer's disease.

Currently, the focus is on combat veterans, but we've always known that high-stress jobs (think policeman or doctor) have a higher incidence of alcoholism. The idea is that PTSD victims are self medicating -- according to Coteau above, in an attempt to escape themselves, and further understanding the link between PTSD and alcoholism.

Alcohol inhibits the ability to move on

It backfires of course. PTSD and alcoholism, while it can bring a temporary ease, increases overall stress, makes you less productive and makes it harder to concentrate. In other words, alcohol impairs the ability to move on and freezes PTSD patients in the very situation they wish to escape.

Alcohol ruins relationships -- the very relationships that help people recover from PTSD. When victims avoid facing up to their problem with the alcohol dodge, they only add one problem to another. And what is even more bizarre, they often think of alcohol as a "normal" remedy for their anxieties than treatments that will help -- counseling and medications.

At least there is hope. By helping with the PTSD and alcoholism, it is partially addressed as well. There is also help coming from the recognition of PTSD as a disease and not just some cowardly flaw that needs to be concealed because it is shameful. Resources exist. Treatments help.

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