#PTSD and #Alcohol Series (Part 7) – The Impacts of ‘Self-Medication’

PTSD Word MapAs part of my series on the correlation between PTSD and alcohol (see Part 1), there is a growing body of evidence that highlights the fact; excessive use of alcohol is counterproductive to recovery.

Many people use alcohol as a means to forget, non more so than soldiers impacted by the symptoms and effects of PTSD. The British army particularly but not exclusively, has a culture of heavy drinking. That (now mostly historic) culture is obviously a contributory factor in the predominance of self-medication with alcohol.

A recent study in the Translational Psychiatry Journal pointed to the fact; “cognitive/behavioral desensitization therapies for the treatment of PTSD in humans could be complicated by EtOH use, and potentially by other prescribed and/or illicit substances that modify internal state and perception.”

Most people today know that PTSD can occur following all manner of traumatic life events, not just combat exposure however; this mental health issue has probably become more widely understood by our society because of an increasing number of veterans involved in military conflict over recent decades. But PTSD is just as common in those who have suffered abuse, natural disasters or serious accidents or indeed incidents that involve threats of injury or death.

Typical PTSD symptoms include flashbacks, affective disorders, hyperarousal and avoidance of situations and/or people that remind the individual of the traumatic event. Cognitive-behavioral and so-called ‘reprocessing’ therapies are the normality when it comes to treating individuals and their symptoms. The problem is, their effectiveness is diluted with alcohol (and/or other substances).

CBT and other common PTSD desensitization treatments attempt to modify feelings of arousal and fear associated with ‘trigger’ events however; all the “positive effects of psychotherapy can be circumvented by binge alcohol abuse, which is more common in individuals with PTSD compared with the general population (60–80% of PTSD patients).”

PTSD results from not only the way you think about things but also, how you perceive the subsequent impacts of both the event(s) and your thoughts around them. The study is by necessity heavy in medical and academic language but that said, the bottom line in simple terms is; If you have PTSD, self-medication with alcohol will only ever provide short-term relief but will usually have profoundly negative impacts upon your sustained and overall long-term recovery.

solveproblemsIt is likely that the way we actually perceive most issues relates to how we were thinking about them when they occurred. What if, at the point of thought, we also happened to participate in periods of heavy drinking when we were actually doing that thinking? Like all mind altering drugs, alcohol impacts on your cognitive capabilities. It therefore stands to reason, simplistically or from a science based point of view, your thoughts are likely to have been skewed in some way.

If you have high expectations of psychological treatment methods to fix your head and provide you with long-term positive outcomes, wouldn’t it be better to not have our damaged grey matter fuddled by substances?

As ever in life, it’s all about the choices you choose to make!


  1. Translational Psychiatry is a sister journal to the well-established journal in psychiatry, Molecular Psychiatry, but explores the translational pathway between research in neuroscience and conceptually novel treatments.
  2. EtOH is an acronym for ethyl alcohol. Ethyl alcohol is also referred to as ethanol. Ethyl alcohol is the type of alcohol found in all alcoholic beverages. Ethanol is synonymous with the term ethyl alcohol and alcohol.

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