PTSD Spirituality: Alcohol and PTSD Triggers

I was recently asked if alcohol is a PTSD trigger.  I wanted to provide a brief (for me) response: The answer is “Mostly Yes.”  Why? Because alcohol will heighten anger and feelings of isolation.  Recovering from hangovers and blackouts also makes us more alienated from our relationships with others and ourselves.  And of course, it can cost us a job.  Paradoxically, we may go back to self-medicating with even more alcohol to help mask those feelings. 

Alcohol is often used as a mask to try and not have PTSD-related memories or symptoms associated with PTSD.  At the same time, while you may not remember something for 10-20 minutes you are making yourself more vulnerable to anger.  PTSD generates and feeds on anger and, when fueld by alcohol, then encourages violence and suicide.

Drinking and PTSD will also produce and encourage adultery, porn, and sexual aggressiveness due to the lack of inhibitions alcohol can induce.  Many rapes have alcohol as a factor.  This also factors in with the need to “Feel Alive” that is associated with surviving trauma.

In my work with PTSD survivors, I have never met a person who has survived PTSD from military trauma who does not have or who has not overcome an alcohol problem.  One Iraq war veteran told me he had it down to one case of Jack Daniels whiskey a week.  Unfortunately, he was not exaggerating or bragging.  It was actually good progress from where he was before.  He had reduced his drinking down to that level. 

Alcohol tempts us but only makes us feel worse.  It induces us with despair while telling us we are taking the necessary medicine to keep from feeling like crap all the time…both in terms of memories and deteriorating relationships.

 In my non-medical judgment, if a person can have one drink a day or less, and not have cravings for more, then they are safe to drink.  Almost every case of PTSD I have been associated with has alcohol as both a symptom and a trigger for more PTSD.

Last but not least, we must not give up hope.  We can detox from alcohol and overcome what it does to us physically and spiritually.  PTSD alcohol abuse does not have to be a life sentence.  But it takes a lot of courage to admit to the problem and then proceed to fix it.  It actually takes more courage to deal with an alcohol, porn, or drug problem, than it does to walk patrol in certain cities and jungles.

 (Now, back to grading…yuck!)

 Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. I find your article to be very true based on personal experience with my husband. I wonder if you can give me any advice on treatment targeting both issues or where I can find additional info in this regard.

    Thank you in advance,

    • Hello V., I am grateful that the essay is useful. Alcohol and PTSD are often fed by one another. I just finished my semester’s teaching and grading (it’s all over except for the whining) and can return to this website. I will put together some suggestions and post them as an essay. Today and tomorrow I need to recover from some medical stuff that I just had (always something, it seems), and then focus on writing more on this topic. I appreciate your taking the time to read the essay and leaving your comment. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

      • First of all, happy holidays and I wish you recover soon and feel better.
        I truly appreciate your response and looking forward for future information when you have the time to post it.
        just to give you a bit more background- my husband is currently in rehab treatment for alcohol dependency. there he’s been diagnosed with non combat PTSD from childhood during the period his parents divorced. he is active duty in the navy and according to the psychiatrist, was likely to suffer from PTSD following his first six month deployment at sea but appears to be ‘over it’ at this point. he is finally seeking professional help and seems to do well.
        I want to know how I can help him help himself but none of his counselors would tell me how to do it. any advice from you or pointing me in the right direction will help.

        Thanks and Merry Christmas!

  2. Just popped in to see if you’d come up for air and were feeling well enough to write. I am happy to see that you’ve posted…..let’s us know things are going ok now. Have fun with that grading – we will all be waiting for your future posts !

    • Hi Becky! Only two more exams to give and then a few days of grading. I am looking forward to some time off my feet. Sermper Pax, Dr. Z

  3. once again, spot on.

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