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