Getting Help for Alcohol Abuse and Traumatic Events
Substance use disorders like alcohol use disorder often co-occur with other mental health conditions. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very prevalent mental health condition seen in those who face alcohol abuse.
Having experienced a traumatic event can lead to many mental health concerns, including an increased likelihood of substance use disorders. If you’re reading this, you or a loved one may already know from personal experience how intertwined PTSD and alcohol can become!
The good news is that healing is possible. So, what should you know if you or your loved one is impacted by either or both conditions?
This guide will review important facts about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol abuse, the connection between trauma and alcohol use disorder, and how dual diagnosis treatment at Catalina Behavioral Health can help.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Not everyone who undergoes trauma will develop PTSD. In fact, many people who face traumatic events do not develop PTSD. Roughly 6% of the United States population will have PTSD at some point in their life, and many people who have had PTSD no longer meet the criteria for the disorder after treatment. Currently, statistics indicate that PTSD is more common in women than it is in men, though it can and does impact people of all genders.
Despite common misconceptions, PTSD does not only affect war veterans. Instead, it can come from any form of trauma. Those who have experienced sexual assault, natural disasters, illness, the death of a loved one, domestic violence, childhood abuse, or any other traumatic event can all develop PTSD. Witnessing traumatic experiences can also lead someone to develop PTSD.
Developing PTSD is never your fault, and the same applies to alcohol addiction. It is important to remove the shame and stigma from both PTSD and alcohol use disorder so that people can share their stories and overcome the battle.
What are the Most Common PTSD Symptoms?
Post-traumatic stress disorder affects everyone differently and can come with a host of different symptoms. Our PTSD and alcohol addiction treatment programs will help you address your unique symptoms and the specific traumatic events you have experienced.
PTSD is diagnosed based on the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders or DSM. In many cases, acknowledging PTSD symptoms is the first step to getting PTSD treatment.
PTSD symptoms can include but aren’t limited to the following:
- Intrusion: Intrusive thoughts, involuntary memories, distressing dreams, dissociation, or flashbacks of a traumatic event (which may feel so real that the individual feels they’re reliving the traumatic experience or seeing it again).
- Avoidance: Avoiding reminders of a traumatic event, which may include avoiding places, people, activities, objects, or situations associated with distressing memories. While this is not always the case, some people avoid thinking about or discussing the traumatic event.
- Alterations in cognition and mood: Trouble remembering important details of a traumatic event, negative thoughts, distorted beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., “I am bad” or “No one is trustworthy”), negative emotions, such as horror, anger, guilt or shame, decreased interest in activities one previously enjoyed, feeling detached or estranged from others, lack of positive emotions (e.g., happiness), or distorted thoughts surrounding the consequences or cause of a traumatic event, leading one to mistakenly blame themselves or others.
- Alterations in arousal and reactivity: Irritability, angry outbursts, reckless or self-destructive behavior, hypervigilance (being overly suspicious or watchful of one’s surroundings), trouble sleeping, problems concentrating, or being startled more easily.
The Link Between PTSD and Substance Abuse
People with PTSD are at a significantly higher risk of substance abuse, and traumatic experiences are one of the known risk factors that increase the likelihood that someone will develop alcohol use disorder. A national study found that 46.4% of those with PTSD also met the criteria for a substance use disorder.
Women with PTSD, whether from sexual abuse, violent traumatic events, or otherwise, were 2.48x more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence and 4.46x more likely to meet the criteria for drug abuse or dependence overall than women without PTSD. For men, the likelihood increased by 2.06x and 2.97x.
Due to the connection between alcohol abuse and PTSD, treatment professionals must be equipped to treat both PTSD and alcohol use disorder. So often, drug dependency and alcohol misuse are forms of self-medication. Our residential treatment programs help you develop healthy coping mechanisms that work and build a sustainable, enjoyable life.
What are the Typical Signs of Alcohol Abuse?
Many people with an alcohol use disorder do not realize they have a problem. In alcohol treatment, a moment of clarity often comes when you realize its effects on your life, yourself, and those around you.
Like with PTSD, knowing the signs of alcohol use disorder (AUD) can help you identify it in yourself or a loved one sooner. In many cases, acknowledging that you have problems with alcohol abuse is the first step toward seeking treatment.
You do not need to show every sign of alcohol use disorder to have a problem, and you do not have to wait for symptoms to worsen to reach out for treatment. Common signs of alcohol addiction include but aren’t limited to the following:
- Withdrawal symptoms when or if the effects of alcohol wear off (e.g., trouble sleeping, shaking, restlessness, racing heart, sweating, nausea, feeling uneasy, low, or depressed, seizures, or general feelings of unwell).
- Continuing to drink even though drinking or the effects of alcohol (e.g., a hangover, GI distress) has disrupted an important area of your life, such as work, school, or family life.
- Continuing to drink even if it causes negative mental health symptoms (e.g., increased depression or anxiety) or has caused memory blackouts.
- Spending a significant portion of time drinking, being sick from drinking, or getting over other negative effects of drinking alcohol.
- Getting into dangerous situations such as driving or risky sexual behavior after drinking more than once.
- Continuing to drink even when it causes problems in your personal life.
- Lack of interest or decreased interest in activities you used to enjoy.
- Needing to drink more alcohol than before to get the desired effects.
- Finding it hard to stop drinking or cut down, even if you want to.
- Drinking more or for longer than you intended.
- Experiencing alcohol cravings regularly that will not subside
Long-term effects of alcohol abuse can include but aren’t limited to liver disease, heart problems, stroke, legal and financial problems, problems in interpersonal relationships, job loss, death, coma, and new or worsening mental health concerns, such as new or worsening depression.
Getting treatment that addresses both alcohol consumption and co-occurring disorders like PTSD is life-changing for many people and can help you prevent these and other health risks.
Treating PTSD and Alcohol Use
Catalina Behavioral Health believes in whole-person healing and offers dual diagnosis treatment for those with a substance use disorder and one or more co-occurring disorders, including PTSD. In other words, our treatment programs address both substance abuse and other mental disorders a person experiences at the same time.
We offer a full continuum of care, including all of the following treatment options. If you aren’t sure which program or level of care is best for you at this time, our admissions team can help you decide.
Getting off of alcohol and other substances can come with uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Medical detoxification programs are designed to help clients get off of drugs and alcohol safely and with less distress.
Our inpatient medical detox programs include careful monitoring and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for those who need it.
Residential Treatment for PTSD at Catalina
Residential treatment is the most intensive level of care you can get in mental health and substance abuse facilities. In residential treatment at Catalina Behavioral Health, you will eat, sleep, and live at our treatment center for the duration of your program. This is beneficial because it allows for 24/7 supervision and support.
During the day, you will engage in treatment activities such as individual, group, and family therapy, recreation, holistic treatments (e.g., acupuncture), and anything else that is a part of your individualized treatment plan. Usually, residential mental health and alcoholism treatment lasts for around 28 days to six months.
Intensive Outpatient or IOP
Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) are the next step down from partial hospitalization. Although treatment activities are similar to those used in residential and partial hospitalization programs for substance abuse and co-occurring PTSD, IOP clients spend less time at their treatment facility throughout the day and week.
Since IOP requires a lower time commitment, it is generally used for those with less severe symptoms or as a step-down form of care. The flexibility of IOP allows clients to engage in or transition back into their daily lives and tend to responsibilities such as work, school, or caring for their family.
Partial Hospitalization or PHP
Partial hospitalization is one step below residential treatment in intensity. Unlike residential treatment, partial hospitalization programs (PHP) do not entail living at your treatment facility. Instead, PHP clients at Catalina Behavioral Health typically commute to our treatment facility five days per week and engage in treatment activities for 6-8 hours each day.
The treatment activities you’ll engage in while in PHP are the same as those used in residential treatment, but you will get to leave at the end of the day. Though not always, many of our PHP clients stay in sober living facilities. PHP can be an alternative to residential treatment or a step-down form of care.
Alumni Programs and Aftercare Support for Trauma Clients
Relapse prevention is critical in the treatment of alcohol use disorders and other mental health conditions. One of the most special parts of getting treatment at Catalina Behavioral Health is our alumni programs and emphasis on aftercare planning, which allow you to stay connected to your support system and move forward confidently after your treatment program is over.
Alumni options include but aren’t limited to support groups, continued therapy, and fun social outings, such as cookouts, sporting events, and volunteer opportunities.
Get Support to Overcome PTSD and Alcohol at Catalina Now
In our programs, those with PTSD, substance use disorders, and other mental health concerns learn skills to help them navigate triggers and reach a place of stability. Contact us today to learn more about Catalina Behavioral Health, verify your insurance coverage, or get additional information about your treatment options for free.
Call our warm and welcoming Admissions team at Catalina for a confidential consultation today, and get options for a future free from the shackles of PTSD and alcohol!
FAQs on PTSD and Alcohol Treatment Options
Does alcohol make PTSD worse?
Alcohol use can worsen PTSD symptoms. In fact, extensive research shows that drinking alcohol is linked to new or worsening mental health concerns, especially in cases of alcohol abuse.
Alcohol abuse is linked to depression, risky behavior, an increased risk of accidents or injuries (e.g., car accidents), financial and legal problems, strained interpersonal relationships, and physical health concerns, such as an increased risk of heart disease, liver disease, various types of cancer, and jaundice.
Why do people with PTSD use alcohol?
Many people experience traumatic events but lack access to the skills they need to cope and heal directly after the fact. If left unaddressed, PTSD symptoms can seriously impact a person’s life, mental state, and physical health.
Without healthy coping mechanisms, a person may turn to substance abuse as a means to self-medicate, which could manifest in the form of binge drinking or otherwise problematic drinking behaviors.
However, since alcohol abuse can make PTSD symptoms worse, this often leads to more problems. Treatment can help you overcome both substance abuse and co-occurring mental illness and get to a better place.