In a pattern similar to that found in humans with PTSD, animals subjected to a single episode of prolonged stress and then briefly restressed after a stress-free period showed enhancement of glucocorticoid negative feedback (45). AAC’s treatment team of doctors, therapists, and other treatment professionals, will address the comorbidity of PTSD and alcoholism and can tailor your mental health and recovery treatment plans to offer you a comprehensive, integrated approach to manage both your substance use and mental health issues. Different psychotherapeutic techniques and therapies may be used to treat comorbid AUD and PTSD. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can help people identify their emotions and triggers for symptoms to help them develop better coping mechanisms.

  1. Special Events
  2. PTSD and physical health
  3. Relationship of Substance Use to PTSD Symptoms
  4. Military trauma and stress exposure
  5. What Is PTSD?
  1. The first study by Stein and colleagues (2017) reports on alcohol misuse and AUD prior to enlistment in the Army, and highlights the strong association between prior AUD and subsequent development of PTSD among newly enlisted soldiers.
  2. This study examined how alcohol use disorder (AUD) patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) differed from those without PTSD in terms of demography, drinking patterns and C-reactive protein, inflammatory cytokines, tryptophan metabolism parameters, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
  3. Studies report increases in veteran alcohol use after sexual abuse and/or sexual assault endured in combat.
  4. Since its inception, the intervention has been modified to address all substances of abuse and currently consists of 12 individual, 90-minute sessions that include a substance abuse and PTSD component (Back et al., 2012; Killeen, Back, & Brady, 2011).
  5. Recent evidence has also suggested a role in the underlying neurobiology of both PTSD and AUD for glutamate and GABA, which are the most prevalent neurotransmitters in the brain.

To understand how trauma can lead to emotional distress and affect alcohol consumption, it is important to understand the biochemical changes that occur during and after an experience of uncontrollable trauma. During uncontrollable trauma, an increase in endogenous opioids (endorphins) helps to numb the pain of the trauma. Following the trauma, however, a rebound endorphin withdrawal can contribute to the symptoms of emotional distress observed after a traumatic event as well as an increased desire to drink alcohol. The endorphin compensation hypothesis assumes that people use alcohol following a traumatic experience in an attempt to relieve the endorphin deficiency. According to this hypothesis, this use of alcohol creates a vicious cycle in which more alcohol is needed to prevent subsequent endorphin withdrawal symptoms.


Special Events

The Simpson et al. (2017) article extends prior reviews of behavioral treatments for AUD/PTSD by considering whether comparison treatment conditions are matched to the experimental treatment condition on time and attention, and by reporting on alcohol and drug use outcomes separately when possible. The Petrakis and Simpson (2017) review of pharmacological treatments is specific to the comorbidity of PTSD and AUD, as compared to other substance use disorders, and it includes several more recently published randomized controlled trials that are not included in prior reviews on this topic. Transcend, a 12-session manualized group treatment, consists of emphasis on the development of coping skills during the initial 6 sessions, followed by trauma processing conducted in the final 6 sessions (Donovan, Padin-Rivera, Kowaliw, 2001). Throughout treatment, substance use education, relapse prevention techniques, peer support, and 12 Step attendance is encouraged. In an open pilot trial among 46 male Vietnam Veterans participating in a partial hospitalization program, Transcend participants demonstrated significant improvement from baseline with respect to PTSD symptoms at post-treatment, 6, and 12 month follow-up.

Generally, studies were conducted over many years and screened large numbers of subjects to reach target samples. Difficulty with recruitment may be another reason investigators have included subjects who are taking other psychotropic medications even though this complicates the interpretation of results. It should be noted, however, licenses and regulations for sober living homes that to exclude patients with comorbid PTSD and AD who are taking psychotropic medications would not only make recruitment more challenging, it would also decrease the generalizability of the findings. Other issues that may have extra-medication bearing on findings include the different treatment settings noted across studies.

PTSD and physical health

Women were randomized to one of the two interventions and individual sessions were delivered twice weekly for 12 weeks. Compared to a nonrandomized community care group, both treatment interventions had improved substance use and PTSD severity outcomes at the end of treatment, and at 6 and 9 months follow-up. Of note, PTSD symptom severity scores as measured by the CAPS were still in the moderate severity range (score range 48–60) post treatment, and no significant differences in PTSD or SUD symptoms between the SS and relapse prevention groups were observed.

The availability of such a range of assessment options make both the regular integration of trauma screening into traditional SUD treatment settings, as well as the integration of SUD screening into traditional trauma-focused treatment settings, a viable and worthwhile standard operating procedure among practitioners. When patients have sleep-related concerns such as insomnia, early morning awakening, or fatigue, it is wise to screen them for heavy alcohol use and assess for AUD as needed. If they use alcohol before bedtime, and especially if they shift their sleep timing on weekends compared to weekdays, they may have chronic circadian misalignment. If they report daytime sleepiness, one possible cause is alcohol-induced changes in sleep physiology.

Relationship of Substance Use to PTSD Symptoms

For this reason, it is important to evaluate both risk for exposure as well as risk for a disorder among those exposed. In the paper by Emerson and colleagues (2017), the authors examined the association between AUD and PTSD in American Indians/Alaskan Natives (AIAN) as compared to non- Hispanic Whites (NHW). In a large sample of over 19,000 participants, prevalence rates of AUD, PTSD, as well as comorbid AUD/PTSD were found to be significantly higher in AIAN participants as compared to NHW participants.

Uncontrollable trauma in animals and humans leads to stress-induced increases in the release of endorphins. The emotional numbing seen in rats exhibiting learned helplessness and in patients with PTSD may be related to the increased release of endorphins as a result of stress. Such increases in endorphin activity are observed in response to trauma and may also occur during exposure to trauma reminders.

Military trauma and stress exposure

A few differences were noted for example, the Hein study included subjects with sub-threshold PTSD and only one study included PTSD severity as a criterion for entry into the study (Foa et al. 2013). Similarly, the outcome measures were mostly comparable; reporting on alcohol consumption based on the Time Line Followback Method and PTSD symptoms using Clinician Administered PTSD (CAPS) or its derivative, the PTSD Checklist (PCL). Only two studies reported on a “clinically meaningful change” (Foa et al. 2013, Hien et al. 2015) and one study characterized subjects based on onset of PTSD and onset of alcohol dependence (Brady et al. 2005) but the validity of these subgroups is not well established.

(See Core article on neuroscience.) As described in the sections to follow, a timeline of your patient’s symptoms is a key tool for a differential diagnosis. The study has several limitations that may affect the generalizability of the findings. Research was conducted with female participants only, a group that is at greater risk for PTSD but at reduced risk for alcohol problems (Breslau 2002; Kessler et al. 1997). It is possible these results may not generalize to men; comparisons based on gender were not possible. In addition, the study did not assess other potential comorbid psychiatric conditions.

In addition, incorporation of prolonged exposure did not lead to increased rates of treatment dropout or relapse. Although preliminary, the findings support the feasibility of integrating prolonged exposure into residential SUD treatment facilities (see Henslee & Coffey, 2010). Implementing SUD treatments for individuals with co-occurring PTSD and AUD could be a way for providers to address clinical needs without learning another manual-guided treatment. Motivational enhancement therapy could be used for this purpose, as it has been used what causes alcohol use disorder alcoholism successfully to reduce drinking among soldiers with untreated AUD, most of whom also had severe symptoms of PTSD.56 This therapy may be useful as an intervention for increasing treatment engagement and preventing treatment dropout. Motivational enhancement therapy also shows promise as a way to increase treatment initiation among veterans and military personnel who are reluctant to enter treatment or address their substance misuse during treatment for PTSD, particularly if they perceive that substance use eases their PTSD symptoms.

Assisting PTSD alcoholic family members may be especially difficult because people aren’t labels, they’re just a loved one struggling with an alcohol addiction. However, one of the greatest predictors of positive treatment outcomes is social support. Making a loved one feel supported and understood can increase the likelihood of effective treatment.

What Is PTSD?

Given the research to date, it seems unlikely that one medication will be effective in treatment of both disorders given the complexity of comorbidity. As medications emerge that appear to be effective at treating one of the disorders without comorbidity (e.g., gabapentin for alcohol), testing them in comorbidity, while not especially “innovative”, is important before disseminating in “real world” populations. Because inpatient studies are expensive, other innovative strategies such as laboratory studies using stress reactivity or cue induced craving may be more efficient and cost-effective for testing novel therapies. This is an exciting field of study, which has important ramifications both for research and clinical treatment settings and hopefully investigators will be encouraged to conduct studies that can move this field forward.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are highly prevalent and debilitating psychiatric conditions that commonly co-occur. Individuals with comorbid AUD and PTSD incur heightened risk for other psychiatric problems (e.g., depression and anxiety), impaired vocational and social functioning, and poor treatment outcomes. This review describes evidence-supported behavioral interventions for treating AUD alone, PTSD alone, and comorbid AUD and PTSD.

More specifically, stress, including stress related to self-administration of or withdrawal from substances, may stimulate CRH release in the locus ceruleus, leading to activation of the locus ceruleus and release of norepinephrine in the cortex, which in turn may stimulate the release of CRH in the hypothalamus and amygdala (20). Such an interaction between the brain noradrenergic and CRH systems may mediate the symptoms of hyperarousal seen in PTSD, including exaggerated startle response. can tapering off alcohol reduce withdrawal symptoms The proclivity toward misuse of CNS depressants by patients with PTSD may reflect an attempt to interrupt this feed-forward interaction by suppressing activity of the locus ceruleus with these agents (68). Research in the past quarter century has shown that experiencing trauma does not necessarily lead to psychopathology. As much as 70 percent of the U.S. population has experienced at least one trauma, such as a traffic accident, assault, or an incident of physical or sexual abuse.

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