Co-occurring Disorders: PTSD and Alcoholism

By December 11, 2023May 30th, 2024Co-Occurring Disorders

What Is PTSD and Why Does It Develop?

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a very serious, painful condition that can develop when we are exposed to something too intense for the human psyche.

As the name indicates, PTSD develops after going through an incident or series of extremely stressful incidents. PTSD is commonly diagnosed alongside alcoholism and other substance addictions as a co-occurring disorder.

PTSD is a risk for people who are exposed to war, sexual assault, child abuse, violence, poverty, and car accidents, among other things. It’s not uncommon for people involved in these kinds of events to come away with shattered nervous systems.

A shattered nervous system creates a life of acute personal misery, of constantly being stuck in a state of high stress. People with shattered nervous systems very often turn to alcohol, drugs, and other self-destructive behaviors out of desperation to modulate their inner experiences.

Trauma can also come from repeated, long-term exposure to less acute but still very damaging and still life-threatening conditions, such as what happens in childhood if we are not appropriately cared for at all levels of our being.

Many experiences that are considered part of a normal childhood are trauma risks for human beings. Attachment trauma – when we do not have enough of a psychologically healthy and secure bond with a parent – is very widespread. Certainly sexual, physical, and psychological harm and neglect of childhood emotional needs are demonstrably damaging to human development.

All in all, PTSD and chronic trauma are epidemic among women, operating side by side with addiction to cause severe suffering across America.

The Problem With Traumatic Stress

All the above-mentioned situations are damaging to women because they are extremely stressful. Stress is a natural biological response that gets activated in us at the pre-conscious bodily level when something potentially dangerous or harmful is taking place.

Stress operates more or less the same way in all mammals – heart rate increases to pump blood into our muscles, we’re flooded with adrenaline, cortisol, and other body chemicals, and we breathe rapidly to increase oxygen levels.

Stress is natural and life-protective, but it’s not healthy to be in a state of stress for longer than a few moments or it damages the body and nervous system. Many important bodily processes, like digestion, healing, learning, and psychological development, are disturbed and put on pause while we’re in a state of stress, and if we don’t exit the stress state quickly enough, it leaves lasting wounds in the body and nervous system.

Psychologically, stress disrupts our empathy, our higher mental functioning, and certainly our creativity, pleasure, and joy, replacing our humanity with emergency mode. No one is their real or best self while in a state of stress. So it’s very important that stress is a temporary state with a clear ending, and that after the stressful incident, we are allowed and able to float back down to more whole, embodied, relaxed states of being.

We need to relax again for our naturally loving, creative, and calm human nature to re-inhabit our bodies and continue with the process of growing up into the wonderful selves we’re here to be.

How Can Trauma and PTSD Lead to Problems With Alcohol?

a-woman-meditating-on-the-beachFor women who develop PTSD, a return to relaxation and feelings of safety never really happens. We stay stuck in the nightmarish, surreal, hyper-stressed condition of perceiving danger everywhere. This also means that our lives are on pause and our human development is arrested in some ways.

To be able to release the stress response, all women need time, space, and the opportunity for physical, and emotional release. We also need help making sense of the experience, and integrating it into our understanding of ourselves and the world.

Many of us do not get that time. Instead, the stress response gets trapped in the body, where it becomes a source of living hell of permanent physical and emotional distress.

People with trauma are at exceptionally high risk of addiction, including alcoholism. Why? Because we need something to help us cope.

PTSD is characterized by intrusive obsessive thoughts, disturbing memories and flashbacks, nightmares, and night terrors, and feelings of extreme dread, helplessness, anger, and shame. It is one of the worst experiences known to mankind.

How Can Alcohol Problems Lead To Trauma and Problematic Relationships?

Tragically, people who have alcohol addiction also are likely to expose themselves to more and more traumatizing situations.

Alcohol numbs our higher functioning, and leads women towards emotional and physical harm, as can happen when driving under the influence or entering into risky sexual situations because of lowered inhibitions and being in the wrong places at the wrong times.

There is a high correlation between domestic violence and alcohol, as well, on both sides of the equation. Many abused women use substances to deal with their victimization.

We will discover upon getting sober just how many terrible situations we have endured and survived. And while our conscious mind has been numbed into forgetting, our nervous system remembers forever what happened to us.

Our trauma is waiting for us to heal it. The return to warm, connected safety that never happened still needs to happen. The good news is, no matter how long ago the events that damaged us were, our return to safety can happen now, with some help through trauma-informed treatment.

Treatment for Alcohol and PTSD

a-woman-smiling-happy-waving-outside-of-the-carIf you have trauma, what your soul and body need is a chance to heal it. Alcohol is the opposite of that. For people who have PTSD, alcohol is a misleading solution, one that works in the short term and makes everything worse in the long term.

All trauma symptoms are worsened by alcohol – anxiety, dread, anger, panic, and the desperate urge to flee one’s own nightmarish experience are increased by the presence of alcohol.

The restoration of peace, goodness, and safety inside yourself is possible, but not as long as you’re drinking. That’s why it’s very important if you have alcohol addiction to receive help for it.

Alcoholism is notoriously tricky to beat and almost impossible to conquer alone. You don’t have to do it alone, because there are many resources and loving people who will help you recover. After all, it’s personally meaningful for them to help other women out of the nightmare that they also lived through.

Villa Kali Ma takes our mission of healing women very seriously. We know the misery inside and out, we know the path to healing and the joy that’s possible even after living in hell. If you’re seeking help for PTSD and alcoholism, think about whether you might want to come to start your trauma-healing journey with us. We’d love to have you.

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