Stress, alcoholics, and post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Stress is believed to contribute to the initiation, development and/or maintenance of alcohol problems.
  • New findings indicate that alcoholics with and without post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have disrupted responses to stress.
  • Alcoholics without PTSD in particular showed high emotional but low biological responses to stress and were more likely to drink in the month following the test.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) commonly co-occurs with alcoholism and is characterized by abnormalities in the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. However, the influence of interaction between these two disorders upon disruptions in the HPA axis is not well understood. A study in the June issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found that alcoholics without PTSD have a disconnect between their high emotional distress and low biological stress response to a stress-inducing test and appear more likely to relapse during the month following the test.

"More than 50 percent of individuals with PTSD meet criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence at some time in their lives," said Kathleen T. Brady, professor of psychiatry and associate dean for clinical research at the Medical University of South Carolina and corresponding author for the study. "It is possible that individuals with PTSD use alcohol in an attempt to treat some of the symptoms associated with PTSD such as sleep disturbance, nightmares and unwanted thoughts of the traumatic event. It is also possible that using alcohol as a means of coping with traumatic events and memories prevents the development of more healthy coping strategies and may make an individual more vulnerable to the development of PTSD after a traumatic event has occurred."

"The HPA axis is a critical part of the body's stress response system," explained Bryon H. Adinoff, Distinguished Professor in the department of psychiatry at the Uni


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