Which Came First, The PTSD or The Alcoholism?

Which Came First, The PTSD or The Alcoholism?


ptsd and alcoholismThe acronym PTSD is one that many people are familiar with but few truly understand. Unfortunately, as NewsOK recently reported, the aftermath of 9/11 for first responders has shown more of us how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can destroy individuals and families.

First Person to Get Bitten by a Tiger

While the condition of PTSD has probably affected the human psyche since the dawn of time, the diagnosis became official in 1980 when the American Psychiatric Association added it to the third addition of the DSM. Since then, the criteria for PTSD have been met by war veterans, rape victims and other survivors of traumatic events like Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Holocaust. Not surprisingly, many alcoholics and addicts also suffer from PTSD. Or is it the other way around?

According to a study conducted by Columbia University and reported by the New York Post in 2014, of the people with the highest exposure to the tragedies of The World Trade Center, nearly 14 percent admitted to being heavy drinkers and 10 percent reported recurrent binge drinking. But are the high levels of alcohol abuse in first responders entirely due to large-scale horrific events like 9/11? Unfortunately, it doesn’t take two 110-story buildings going down for people to suffer from PTSD. This could be why many people don’t know they have it, rationalizing their life’s events are nothing compared to those who have been to war. All the while, they may not understand why they are so uneasy, drinking and drugging to numb the pain.

PTSD and Alcoholism, Chicken or Egg?

Since many alcoholics and addicts have experienced trauma, it could be that the disease was developed as a secondary condition. I know for myself that alcoholism runs in my family, so I was genetically predisposed. But being raised in a chaotic home where I was exposed to physical, emotional and sexual abuse, the effects of addiction and mental illness brought an immense amount of trauma into my life at a young age. Because of PTSD, I was probably going to abuse alcohol and drugs regardless of my genetic make-up.

Even after I got sober—more than 10 years in—I was still being triggered by my PTSD despite 20 years of therapy and a decade of 12-step work. It became clear that trauma was living inside my body and I needed to take more direct measures to address it. After six months of EMDR, I began to see results in my day-to-day life: I was less reactive and finally had the ability to pause and take a breath before allowing a situation to process. Freaking out after being triggered was something I thought I was going to have to endure for the rest of my life, but now I feel free.

EMDR isn’t the only way to deal with PTSD. Due to ever-evolving research, methods such as Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy and even Ocean Therapy have shown to be highly effective.

The Somewhat Happy Ending

The good news is, traumatic events like 9/11 don’t always precipitate a downward spiral into alcoholism and drug addiction. In fact, it can have the opposite effect as illustrated by Michael Morse, a man whose drinking initially escalated in the wake of 9/11. But after seeing how people came together to support each other through a crisis, he got clarity on what was important to him and decided to quit drinking and pull his life together for his family.

Even for those who are still suffering, there is a solution. While PTSD might be a hard diagnosis to accept, it can explain a lot of personal struggles with drinking, drugging and maintaining relationships—even jobs. The happy ending here is that there is treatment available for those who want it.


About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.