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Examining the Relationship Between Alcohol Use and Coping with Trauma
Alcohol and Mental Health

Examining the Relationship Between Alcohol Use and Coping with Trauma

Published:
June 24, 2024
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9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 24, 2024
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9 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 24, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 24, 2024
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9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 24, 2024
·
9 min read

Alcohol use and trauma are intricately linked, with many individuals turning to alcohol as a means of coping with the psychological and emotional aftermath of traumatic experiences. This relationship is complex and multifaceted, often leading to a vicious cycle where alcohol use exacerbates trauma symptoms, which in turn leads to increased alcohol consumption. In this article, we will explore how trauma affects individuals, why alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism, and healthier alternatives for managing trauma.

Understanding Trauma

Examining the Relationship Between Alcohol Use and Coping with Trauma

Trauma can be defined as an emotional response to a distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual's ability to cope. It can result from various experiences, including physical or sexual assault, accidents, natural disasters, or ongoing emotional abuse. Trauma affects the brain and body in profound ways, often leading to long-term psychological and physical health issues.

Types of Trauma

Trauma generally falls into two categories:

  1. Type 1 Trauma: Single-incident trauma, such as a car accident or a natural disaster.
  2. Type 2 Trauma: Complex trauma involving repeated or prolonged exposure to distressing events, such as ongoing emotional abuse or childhood neglect.

Individuals who have experienced trauma may exhibit symptoms like anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and hypervigilance. These symptoms can be debilitating, affecting nearly every aspect of their lives.

The Link Between Trauma and Alcohol Misuse

Numerous studies have shown a significant correlation between trauma and alcohol misuse. For instance, approximately 75% of people who have survived abuse or violent traumatic events report having drinking problems. The risk is slightly higher for women, with studies indicating that women with PTSD are 2.5 times more likely to struggle with alcohol misuse than those without PTSD. Similarly, men with PTSD are twice as likely to misuse alcohol compared to men without the disorder.

Why Trauma Survivors Turn to Alcohol

Trauma survivors often turn to alcohol for several reasons:

  1. Temporary Relief: Alcohol can provide a temporary sense of relief from the distressing symptoms of trauma, such as anxiety and hypervigilance.
  2. Numbing Emotions: Many trauma survivors use alcohol to numb their emotions and avoid or forget traumatic memories.
  3. Sleep Aid: Some individuals turn to alcohol to help them relax and fall asleep, especially if they are plagued by insomnia due to intrusive thoughts and nightmares.

However, while alcohol may provide temporary relief, it ultimately exacerbates trauma symptoms and leads to a dangerous cycle of dependence and increased trauma-related distress.

The Vicious Cycle of Alcohol and Trauma

The relationship between alcohol and trauma is cyclical. While alcohol can temporarily dull the effects of trauma and help manage distress, it does not address the underlying causes. In fact, alcohol can increase symptoms such as anger, irritability, depression, and anxiety. This often leads to further alcohol consumption in an attempt to manage these heightened emotions, perpetuating a destructive cycle.

For example, many people with trauma have trouble sleeping due to traumatic memories. They might use alcohol to help them relax and get a good night's sleep. However, research confirms that alcohol disrupts sleep and reduces overall sleep quality, which in turn contributes to poor mood and anxiety, causing individuals to turn to alcohol for relief once again.

Long-term Effects

The long-term effects of using alcohol to cope with trauma can be severe, including:

  • Chronic health problems
  • Increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Worsening mental health conditions
  • Strained relationships and social isolation

Healthier Coping Mechanisms

Healing from trauma is possible, but it often requires professional treatment and the adoption of healthier coping mechanisms. Here are some effective strategies for managing trauma without turning to alcohol:

Psychotherapy

Participating in trauma-focused psychotherapy is one of the most effective ways to heal from trauma. Various types of therapy can be beneficial, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Involves processing traumatic memories while focusing on external stimuli, such as eye movements.
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: Involves gradually confronting trauma-related memories and situations in a controlled environment.

Medication

In some cases, medical professionals may prescribe medications to help manage trauma symptoms. Commonly prescribed medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac, which can help control symptoms like sadness, anxiety, anger, and sleep problems.

Self-Care Techniques

In addition to professional treatment, self-care techniques can nourish mental and physical well-being and provide immediate relief. Some effective self-care strategies include:

  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Practicing mindfulness can help individuals stay present and manage distressing thoughts and emotions.
  • Exercise: Physical activity can reduce stress and improve mood.
  • Journaling: Writing about thoughts and feelings can provide an outlet for processing emotions.
  • Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Eating nutritious meals, staying hydrated, and getting adequate sleep are essential for overall well-being.

Support Systems

Building a strong support system is crucial for individuals coping with trauma. This can include:

  • Support Groups: Joining a support group can provide a sense of community and shared understanding.
  • Professional Help: Seeking guidance from therapists, counselors, or coaches can offer personalized support and coping strategies.
  • Apps and Online Resources: Utilizing apps like Reframe, which offers science-backed knowledge and tools to help individuals cut back on alcohol consumption and build healthier habits.

Conclusion

The relationship between alcohol use and coping with trauma is complex and often leads to a vicious cycle of increased distress and dependence. While alcohol may provide temporary relief, it ultimately exacerbates trauma symptoms and contributes to long-term health problems. Healing from trauma requires professional treatment, healthier coping mechanisms, and a strong support system. By adopting these strategies, individuals can manage their trauma more effectively and build a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Improve Your Life with Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today! 

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