‘Negative Coping’ Blamed for Alcohol Abuse in People With PTSD
People who live through highly traumatic circumstances may use a number of coping strategies as part of an attempt to regain a sense of emotional/psychological well-being. Unfortunately, some coping strategies produce negative effects for the individual rather than positive effects. In a study published in December 2014 in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, researchers from two U.S. universities examined the connection between alcohol use and negative coping strategies in people who develop diagnosable cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These researchers concluded that PTSD-affected individuals can considerably worsen their situations when they use alcohol to offset their dysfunctional mental states.
PTSD and Negative Coping Strategies
People with post-traumatic stress disorder may adopt a number of negative coping strategies that ultimately do them more harm than good, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD reports. In addition to consuming alcohol in excessive amounts and/or using drugs, prominent examples of these strategies include constantly guarding against future threats to health or well-being, avoiding social interactions with the general public or loved ones, engaging in unusually violent or aggressive behavior, giving license to unrestrained feelings of anger, purposefully staying away from anything that brings a traumatic experience back to mind, maintaining an excessive work schedule and seeking out dangerous situations or engaging in clearly dangerous behaviors.
All negative coping strategies have a damaging impact on a person with PTSD and reduce the likelihood that that person will recover from the condition. For example, a PTSD-affected individual who avoids social contact can fail to develop the supportive interpersonal connections that make it easier to deal with the disorder’s effects. An individual who tries to guard against all possible future threats can seriously heighten his or her ongoing stress levels. An individual who seeks out dangerous situations increases his or her chances of experiencing severe or fatal injuries. An individual who maintains an excessive work schedule may never seek appropriate treatment for PTSD or fail to follow through on various aspects of treatment.
Alcohol Use and PTSD
There is a mutually reinforcing connection between drinking and post-traumatic stress disorder. Broadly speaking, people who consume alcohol in excessive amounts have increased chances of developing PTSD in the aftermath of exposure to highly traumatic circumstances. Conversely, people already dealing with diagnosable PTSD are unusually likely to develop alcohol use disorder (the modern term for alcoholism and/or alcohol abuse). Risks for PTSD-related drinking problems typically reach their peak in people who live through physically violent trauma or abusive trauma. Compared to men, women also have heightened chances of developing alcohol-related problems in the aftermath of trauma exposure.
Negative Coping, Alcohol and PTSD
In the study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, researchers from the State University of New York at Buffalo and Syracuse University used data gathered from 734 college students to explore the link between negative coping strategies, alcohol use and the relative severity of PTSD symptoms. At the beginning of the study, all of the participants were college freshmen with a history of exposure to traumatic experiences capable of triggering PTSD. The researchers took three annual readings of each participant’s PTSD symptoms, level of involvement in negative coping strategies and typical pattern of alcohol intake.
After reviewing the data, the researchers preliminarily concluded that the use of negative coping strategies in the aftermath of trauma exposure significantly increases the odds that a person will develop PTSD. They also preliminarily concluded that people with PTSD have an unusually pronounced tendency to adopt negative coping strategies in their daily lives. When they assessed the connection between alcohol use, negative coping and PTSD, the researchers concluded that trauma-exposed people who adopt negative coping strategies have increased chances of developing risky patterns of alcohol use and subsequently experiencing alcohol-related harm. In addition, they concluded that negative coping strategies create an indirect link to alcohol-related harm in people affected by diagnosable PTSD. Essentially, this means that negative coping helps explain why people with PTSD develop alcohol problems.
The study’s authors believe that public health efforts aimed at reducing the use of negative coping strategies could substantially reduce the rate of PTSD and drinking problems, at least in college students previously exposed to traumatic circumstances.