Neuroscientist Studies Link Between PTSD and Alcohol Abuse

Justin Gass, Ph.D, a researcher in the Medical University of South Carolina’s Department of Neuroscience and Alcohol Research Center, has been awarded a $1.7 million grant that will help him continue his work studying the connection between PTSD and alcohol abuse.

PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) affects about eight million people in the United States, according to figures released by the National Center for PTSD. Approximately 75 percent of them report having an issue with alcohol abuse at some point.

Dr. Gass explains that it makes sense for a person who is looking to get away from the emotional pain and stress of difficult memories to use alcohol as short-term solution. He said, “People often learn early in life that drinking can ease a hard day or make you feel better. It’s a coping mechanism. But when someone develops PTSD, they often start drinking more and more. Our working theory is that repeated alcohol use makes fear memories worse, which in turn leads to more alcohol consumption. It’s a vicious cycle.”

Funds Will be Used for Research on Fear Memories

The grant, which was received from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, will allow Dr. Gass to identify the areas of the brain involved in processing fear memories and discover the impact of alcohol on them. His goal is to suggest possible treatment options that can help people living with PTSD overcome the influence their traumatic memories hold over them.

Dr. Gass went on to explain that psychologists don’t know a lot about how alcohol and traumatic memories interact with each other. He said current findings suggest that, “alcohol strengthens the consolidation of negative memories,” making them stronger.

In treatment, clients are asked recall their memories of the traumatic event with the help and support of a therapist and update it so that it will no longer be as fearful. Repeated alcohol exposure interferes with this process, so that a person who thinks they may be helping themselves by self-medicating with alcohol may be causing more harm.

Get Professional Help for PTSD and Alcohol Abuse

Treatment centers that treat people with a dual diagnosis such as PTSD and alcohol use disorders are the best option if you are looking for help for yourself or a loved one. They are equipped to evaluate and treat mental health and addiction concurrently.

If you have a loved one in need of help, contact us today to for more information and to locate appropriate facilities.