New Study Shows Alcohol, PTSD Relationship in Veterans


Men with military experience were more likely to report drinking alcohol to cope than men without military experience.

Shannon M. Blakey, PhD

Shannon M. Blakey, PhD

New preliminary research shows a complex relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and drinking alcohol to cope with the symptoms for men in the military.

A team, led by Shannon M. Blakey, Durham VA Health System, compared trauma-exposed men without combat experience to men with military combat experience to identify who would be more likely to endorse drinking alcohol to cope with their PTSD symptoms.

The Theory

Both PTSD and alcoholic abuse are common for individuals who suffer a trauma. While it is well known there is higher rates of both hazardous alcohol use and PTSD in the military, there haven’t been any wide-scale studies examining whether military combat experience is linked to drinking alcohol to cope with PTSD symptoms.

“Although military combat experience was significantly associated with drinking to cope in bivariate analyses, multivariate analyses yielded mixed findings: combat experience was significantly associated with drinking to cope in models adjusting for PTSD diagnosis, but not in models adjusting for PTSD symptom count,” the author wrote. “Findings highlight the importance of assessing and targeting PTSD symptom-related alcohol use, even in the absence of alcohol abuse/dependence. Results from this preliminary study could inform future research on drinking to cope with PTSD symptoms among military combat veterans and other trauma survivors.”

The Study

In the study, the researchers used interview data from 11,474 who reported at least 1 lifetime traumatic experience from the National Epidemiologic survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a face-to-face interview study of a nationally representative sample of adults living in the US between 2004-2005.

“Among men endorsing lifetime trauma exposure, men with military combat experience (n = 1,386) were more likely than men without combat experience (n = 10,088) to report drinking alcohol to cope (7.22 vs. 2.61% in unweighted analyses, 6.46 vs. 2.37% in weighted analyses),” the authors wrote.

The total number of lifetime trauma types, lifetime PTSD severity, and lifetime alcohol abuse or dependence was significantly linked to drinking to cope in bivariate and multivariate analyses.

The investigators also found military combat experience was not significantly associated with drinking to cope in multivariate analyses where the team adjusted for lifetime PTSD symptom count.

A Possible Treatment

In a 2020 study, researchers found cannabis might soon move to the front of line as a treatment for patients suffering from PTSD.

Many individuals use cannabis as a way to manage PTSD symptoms, with evidence showing that the endocannabinoid system represents a viable target for treating these symptoms.

The investigators found that all symptoms were reduced by more than 50% immediately following the use of cannabis and time predicted larger decreases in intrusions and irritability.

While later cannabis use sessions predicted greater symptom relief than earlier sessions, higher doses of cannabis predicted larger reductions in intrusions and anxiety, and dose use to treat anxiety increased over time.

The study, “Drinking to Cope with Posttraumatic Stress: A Nationally Representative Study of Men with and without Military Combat Experience,” was published online in the Journal of Dual Diagnostics.

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