Alcoholism and PTSD Can be Safely Treated Together, Study Finds

Alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be safely treated together, a new study concludes. The study addresses concerns that treating PTSD could worsen alcoholism by bringing up painful memories, Reuters reports.

About one-third of people with PTSD also develop some level of alcohol dependence, the article notes.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania studied 165 people with both conditions. They were assigned to one of four treatment groups. One group received naltrexone, a drug that reduces alcohol cravings, and prolonged exposure therapy, which helps PTSD patients confront painful memories or situations. Another group received naltrexone and general counseling, a third group received prolonged exposure therapy and placebo pills, and a fourth group received placebo pills and support counseling.

After six months, all patients had a lower percentage of drinking days, and reduced cravings. Those taking naltrexone had a lower percentage of drinking days, compared with those taking placebo pills. Patients treated with prolonged exposure therapy and naltrexone had a drinking relapse rate of 5.4 percent, compared with 13.3 percent for those on a placebo who received supportive counseling.

“What we found is that those people that got (medication) plus prolonged exposure therapy for alcohol dependence together with the treatment for PTSD did the best for maintaining their low level of drinking,” said lead author Edna Foa. “If you are trying to treat the alcohol addiction without any treatment of the PTSD what will happen is that they will stop drinking and the PTSD will become more severe, so what they will do is start drinking again.”

The findings appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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    Richard Solomon

    August 10, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    As a professional with 30+ years of experience in treating people with alcohol and drug dependence I concur that treating their PTSD is also necessary. It is a matter of timing and balance: one must be extremely alert to and sensitive about addressing each condition in a manner that does not make the other one worse. It requires A LOT of emotional and intellectual flexibility and commitment on the part of the treating personnel to accomplish this. It will not work if the people doing the tx are too wedded to either the recovery or the mental health ideological framework.

    There are successful programs in DC that have worked very well with addicted/alcohol abusing women who have been victims of domestic violence in a similar manner.

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    Thomas Murphy

    August 7, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    Count me as a survivor and thriver with PTSD and ETOH dependence. In the beginning it seemed like ETOH squared but VA therapy and AA have worked for me. Almost 20 years sober now. Chaplain Larry Lapierre at White River Junction introduced my cohort to the 12 Steps for PTSD. My experience is that the disorder triggers the disease and the disease exacerbates the disorder. It was like braided symptoms. The trick was to separate the braid and try to determine what was pushing my buttons on any particular day. Was it PTSD or Alcoholism? In that way I learned to name the demon and stay sober.

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