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Alcohol and Trauma

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Some people have suffered serious emotional tragedies or trauma.

For example, abuse or loss, or a traumatic event like the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one.

Trauma can cause all kinds of distress and suffering

Suffering from trauma includes the experience of deep helplessness during repeated traumatic experiences over a period of time, often in childhood, or an unexpected traumatic event.

Often people's emotions may be triggered by  a situation or event unrelated to the trauma.

How does trauma feel?

Everyone experiences trauma in their own way. Some common experiences are:

    • Feeling angry, emotional or violent - that our frustrating emotions will burst out at any moment.
    • Feeling stuck, restricted, numb or heavy, unable to free ourselves from the weight of our emotional burden.
    • Feeling anxious and restless, trapped or tense, overwhelmed by our pent-up emotional energy.

Why do some people use alcohol to try to deal with trauma?

It's human nature to want to avoid very negative or unpleasant feelings. Trauma can be so hard to bear that we will do anything to escape the pain. If we don’t find a better way to cope, alcohol might seem like an option.

“When I was in my early teens I had my first drink and I knew immediately this was my answer. I felt relaxed for the first time in my life. I became an instant alcoholic.”¹

It’s understandable that people may turn to alcohol. It may give some temporary relief from painful memories and the symptoms of trauma such as anxiety, irritability, depression and not being able to sleep.

What's the problem with using alcohol?

Over time, relying on alcohol can reduce our ability to cope with all kinds of stress and anxiety, and we may come to rely on it. This can create new problems to deal with.

In the long run, though, relying on alcohol can make things worse and may prevent people from getting the support they badly need to recover from their trauma. 

Healthy ways to deal with trauma

    • To recover from serious trauma can take a lot of support. Sharing your experiences and feelings with a sympathetic, supportive listener can help.
    • You may benefit from talking to people who have been through something similar. Look for online communities and support groups for your particular issue.
    • Professional help and advice is often needed if you are suffering with severe trauma. Talk to your GP, who can discuss options available to you and refer you on to helpful services like alcohol & drug counselling or specialist trauma therapy
    • Learn ways of trying to soothe yourself with gentle thoughts when you are beginning to feel overwhelmed. 
    • If you would like to read a booklet on traumatic stress and drug or alcohol use, click here

HSE National Counselling service

The HSE National Counselling Service is a free service for any adult who has experienced the trauma of abuse or neglect in childhood. It provides professional counselling and psychotherapy services to help people to cope better with their life and relationships.

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Connect is an additional service to the HSE’s National Counselling Service which provides free face-to-face counselling for people who have suffered abuse, trauma or neglect in their childhood.

Connect also provides telephone counselling. 

To speak to a counsellor Freephone 1800 477 477 (00800 477 477 77 from N Ireland / UK)

¹ Lisa M.Navajits (2014) Assessment of Trauma, PTSD and Substance Use Disorder, A Practical Guide.
Connect Leaflet (PDF size 850.1 KB)

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