PTSD Symptoms Increased with Alcohol Consumption in College Students


Lexi Weyrick
Staff Writer
Illustration by Maya Bolanos

A recent study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that there is a link between alcohol consumption and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in college students. The study, “Reciprocal Associations Between PTSD Symptoms and Alcohol Involvement in College: A Three-Year Trait-State-Error Analysis,” is the first to test the theories surrounding the interdependence of alcohol and PTSD.

PTSD is a trauma-related issue, best described as being in “fight or flight” response when there is nothing to fight or run from. This disorder manifests itself in people who have experienced or witnessed a trauma. It is most commonly associated with war veterans, but it is also very common in people who have suffered sexual and/or physical assault or even the threat of such an assault.

“Evidence suggests that PTSD symptoms and drinking commonly co-occur, and may be mechanistically associated with one another,” the study states.

Drinking has been a trend on college campuses for a long time and now there is evidence to suggest that students who have signs of PTSD are more likely to drink more than other students. Additionally, those students have a higher likelihood of their alcohol consumption exacerbating their symptoms.

The study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, tracked 486 students at 12 different times, over the span of three years, during their college careers. These students represented the relationship between drinking heavily and PTSD symptoms.

The study also goes on to say, “The cross-lagged associations among state variables suggest that high levels of alcohol use prospectively predicted subsequent high levels of PTSD symptoms, and that high levels of PTSD symptoms prospectively predicted high levels of subsequent alcohol use within each academic year.”

The study mentions that the findings are significant enough so as to suggest that the link is definitively between PTSD and alcohol consumption. This is important due to the ability to say with certainty that the relationship between the two factors exists.

Heavy drinking increases the chance of a traumatic event occurring, such as a sexual assault or violence, which can lead to the onset of PTSD. Once the person has PTSD, they are more likely to rely on things like alcohol in order to avoid symptoms of their disorder. However, the study also points out that the drinking can lead to heightened symptoms of PTSD.

However, this is not necessarily a breakthrough study for all those suffering from PTSD. This study only discusses the links with PTSD and college students’ alcohol consumption.

“Replication of this work with younger adolescents, older adults, and populations such as veterans or those with alcohol dependence is needed in order to understand how and for whom PTSD symptom-alcohol associations unfold across the life span,” the study also says.

Regardless, the study, being the first of its kind to test the long-held theories of a relationship between PTSD and alcohol, makes the first step at further testing and understanding PTSD as a physiological disorder.

The information that PTSD and drinking are linked in college students can lead to helpful developments in treating those students throughout their college careers.