Alcohol’s Contribution to Anxiety

PTSD symptoms could be worsened by heavy alcohol consumption

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affect the lives of many people. These people frequently turn to alcohol consumption to deal with the pain. However, alcohol may just be making it worse.

According to a new study, those who drink heavily may have a harder time ‘un-learning’ a fear.

This may cause symptoms linked to anxiety disorders and PTSD to worsen.

"Ask your psychiatrist for anxiety symptom remedies."

"A history of heavy alcohol abuse could impair a critical mechanism for recovering from a trauma, and in doing so put people at greater risk for PTSD," said Andrew Holmes, PhD, scientist at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

"We're not only seeing that alcohol has detrimental effects on a clinically important emotional process, but we're able to offer some insight into how alcohol might do so by disrupting the functioning of some very specific brain circuits."

The researchers gave a group of mice alcohol for a month. The amount of alcohol given to the mice was equal to double the legal driving limit in humans. The mice were then taught to fear a specific sound. Every time the sound was played the mice were given an electric shock.

A second group of mice was not given any alcohol but subject to the same electric shock learning experience.

The researchers then played the sound without the electric shock. All of the mice were initially afraid of the sound. However, those mice that had not been given alcohol eventually learned not to fear the sound.

The mice that have been given alcohol continued to fear the sound long after the electric shocks had been removed.

Researchers then analyzed and compared the brains between the two groups of mice. They found that cells in a brain area called the prefrontal cortex had a different shape in the mice who had been given alcohol.

In addition, a specific brain receptor called NMDA was not operating properly in these mice.

More research is necessary in order to understand the link between anxiety and alcohol consumption in humans, say researchers.

"The next step will be to test whether our preclinical findings translate to patients currently suffering from comorbid PTSD and alcohol abuse. If it does, then this could lead to new thinking about how we can better treat these serious medical conditions."

The study was published online September 2, 2012 in the journal Nature Neuroscience and was conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the University of North Carolina's Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies.

The study authors report no financial conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 10, 2012
Last Updated:
June 26, 2013