Stress and trauma images produced increases in alcohol craving, anxiety, fear, and anger in military veterans diagnosed with alcohol dependence and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a recent Yale study.
Published in the journal, “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research,” the study was the first to explore the effects of trauma-induced and stress-induced imagery on alcohol craving, affect, and cardiovascular and cortisol responses in a laboratory setting.
Researchers examined 25 veterans diagnosed with alcohol dependence and PTSD. Participants were randomly exposed to neutral, stressful, and trauma imagery. Results showed that both stress and trauma cues produced greater increases in alcohol craving, negative affect (anxiety, fear, anger), and cardiovascular reactivity than neutral cues.
According to the study, trauma images produced significantly stronger craving for alcohol and greater cardiovascular reactivity than stress images.
“The results highlight that trauma cues are more salient in inducing alcohol craving than stress cues and higher reactivity is related to more baseline drinking. This finding is consistent with clinical observations that show an association between PTSD symptoms and alcohol relapse. It also underscores the importance of adequate treatment of PTSD as reactivity related to trauma cues and reminders may be an important factor in craving and relapse,” the authors wrote.
The study’s first author was Elizabeth Ralevski, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry. Other contributors were Steven Southwick, Eric Jackson, Jane Serrita Jane, Melanie Russo and Ismene Petrakis.