Drinking to regret: the relationship between alcohol, memory, and PTSD
Have you ever got drunk to make yourself feel better? Or do you drink to forget? Many people drink more after experiencing trauma, with different theories suggesting that people drink to either cope with painful memories or forget traumatic events. This is important, as painful memories are among the most severe symptoms of trauma, developing into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if traumatic memories persist. However, it is unknown how alcohol use after experiencing a traumatic event influences our memories, despite many people using alcohol more after trauma. This is particularly concerning for heavy drinking populations, who are more likely to develop PTSD after trauma and respond poorly to treatment. However, it is unknown to what extent traumatic memories influence and motivate post-traumatic alcohol use among heavy drinkers. This project will use mixed-method techniques explore the relationship between post-traumatic alcohol use and traumatic memories, and how this may influence the development of PTSD and AUD. Laboratory experiments will test how drinking alcohol after watching a traumatic film influences memory accuracy and frequency, determining whether alcohol impairs specific components of memory, helping to inform tailored trauma treatment. The laboratory tests are then supported by interviews with heavy drinkers, exploring how beliefs about memory and traumatic memories influence alcohol use. This accounts for the full bi-directional relationship between alcohol and memory, whereby traumatic memories also influence alcohol use, helping to understand the cycle of traumatic memories and alcohol misuse among heavy drinkers that may contribute towards PTSD. Combined, these findings will help inform trauma treatment for heavy drinkers, helping understand how PTSD can be prevented in populations most vulnerable to the effects of trauma and alcohol misuse. By accounting for the effects of alcohol use on memory and vice versa, this research will ensure that when people drink, they won't drink to regret.