New Study Examines Anxiety Sensitivity and Alcohol in People with PTSD

Anxiety sensitivity (AS) describes over-sensitivity to anxiety and symptoms of anxiety. Essentially, someone with AS is afraid of being anxious and afraid, and is at increased risk for developing a potential anxiety problem. Individuals with AS may also use alcohol to cope with stressful situations. In a recent study led by Seth J. Gillihan from the University of Pennsylvania, researchers explored the relationship between AS, alcohol use and PTSD. “Individuals with high levels of AS who also have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be at particular risk for problematic alcohol consumption given the high levels of stress and anxiety that define PTSD,” said Gillihan. “Therefore, it is important to identify the specific variables that interact with AS to predict greater alcohol use among individuals with PTSD. Identification of these variables may lead to more targeted treatments that specifically address the use of alcohol to dull fear-related symptoms following a trauma.”

The researchers examined 151 participants at nine different times over 12 months. They evaluated them for symptoms of PTSD using the PTSD Symptom Scale-Interview (PSS-I) and gauged anxiety using the Anxiety Sensitivity Index (ASI). The team realized that there was a direct link between AS and drinking in people with PTSD, however it was different than what they theorized. “In contrast to our hypothesis, it was the low-AS group whose drinking behavior was more strongly associated with PTSD symptom levels, both for re-experiencing and avoidance symptoms; low levels of PTSD symptoms in this group were associated with relatively fewer days drinking, whereas high levels of PTSD symptoms were associated with more frequent drinking,” said Gillihan. He added that these findings could influence treatment approaches for people with PTSD and AS. Gillihan said, “Additional interventions including exposure to interoceptive cues, such as those used to treat panic disorder (e.g., having patients breathe through a straw to induce sensations of suffocation), may complement the standard treatments for PTSD among individuals high in AS given their overall greater drinking levels.”

Gillihan, S. J., Farris, S. G., & Foa, E. B. (2011, May 16). The Effect of Anxiety Sensitivity on Alcohol Consumption Among Individuals With Comorbid Alcohol Dependence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023799

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Shay


    October 2nd, 2011 at 6:22 AM

    Does not really seem like a good idea if you have anxiety issues compounded by PTSD that you would want to add problems with alcohol to all of that. Seems that the best idea would be to stay away from drinking so that that interaction does not have the chance to blossom into symptoms even more sinister.

  • rosa


    October 3rd, 2011 at 3:35 AM

    yes,it can be hard to cope with situations such as these but alcohol never seems to diminish in demand does it?!is it really worth it to think you’re doing great when you’re only killing yourself?!

  • Jason


    October 3rd, 2011 at 4:18 AM

    If someone is already afraid of being anxious then doesn’t that in and of itself constitute an anxiety problem?

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