Neurobiology of comorbid post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol-use disorder

Genes Brain Behav. 2017 Jan;16(1):15-43. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12349. Epub 2016 Nov 18.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol-use disorder (AUD) are highly comorbid in humans. Although we have some understanding of the structural and functional brain changes that define each of these disorders, and how those changes contribute to the behavioral symptoms that define them, little is known about the neurobiology of comorbid PTSD and AUD, which may be due in part to a scarcity of adequate animal models for examining this research question. The goal of this review is to summarize the current state-of-the-science on comorbid PTSD and AUD. We summarize epidemiological data documenting the prevalence of this comorbidity, review what is known about the potential neurobiological basis for the frequent co-occurrence of PTSD and AUD and discuss successes and failures of past and current treatment strategies. We also review animal models that aim to examine comorbid PTSD and AUD, highlighting where the models parallel the human condition, and we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each model. We conclude by discussing key gaps in our knowledge and strategies for addressing them: in particular, we (1) highlight the need for better animal models of the comorbid condition and better clinical trial design, (2) emphasize the need for examination of subpopulation effects and individual differences and (3) urge cross-talk between basic and clinical researchers that is reflected in collaborative work with forward and reverse translational impact.

Keywords: Alcohol dependence; alcohol use disorder (AUD); alcoholism; amygdala; comorbid PTSD and AUD; hippocampus; mesolimbic reward circuit; norepinephrine; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol-Induced Disorders, Nervous System / complications
  • Alcohol-Induced Disorders, Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Alcohol-Induced Disorders, Nervous System / therapy
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / complications
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy