PTSD and Addiction


PTSD and addiction often co-occur. Learn all about this dual diagnosis and how to find effective treatment help at

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder is a mood disorder brought on by a traumatic experience(s). As with all mood disorders, attempts to cope with the emotional turmoil that PTSD brings can place individuals at increasing risk of substance abuse. When patterns of substance abuse start to take shape, the effects of PTSD and addiction join forces, making daily life so much more difficult than before.

The effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction can have debilitating effects on your quality of life, so there’s a need for some of level treatment help at the outset. If you or someone you know is dealing with PTSD and addiction, it helps to know that both conditions can be treated and there are many treatment options available.

For more information on PTSD and addiction treatment options, call at 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) .

Statistics on PTSD and Addiction

  • According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 3.5 percent of the U. S. population has PTSD, with 36.6 percent of those affected struggling with severe forms of the disorder
  • Rape victims, military personnel and individuals jailed on political and ethnic grounds have the highest rates of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • As many as 50 percent of people entering treatment for addiction also have PTSD
  • Individuals living with PTSD and addiction are at higher risk of relapse than those who have addiction only
  • Americans in general have a nine percent chance of developing post-traumatic stress disorder within their lifetimes

Causes of PTSD and Addiction

Post-traumatic stress disorder develops out of the body’s stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight response. When faced with a perceived danger, the body produces a physiological response that’s intended to protect the individual. With PTSD, this response continues on after the danger has passed.

Depending on the person and the degree of danger involved, PTSD symptoms can last anywhere from three months to several years. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, circumstances that can bring on symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include:

  • A car accident
  • The death of a loved one
  • A natural disaster
  • Being the victim of a crime
  • Childhood traumas
  • Witnessing a life-threatening accident
  • Sexual violence
  • Experiencing a severe injury

In effect, the fight-or-flight response leaves the body in a state of high stress. These conditions place you at a higher risk of developing a substance abuse problem than before the trauma occurred. When abused for prolonged periods of time, the effects of drugs and alcohol will cause an addiction to develop.

Forms of PTSD and Addiction to Watch For

PTSD and addiction can take different forms depending on how the trauma affected you as well as on your current circumstances. When addiction develops alongside PTSD, the effects of drugs and alcohol intensify PTSD symptoms and impair your ability to manage daily life.

According to the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can interfere with your daily life in four different ways:

  • Reliving the traumatic event over and over again
  • Avoiding situations or locations that remind you of the event
  • Altered ways of perceiving and experiencing yourself and others due to the effects of the trauma
  • Feeling on edge most of the time

As far as addiction goes, the type of substances you use as well as your physiological makeup can influence the severity of your addiction. As a general rule, the more severe the addiction the greater degree of distress you’ll experience from PTSD’s effects.

Underlying Links Between PTSD and Addiction

The ongoing stress response brought on by PTSD disrupts the brain’s normal chemical processes. Neurotransmitter chemicals, such as GABA and dopamine regulate stress levels and your sense of emotional well-being. When post-traumatic stress syndrome develops, the brain’s chemical environment remains in an unstable state for long periods of time.

In like manner, the effects of drugs and alcohol also disrupt neurotransmitter processes and essentially turn the brain into a drug/alcohol dependent environment. Under these conditions, when PTSD and addiction co-occur, the two conditions aggravate one another, which makes for a more severe addiction and a more severe form of PTSD.

It’s never too soon to consider your treatment options when PTSD and addiction are affecting your quality of life.

Short-Term Effects of PTSD and Addiction

The short-term effects of PTSD and addiction can be debilitating in terms of the emotional turmoil experienced throughout any given day. While it can be tempting to seek relief through a drug or alcohol “high,” once this effect wears off, symptoms of PTSD grow increasingly more intense with each successive drug or alcohol use.

Short-term effects of addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder may take one or more of the following forms:

  • Increasing drug cravings
  • Turning to drugs or alcohol to suppress traumatic memories
  • A heightened sensitivity to emotional or mental reminders of the trauma
  • Relationship conflicts
  • Health problems, such as increased heart rate, insomnia and feeling jittery
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Isolating from others
  • Unexpected flashbacks of the event
  • Depression

Long-Term Effects of PTSD and Addiction

Long-term effects of PTSD and addiction can vary from person to person, though symptoms of both disorders do get worse with time. As symptoms get worse, other types of physical or emotional problems can develop along the way.

According to the journal of World Psychiatry, it’s not uncommon for someone who seemed to cope with a traumatic event go on to experience PTSD symptoms months, or even years after it happened. In some instances, current stressors, such as money worries or relationship problems can trigger unexpressed or unprocessed emotions related to the past trauma.

Other possible long-term effects to watch for include:

  • Clinical depression
  • Chronic pain conditions
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, liver disease or diabetes
  • Inability to hold down a job
  • Broken relationships, separation or divorce
  • Money problems
  • Compulsive drug or alcohol use
  • Anxiety-based disorders
  • Suicidal tendencies

Signs You or Someone You Know Struggles with PTSD and Addiction

Symptoms that characterize PTSD must persist for at least a month in order for post-traumatic stress disorder to be present. More than anything else, signs that you’re struggling with PTSD and addiction will show up your daily life.

Signs to watch for include:

  • Having recurring nightmares about the traumatic event
  • Avoiding crowded places or social events
  • Avoid entering into relationships with others
  • Always expecting something bad to happen
  • Hiding drug paraphernalia from others
  • Lying about drug or alcohol use
  • Needing to get “high” in order to go to work or spend time with others

Treatment Options for PTSD and Addiction

Detox Treatment

Helping you stop drug and alcohol-using behaviors is the primary goal of detox treatment. These programs offer a range of interventions, both medical and behavioral based on your specific treatment needs.

According to the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs, programs that treat PTSD and addiction may use trauma-focused psychotherapies to help you process the emotions of the trauma and develop healthy coping behaviors for managing PTSD symptoms.

Inpatient Treatment

Living with PTSD and addiction for years at a time allows the damaging effects of these conditions to tear down the body and exhaust your emotional well-being. Under these conditions, any number of medical and psychological problems can develop as a result.

Inpatient treatment programs are equipped to treat most any type of condition that develops along the way. These programs also offer intensive treatment supports for helping you maintain continued abstinence from substance abuse.

If you need help determining what types of programs will meet your treatment needs, call for assistance.

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Outpatient Treatment

If you have PTSD and are still at the early stages of substance abuse, an outpatient treatment program may be able to offer the level of treatment support you need to stop substance-abusing behaviors. According to the journal of Current Psychiatry Reports, outpatient programs may use cognitive-behavioral therapies to help you replace trauma-based thinking and behavior with healthy coping skills managing daily life. These therapies also work well as addiction treatments.

If you’re considering outpatient programs, be sure you have a healthy support system in place at home to prevent an untimely drug (or alcohol) relapse episode from occurring.

Medication Therapies

When PTSD and addiction’s effects have caused long-term damage to the brain’s chemical system, medication therapies may be used to help restore a normal chemical balance. For addiction treatment, medications are available to treat opiate and alcohol-based addictions. For PTSD, antidepressant drugs are commonly used.

Medications used include the following:

When to Consider Getting Treatment Help

According to the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, the risk of developing suicidal tendencies runs especially high for PTSD sufferers compared to other mental disorders. When left untreated, the combined effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction can create an out-of-control downward spiral, placing you, and even those closest to you at increasing risk.

Considering how these two conditions progress, it’s best to seek treatment help at the first signs of PTSD or addiction.

Contact Us for More Information

While confronting difficult issues in your life can be unsettling, letting a serious condition go untreated all but ensures things will continue to get worse. Let help you take that first step towards overcoming the effects of PTSD and addiction in your life. Call 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) to speak with someone about available treatment options.


  1. National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  2. National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2015). Symptoms of PTSD.
  4. World Psychiatry. (2010). The Long-Term Costs of Traumatic Stress: Intertwined Physical and Psychological Consequences. 
  5. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2017). Treatment of PTSD.
  6. Current Psychiatry Reports. (2012). Treatment of Co-occurring Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use Disorders. 
  7. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. (2014). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Adults: Impact, Comorbidity, Risk Factors, and Treatment. 
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