PTSD and Addiction

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One of the most debilitating mental disorders a person can face is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a condition in which a person experiences severe anxiety, intrusive memories, and nightmarish flashbacks that interfere with their daily life. According to the National Center for PTSD, about 7 out of 100 Americans suffer from PTSD. Individuals with PTSD may feel a tremendous amount of stress or feel acutely frightened even when they are not in danger. Any physical or psychological trauma that forces a person to feel powerless and out of control can lead to PTSD. Some of the most common causes of post-traumatic stress disorder include:

  • Military combat
  • Violent assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Childhood abuse
  • Natural disasters

Signs and Symptoms

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs when a person has experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. Although not everyone who goes through a traumatic situation will be diagnosed with PTSD, most people will experience short term symptoms. Where many will recover naturally, others develop ongoing chronic PTSD. While symptoms can occur shortly after the instigating event, some people might not experience any symptoms until years later. The most common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Sleeplessness or insomnia
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Angry or irrational outbursts
  • Severe anxiety
  • Isolation

These symptoms can occur at any time, and arise most commonly when the individual is reminded of the events that caused them. Individuals with PTSD face constant struggle and endure lasting psychological damage, which causes some people to turn to drugs or alcohol to relieve their pain. 

Overlapping Disorders

Substance abuse and addiction have been connected to co-occurring disorders like PTSD. When a person starts using alcohol or drugs to manage their PTSD symptoms, their symptoms only become more severe. According to the National Comorbidity Survey, 52% of men and 28% of women with PTSD also struggle with alcohol abuse. In addition, 35% of men and 27% of women who met the PTSD criteria reported that they also struggle with drug abuse. Those with PTSD who also struggle with substance use are more likely to abuse alcohol over other drugs. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that one of the highest risk groups for both PTSD and addiction is the veteran population. Service members and veterans who are heavy drinkers are more likely to have PTSD and depression.

Endorphin withdrawal plays a significant role for people who use alcohol or drugs to help control their PTSD. When a person experiences a traumatic event, their brain produces endorphins as a way to cope with the stress of the moment. Once the event is over, the person experiences an endorphin withdrawal. For those struggling with PTSD, they hope to replace those endorphins by using or abusing substances. Unfortunately, the positive effects of drugs and alcohol are only temporary. In some cases, the individual increases their use to recreate that same endorphin rush and becomes chemically dependent on the substance, which can eventually turn into a full-fledged addiction.

Treatment and Therapy

Recovering from a dual diagnosis of PTSD and addiction is going to require intensive support from medical professionals. Having a support system will also help to decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation during treatment. Effective treatment for people with PTSD can include medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. Treatment should be provided by a mental health provider who is experienced with PTSD and who is qualified to treat any co-occurring disorders, like an addiction.

Individuals who are struggling with PTSD may be hesitant to seek treatment. They can be overwhelmed with guilt and shame surrounding the initial traumatic event, and find their negative emotions magnified by the behavior they engaged in due to their addiction.


The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) lists that the most studied type of medication for treating PTSD are antidepressants. These medications can help alleviate symptoms such as extreme sadness, worry, and anger. Other medications can be taken to treat case-specific symptoms, such as sleep problems and nightmares. It may take some trial and error to find the right combination of medications that best fits your needs. This is something for you to discuss and determine with your doctor. 


Talk therapy can occur in a group setting or one on one. The length of time a person spends in therapy can vary but typically lasts about 6 to 12 weeks. One form of psychotherapy that has proven to be especially effective is cognitive-behavioral therapy, also known as CBT. CBT can provide individuals with the necessary tools to help them cope with their feelings and their trauma. This form of therapy equips individuals with the skills they need to ultimately be able to manage their symptoms on their own.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a debilitating condition that forms when a person goes through a traumatic experience. Service members and veterans are considered the highest risk groups, but it can happen to anyone. Symptoms vary, and can occur within moments, or not come until months after the event passes. The recurring nightmares, flashbacks, and constant feelings of helplessness are struggles that many people face. You may feel consumed with severe anxiety or controlled by your angry outbursts. Research shows that self-medicating with drugs and alcohol can only intensify your symptoms and make them harder to escape. Struggling with a dual diagnosis requires professional medical help. No one needs to battle PTSD and addiction alone. There is effective treatment available for you, and with the help of treatment professionals, you can break free of the cycles of PTSD and addiction. If you need assistance finding treatment that will treat your dual diagnosis, reach out to Everlast Recovery Center at 866-DETOX-25 You deserve to find peace.

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