People who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are three times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.1 As the name suggests, PTSD stems from some form of trauma that the individual has experienced, whether that was sexual assault, a natural disaster, or even a near-death experience. It’s recommended that people with this diagnosis receive PTSD treatment to best manage their symptoms and avoid harmful coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol. Today, we share the relationship between PTSD and addiction to spread awareness and available treatment options.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that’s caused by either witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event. Most people who go through traumatic events may temporarily struggle to adjust and cope with the emotional and sometimes physical aftermath of the experience but eventually get better in time. However, in cases where the person’s symptoms get worse, last for months or years, and interfere with their day-to-day functioning, they might have PTSD.
PTSD can result from experiencing or witnessing traumatic events like:
Many other traumatic events can also lead to PTSD, such as fire, mugging, robbery, plane crash, torture, kidnapping, life-threatening medical diagnosis, terrorist attack, and more. As a result of these events, a person may develop symptoms like:
As the person progresses through the stages of PTSD, symptoms can vary and intensify over time. Symptoms may worsen, especially during moments of stress or anxiety, or generally when the person comes across a reminder of the event. If you or a loved one shows any of these signs, reach out to us to find out how our PHP mental health program can help.
Self-destructive behavior like substance abuse is also a common symptom of PTSD. Substance use disorders and PTSD often feed off each other not only because they both impact chemical balance in the brain but also because the former is used as a coping mechanism for the latter.
Following a traumatic experience, the brain’s chemical balance is impacted, and it produces fewer endorphins. These are some of the chemicals that make us feel happy. To improve their symptoms and combat depressed mood, some people with PTSD might turn to substances of abuse that impact chemicals like endorphins and dopamine.
Drugs that boost dopamine levels and improve mood or produce euphoria and sedation include prescription opioids, heroin, alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, and more. Benzos, barbiturates, and other prescription drugs might also be abused for their numbing side effects. Unfortunately, while drugs and alcohol provide temporary relief from PTSD symptoms, they have long-lasting, negative side effects that outweigh any “benefits.”
In cases of drug or alcohol addiction and PTSD, the person may eventually suffer from two different disorders simultaneously, otherwise referred to as co-occurring disorders or a dual diagnosis. At this point, not only might drugs serve as a physical boost for mood, but the person might also develop an emotional attachment to these substances in which they feel like they need them to feel “normal” or happy.
Co-occurring PTSD and substance abuse is common. Research shows that 46.4% of people with PTSD also met the criteria for substance use disorder.2 In another national study, 27.9% of women and 51.9% of men with PTSD also had drug addictions.3 Substance abuse is also connected to disorders, like depression and anxiety, as a way of coping with symptoms.
People who seek residential mental health programs for PTSD are also 14 times more likely to be diagnosed with substance use disorders, with attempts at self-medication being a likely cause for co-occurring PTSD and alcohol abuse or drug abuse. Co-occurring disorders like PTSD and addiction are also common among veterans and active-duty service members.
If someone is abusing drugs, they may show some of the following symptoms:
If you or someone you care about wants to learn more about treatment of PTSD and substance abuse comorbidity, our mental health program in Boca can help. Banyan offers dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders of all kinds. Our specialists utilize evidence-based therapy programs like CBT and DBT to help patients recover from the trauma linked to their conditions and to teach them how to manage their symptoms.