Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction

Post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, is a condition that can occur after experiencing a stressful event such as an accident, terrorist act, crime, and natural disaster. Witnesses of rape and murder are equally vulnerable to PTSD.

What Is PTSD?

Since everyone responds differently to a tragedy, emotional events involving a serious injury, a threat to life, or the loss of a family member may trigger PTSD symptoms. Many individuals turn to substances to cope with the symptoms of their mental health issues. PTSD and drug addiction are common co-occurring disorders that are best treated in a professional environment 

Research indicates that posttraumatic stress disorder affects nearly 3.5% of Americans each year, and one in eleven Americans will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. The condition may also indirectly affect individuals. For instance, many police officers and emergency workers who are regularly exposed to incidents of child abuse show signs of PTSD.

Minor events, which may be significant for the victim, can cause stress, rage, and anxiety. For instance, a scuffle with a bully in a school, watched by other children, may cause extreme outrage and depression at a later stage in life. The feeling of helplessness in front of a stronger opponent is enough to cause severe depression in the victim.

When To Seek Help

Nearly two out of three individuals who develop problems after a traumatic experience get better after a few weeks. While it’s natural for anyone to feel pain and sadness after a tragedy, the extended length and greater intensity of feelings are detrimental to a person’s well-being. If you or your loved one consistently experience flashbacks, episodes of intense sadness, and nightmares for longer than usual, it’s time for treatment.

The treatment is overseen by the psychological therapist, psychologist, community psychiatric nurse, or psychiatrist. Symptoms of PTSD may start after a month or two. It’s also common for the symptoms to begin appearing years afterward, triggered by flashbacks. Therefore, you should train yourself to detect symptoms of PTSD and seek help if necessary.

PTSD and Drug Addiction

It is normal for a victim of PTSD to seek a way out of stress and anxiety caused by a tragic event. One of the common ways people try unsuccessfully to cope with the situation is by consuming excess alcohol and using drugs.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports, 60 percent to 80 percent of Vietnam veterans required treatment for PTSD and drug addiction. Considering the extreme conditions and heavy casualties in the war, such a reaction is quite normal.

The gloomy and hopeless conditions make people vulnerable to addiction, which subsequently leads to PTSD. The relationship between PTSD and drug addiction can be very positive. Rates of PTSD are 42.5% among patients undergoing inpatient substance abuse treatment. For women in residential treatment, the percentage reaches an astounding 62%.

A person experiencing anxiety and stress is attracted to drugs because it seems easy to forget painful and emotional events. Chemical dependency is a type of self-injury because the person doesn’t understand that alcohol and drugs will only cause symptoms to become more severe in the long run.

As the patient takes more drugs, the body develops enduring tolerance. It means that the patient will require more chemicals to get the same effect. The result is increased depression, which can often lead to death by overdose and suicide.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

ptsd and drug addictionSymptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder often start after a month of experiencing a disturbing event. Depending on individual circumstances, you may also experience signs of PTSD years after an event.

One of the most effective ways to recognize symptoms of PTSD is to observe changes in attitude and behavior. A serious and abrupt change is a possible sign of deteriorating health and emotional condition, which requires immediate medical attention.

Since the condition can occur at any time, it’s logical to recognize signs and symptoms associated with PTSD. The symptoms are usually divided into four categories: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in mood, and emotional reactions.

Intrusive Memories

Intrusive memories are flashbacks and memories that may remind you of a prior adverse event. These may include:

  • Unwanted memories of the past tragedy at consistent intervals.
  • Regular flashbacks that make you relive an event.
  • Upsetting dreams and nightmares related to your past.
  • Sudden bursts of anger, emotional anxiety, and physical reaction due to a specific past episode.


A typical sign of PTSD is when you start to avoid a specific topic or refrain from social interaction that reminds you of your past. Signs of avoidance include:

  • Avoiding situations that may remind you of an event.
  • Abstaining from going to places that bring back old memories.

Negative Changes in Mood and Thinking

If you or your loved ones regularly get feelings of hopelessness and feel an urge to alienate yourself from society, it’s PTSD. Look out for:

  • Negative feelings about yourself and the people around you.
  • Difficulty maintaining a close relationship with immediate family members.
  • Desire to remain alone without interacting with others.
  • Lack of interest in activities that others usually enjoy.
  • Absence of positive emotions and happiness.

Emotional Reaction and Arousal Symptoms

Unwanted physical and emotional behavior is a sign of severe anxiety and distress. Here are some of the underlying symptoms:

  • Sudden fear and panic.
  • Self-destructive behavior such as fast driving and excess drinking.
  • Trouble sleeping or problems concentrating on daily tasks.
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame>

Just like adults, young children are also traumatized easily. Children under six years of age often re-enact traumatic events through their play and behavior. They may experience frightening dreams that may or may not be related to the actual event.

PTSD Risk Factors

Not everyone experiences PTSD after a traumatic event. However, certain individuals are more at risk of developing symptoms. Following are some well-known risk factors that can help you and the health professional recognize a person at risk:

  • Abusive Environment: People who experienced abuse in their lives are likely candidates for posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Genetic Factors: A family history of certain mental health conditions can trigger episodes of PTSD.
  • History of Drugs Intake: Drug and alcohol abuse can also lead individuals to feel depressed.
  • Poor Coping Skills: Biological and neurological factors play a leading role in the development of PTSD. Examples are poor coping skills and insufficient social interaction.
  • Lack of Support: A weak family and communal support can intensify symptoms of PTSD.

Trauma and Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

trauma and addiction

Almost 80% of people who experience PTSD show signs of one or more mental health disorders. Since there is a positive relationship between PTSD and drug addiction, medical diagnosis often involves treating both PTSD and addiction.

Attempt to self-medicate without seeking professional help is another reason for PTSD patients to develop a substance abuse problem. Similarly, war veterans in the United States are regularly treated for PTSD and binge drinking.

Even when a person with PTSD does not have any prior history of substance abuse, healthcare professionals offer therapies and guidance to prevent substance abuse. It’s important because research indicates that withdrawal from drugs or alcohol can cause nervousness, distressed emotional state, sadness, and self-injury.

People with PTSD and drug addiction are also treated for co-occurring mental disorders. Borderline personality, episodes of severe anxiety, eating disorders, and schizophrenia are types of co-occurring mental disorders.

Treatment Options For Trauma And Addiction

When you think that you will never get your life back, PTSD and drug addiction treatments help you take control. Here are some of the most common types of treatments for trauma and addiction:

Dual Diagnosis Treatment: It is a fairly new scientific method to diagnose a person both for a mental health disorder and substance abuse.

Residential Inpatient: The patient is admitted into a home-like residential healthcare facility for 30 to 90 days. Group sessions, therapy, and medications are just a few of the many techniques used to address PTSD and substance abuse disorder.

Outpatient Rehabilitation: Outpatient treatment is beneficial for those who wish to continue treatment after the completion of residential inpatient. Individuals with less severe addictions may enroll in an outpatient to receive treatment during the day while going home at night. 

Therapy: Therapies used to treat PTSD and drug addiction mainly fall under the umbrella of cognitive-behavioral therapy. These techniques teach you how to identify symptoms, deal with the problem, and restore your self-esteem. Most treatment centers offer a variety of therapies that cater to different situations. These therapies may include individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, etc.

Cognitive Processing Therapy: CPT is a 12-week course of treatment. Treatment sessions usually last from 60 to 90 minutes. You and your therapist work together to get rid of PTSD.

EMDR: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a scientific approach, which uses eye movements, finger tapping, and playing a tone to address psychological issues.

Medications: Medications can help you stop thinking about negative events. These medications affect the neurotransmitters in your brain, enabling you to get control of your thoughts and actions. Examples of medications include Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and Effexor.

Where to Get Help

If you live in Florida, you can contact us for guidance. Intrepid Detox Residential is a fully licensed accredited residential treatment facility located in Palm Beach. PTSD and drug addiction are complex co-occurring disorders and require specialized treatment. The luxurious and homely setting offers medical detox, inpatient care, and dual diagnosis. Get 24/7 help on the path to your recovery.