Sometimes it can feel like our problems breed more problems. While the research doesn’t say there is a direct cause, there surely is a strong association between PTSD and substance abuse. In this article we’ll look at the relationship between the two conditions and what to do about it.

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health disorder that results from an experience of a traumatic effect. The manifestations of PTSD are brought about by reoccurring thoughts or anxiety about the traumatic event, and they interfere with daily living.

Comorbidity of PTSD and addiction

There is a high prevalence of suffering from both PTSD and addiction. According to a study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, the rate of comorbidity between PTSD and substance use is around 36 and 50 percent. 

One study to note was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. This study found that simply experiencing trauma per se did not indicate a stronger likelihood of struggling with addiction, but symptoms of PTSD did. So, while trauma itself may not directly lead to substance abuse, PTSD might.

The high rate of comorbidity may not be due to any one factor, either, but a combination. Some factors include self-medicating for PTSD with drugs and alcohol, environmental factors and the symptoms of each increasing susceptibility to the other; all of which we’ll look at in more depth in this article.

How does PTSD affect addiction?

Self-medication: PTSD can cause severe depression, anxiety and fear. Those who struggle with PTSD may begin to abuse substances as a way to relieve or numb feelings of distress and recurrent thoughts of trauma. While drugs and alcohol may provide temporary relief, over time coping with substances will worsen symptoms of PTSD and lead to disastrous consequences.

Moreover, a person who experiences trauma may have a dysfunctional biological stress response. Those with PTSD may seek substances to self-medicate as a result of neurological damage, and struggle to build other, healthier coping strategies in the face of distress.

Environmental factors: There are several factors that can increase the likelihood of the onset of both PTSD and addiction, with either occurring first, and these are often called risk factors. Lower socioeconomic status, lower educational attainment, childhood adversity or trauma, death of a close relative, involvement in foster care or a family history of PTSD or substance abuse are all indicative of an increased chance of struggling with either or both conditions.

A study in the journal Anxiety and Depression, states that early childhood trauma affects cognitive functioning, rendering a person at high risk of struggling with mental health disorders in the future. Moreover, a national survey by the U.S. Department of Justice found that teens were three times more likely to report substance use who had experienced trauma in the past. These and numerous other risk factors contribute to the link between PTSD and addiction.

Increased susceptibility: One school of thought linking PTSD and addiction posits the following; having one results in negative symptoms and the manifestations of the condition increase a person’s susceptibility to struggling with the other. It makes sense that negative side effects of each, such as irritability, anxiety and physical symptoms would make it difficult to handle trauma or recover from substance use.

While it can be tempting to try to narrow down the onset of PTSD and addiction to one cause, it’s likely that they’re linked in several ways. Moreover, science doesn’t say that one condition causes the other in every instance, but PTSD and addiction do affect each other.

How to get treatment for PTSD and addiction

The first step in receiving proper treatment is getting what’s called a dual diagnosis. In order to effectively overcome addiction and return to a sense of normalcy after a traumatic event, it’s critical to acknowledge both conditions and get co-occurring treatment. Symptoms of PTSD and substance use disorder will aggravate one another, so until you work to heal both you may feel like you’re at a standstill in treatment.

Reaching out to a substance use treatment center can help you in this first step and launch you into treatment that matches your needs. Treatment will then include detox and rehab, with psychotherapy and medication if necessary to address PTSD. Once you get connected to a treatment facility, a level of care assessment will determine where to begin intervention. Often, an inpatient stay will constitute the first step in treatment.

Start today

Real Recovery is a trauma-informed addiction recovery provider with inpatient and outpatient options to fit your needs. Real Recovery can offer you the freedom you’ve been looking for with evidence-based programs and a compassionate team of professionals. Get the fresh start you deserve and continued support by calling 855-363-7325 today.