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The Correlation Between PTSD and Substance Abuse



Many people are familiar with the correlation between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse. 

PTSD, which often develops as a result of trauma, can be caused by many different types of experiences 

– from military combat to childhood sexual abuse to car accidents. In fact, according to the National Center for PTSD’s website, “any experience that leaves an individual feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope” could lead someone down the path toward developing PTSD.

While it is well known that traumatic experiences often lead people into addiction, what may be less clear is how survivors of such trauma use drugs and alcohol to cope with their symptoms or attempt at healing. 

This article will discuss some common patterns among survivors of trauma who turn to substance use as a way of coping with their symptoms; how these patterns relate specifically to PTSD; 

and what you can do if you’re concerned someone who loves you might be using substances as a means of self-medicating their mental health issues.


Table of Contents

What is PTSD?

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health disorder that develops after someone experiences a traumatic event. 

Traumatic events can include natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, serious accidents like car accidents or plane crashes, and even war zones. 

Symptoms of PTSD can appear immediately after the trauma occurs or years later.

The symptoms associated with PTSD can be physical and emotional:

  • You may feel on edge or easily startled by loud noises.
  • You may have nightmares about the event or flashbacks in which it seems like you are reliving the experience. If you have had multiple experiences that caused trauma in your life (for example, if you experienced sexual abuse as a child), these feelings might last longer than just after one single traumatic event occurred.


PTSD and substance abuse creates a cycle of addiction

PTSD and substance abuse can create a cycle of addiction. This is because the person suffering from PTSD will use drugs or alcohol to cope with their anxiety and stress, which only causes the problem to worsen over time. 

The more they use, the more they need, so they start using more often and in larger amounts. 

Eventually, this results in both physical dependences on the substance itself and psychological addiction to its effects on their emotions.

The cycle goes like this:

  • You have a traumatic event that causes you stress;
  • You turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism;
  • Continued use of these substances creates physical dependence on them;
  • Continued use reinforces your psychological dependency on them for relief from trauma-related symptoms.


Treatment options for PTSD

If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, treatment can help. There are many different ways to approach this, including talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medication, and EMDR

Psychotherapy is also a great option for treating PTSD. You may also consider joining support groups for people living with the disorder or participating in peer-to-peer counseling programs like Veterans with Vets Helping Vets.

In addition to these methods of treatment, some individuals find that their symptoms improve when they take part in activities that relieve stress (e.g., going for walks).


How can I help my loved one with PTSD?

As a family member or friend, you want to be supportive and caring. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Be patient and understanding. PTSD can make it hard for someone to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly.
  • Be supportive and encouraging. Offer praise for any progress made towards recovery goals–no matter how small that step may seem in the long run! Encourage them to attend therapy appointments so they can learn from professionals who understand better than anyone else what they’re going through right now as well as what steps might help them tackle challenges in the future (e.g., anti-depressants).
  • Be honest and open yourself up by sharing your own experiences with this issue if it’s relevant–this will let them know that they’re not alone in their struggles (which is often key when recovering from mental illness). If there are topics that you’re uncomfortable discussing directly with them then consider sending an email instead; this way there won’t be any pressure on either party involved because nobody has said anything yet out loud so nobody feels judged afterward either way! Always remember: Everything counts toward healing even though sometimes it takes time before positive results appear visibly.”


There are treatment options to help your loved one recover from PTSD and addiction

If you or a friend or family member has been diagnosed with PTSD, contact a professional as soon as possible. 

They can talk to you about treatment options and help you figure out what steps to take next.

If your loved one is still in the early stages of addiction recovery, react with love rather than anger when discussing their symptoms. 

Be patient and understanding—they may not even realize they’re experiencing PTSD symptoms at first! 

Try asking them questions like: “How are things going?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Family members should also talk regularly about how they feel in order to ensure that communication remains open between all parties involved. 

This way, if anyone notices any changes in behavior patterns later on down the road (for example, an increase in aggression), it will be easier for them know how best handle those situations as well.”



It’s not just veterans who suffer from PTSD. It’s also common among people who have experienced trauma or abuse, as well as those who have seen traumatic events like natural disasters or mass shootings. 

PTSD can affect anyone, but it often goes undiagnosed because of stigma against mental health issues and a lack of knowledge about how to recognize the symptoms in oneself or others. 

If you found this article helpful, kindly consider leaving us a comment below, or if you think there is a topic you think we should cover next feel free to leave a comment in the comment section below.


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