Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction

Post traumatic stress disorder and addiction 

Post traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD is considered to be one of the most debilitating mental disorders. This is because it creates a feeling of loss of control in the individual. This loss of control causes people with PTSD to turn to drugs or alcohol. People use these substances to help numb the pain, relieve stress, or in an attempt to gain control of their life. The more that the person uses, the more of a chance they will have at developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol, while at the same time battling PTSD. A recent study shows that post traumatic stress disorder may be more common in people with a drug or alcohol addiction than was previously thought.

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post traumatic stress disorder refers to the mental condition in which an individual experiences a tremendous amount of stress or anxiety after witnessing or being engaged in a traumatic event. A person develops PTSD because they were unable to psychologically handle the event.


Events that can lead to PTSD may include; military combat, violent assault, natural disasters, sexual assault, death of a loved one, etc.


The symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, mental breakdowns, angry outbursts, severe anxiety, fear, memory loss, irritability, poor concentrations, and avoidance of anything related to the event. These symptoms can strike the person at anytime, especially when they are reminded of the event.

Chemical Disorder

Medical experts suggest that PTSD is a chemical disorder in the brain and body. When a person experiences a traumatic event, their brain creates a large amount of endorphins as a way of coping with the stress of the situation. When the event is over, the person’s body goes through an “endorphin withdrawal”. This withdrawal is similar to the some of the symptoms of a drug or alcohol withdrawal. The feelings that are brought on from the endorphin withdrawal can cause a person to use drugs or alcohol as a way of replacing their feelings with numbness.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction

Statistics show that up to 40% of people with a drug or alcohol addiction also have post traumatic stress disorder. Statistically, women with PTSD are two to three times more likely to use drugs than men with post traumatic stress disorder.

Turning to Drugs or Alcohol

Post traumatic stress disorder can be very stressful and a person may feel like they are unable to cope with the stress; as a result they may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of escaping their feelings.

How It Leads to Addiction

Once a person has post traumatic stress disorder and begins to self medicate using cocaine, heroin, alcohol, prescription medications, or other drugs, they may feel like their symptoms decrease. The person may feel calm, happy, and may be able to sleep. Once the drugs wear off, the PTSD symptoms return, sometimes even worse than before. The person will continue to use, and eventually will build up a tolerance; meaning, they will require more of the drug to get the same effect. Eventually the person suffering from PTSD will develop and addiction.

Increase the Risk

The problem with using drugs to self medicate the symptoms of PTSD is that the drugs can increase the risk of a person suffering another traumatic event. This could cause a never ending cycle; trauma, drug abuse, additional trauma, more drug abuse, etc.

Other Problems

It is very common for people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD who also have an addiction to suffer from depression, have problems relating to others, have legal and medical problems, have suicidal tendencies, and may even have a psychiatric breakdown.

Treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction


Drug addiction treatment may begin with the person going to detox, after they will go to a residential rehab where they can help to heal their addiction and their post traumatic stress disorder.


Individual and group counseling is beneficial as it uses supportive techniques and education to help the person to develop coping skills and strategies to manage their addiction and their post traumatic stress disorder.


Post traumatic stress disorder and addiction can both be treated. Treatment for PTSD normally involves various types of psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most beneficial therapies as it helps to identify patterns of thought that contribute to addiction and PTSD. Relaxation therapies are also known to be beneficial when treating both together or separately.


Meditation is also helpful to reduce and cope with the anxiety and other feelings. Sometimes, a person suffering from PTSD will be given non addictive medications. These may be mood stabilisers, anti-depressants, and anti psychotics.