The Connection between PTSD and Addiction

The Connection between PTSD and Addiction

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health disorder that impacts those who have suffered from a traumatic event. It does not impact everyone who has gone through a traumatic event and can naturally resolve within a few months or become a chronic issue. When PTSD does occur, some people will end up turning to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope. Unfortunately, this can turn into an addiction.

Recent studies have found that there’s a high correlation between PTSD and addiction. PTSD doesn’t always happen first, but it is far more common for someone to have PTSD and then start using drugs or alcohol to deal with it than to develop PTSD after an addiction. When both do occur, no matter which one was first, the right treatment is needed to ensure the person is able to overcome both PTSD and addiction.

Who Might Have PTSD?

Anyone, at just about any age, can develop PTSD. Young children who have gone through a traumatic event may end up showing symptoms of PTSD, as well as older children and adults. Both males and females can have PTSD, though it is more common for females to develop PTSD than males. The tendency for PTSD to develop is higher with those who have certain occupations, as their occupation may increase their risk of going through a traumatic event. This includes law enforcement, military, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel.

Potential Causes for PTSD

Just about any traumatic event can lead to PTSD, even though not everyone who goes through a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Even amongst those who do develop PTSD, it’s likely the symptoms will be short-term. In some, however, the symptoms can be long-term and present a chronic issue. Some of the potential causes include serious and life-threatening accidents, natural disasters, being assaulted or otherwise the victim of a crime, abuse, and military combat. Other experiences, like a loved one suddenly dying, can lead to PTSD. These experiences are traumatic but not necessarily life-threatening.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD can only be diagnosed by a physician who has experience with mental illnesses, like a psychologist. Symptoms need to have been experienced for at least one month for a PTSD diagnosis, and the patient must have experienced multiple of the following symptoms to the point that their daily life might be interrupted.
Re-experiencing Symptoms – This symptom is where they have flashbacks, nightmares, or frightening thoughts that cause them to re-experience the initial traumatic event repeatedly.

Avoidance Symptoms – Avoidance is where they try to stay away from things that remind them of the event or avoid thoughts about the event.

Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms – These symptoms include being on edge all of the time, trouble sleeping, being more prone to anger, and other manifestations of stress that don’t go away.
Cognition and Mood Symptoms – This can include distorted feelings, a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, negative personal thoughts, or memory issues regarding the event.

The Connection Between PTSD and Addiction


Just like many who go through a traumatic event may not develop long-term PTSD, a diagnosis of PTSD doesn’t mean someone will turn to addiction. However, it has been shown in recent studies that those who suffer from PTSD are more likely to also suffer from addiction than their peers. Many of those who have PTSD will start drinking or taking drugs to mask their thoughts and feelings, and then continue using drugs or alcohol to try to keep those thoughts and feelings at bay. This can quickly develop into an addiction, and it can be more difficult to treat both PTSD and addiction when they happen together compared to one or the other simply because of the complications that are entwined when someone is suffering from both.

Signs of an Addiction

There are a number of different signs that someone may be suffering from addiction. These can include difficulty controlling how much they drink or how much drugs they use, going through withdrawal, and continuing to turn to drugs or alcohol despite legal issues, financial issues, or relationship problems. When these coincide with PTSD, whether or not it has been previously diagnosed, it is likely the person is trying to self-medicate. Instead of seeking professional help, they end up turning to drugs or alcohol to find relief for PTSD. Despite drugs and alcohol leading to negative consequences and impacting their life seriously, they may end up continuing to use drugs or alcohol, and then become addicted.

Treating PTSD and Addiction

For years, it was common to separate the treatments of PTSD and addiction in those who suffered from both. In most cases, the idea was to treat the addiction so the person could then focus on receiving treatment for PTSD. However, this often didn’t work as well as expected. Though the person may start the road to recovery for their addiction, they would still be suffering from PTSD and were more likely to relapse than those who did not have PTSD and went through rehab.

Instead, more experts are suggesting that both PTSD and addiction need to be treated together. Many professionals will work on both treatments with the patient, ensuring they don’t have to visit two different facilities for help. Since many of the symptoms of PTSD and addiction can overlap, this helps ensure the person is receiving all of the help they need. In the end, this is more likely to be successful and to help the person avoid a relapse. As part of a treatment program with Canadian Addiction Rehab, we ensure that our patients have access to mental health professionals who can address the underlying issues during addiction rehab.

Though PTSD and addiction are two entirely different issues, they are quite often linked together. PTSD usually comes first, as the addiction happens when the person attempts to self-medicate. When this happens, treatment can be difficult because treatment needs to happen for both at the same time. For those who suffer from PTSD and addiction, a combined treatment has the potential to be far more successful because it helps them start recovering from both of these issues at the same time. If you are suffering from addiction as a result of PTSD, call Canadian Addiction Rehab. We can help.


PTSD and Addiction