What’s the Link Between PTSD and Substance Abuse?

Home | Our Blog
What’s the Link Between PTSD and Substance Abuse?

How Common Are PTSD and Substance Abuse?

Experiencing trauma is not a rare thing, despite what people may think. As many as approximately 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience at least one trauma in their lives. As a result of traumatic experiences, some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. In short, it can happen to anyone. And this can lead to a person with PTSD and substance abuse.

As far as PTSD, approximately 8 percent of the U.S. population will live with PTSD at some point in their lives. In other words, PTSD impacts around 8 million adults in any given year.

Unfortunately, those living with PTSD also face a significantly increased risk of developing a substance abuse disorder. Using drugs and alcohol is often a coping mechanism to self-medicate with this trauma. It’s also common for people with PTSD to have other co-occurring conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

As mentioned above, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops after a traumatic experience. Although it’s normal to feel scared and anxious following a traumatic event, most individuals recover from their symptoms over time. Those who do not may be later diagnosed with PTSD.

There are many triggers of PTSD, including:

  • Exposure to war
  • Being a victim of sexual or physical abuse
  • Witnessing an accident or natural disaster
  • And many other serious events.

While PTSD may develop at any age, women are more likely to develop PTSD than men.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, you must display all of the following for at least one month:

  • Have at least one re-experiencing symptom (i.e. flashbacks, distressing thoughts, recurring memories, or dreams related to the trauma)
  • Experience at least one avoidance symptom (i.e. avoiding certain places, objects, or events; avoiding thoughts and feelings related to the trauma)
  • Feel least two arousal and reactivity symptoms (i.e. bring easily startled, difficulty concentrating, feeling on edge, issues with sleeping, increased irritability, etc.)
  • Have at least two cognition and mood symptoms (i.e. feelings of social isolation, loss of interest in activities, poor mood, ongoing negative emotions, distorted thoughts, and memory issues surrounding the traumatic event)

The Risk of Addiction For Those Who Suffer From PTSD 

Those with PTSD are three times more likely to abuse substances and 14 times more likely to be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder. For many, their goal is to either dull or avoid symptoms of PTSD. That is why individuals with PTSD are much more likely to abuse alcohol over drugs, such as cocaine.

For more than forty years, research has shown a clear link between individuals with PTSD and alcohol use disorder. The research also shows that people with alcohol abuse disorder are more likely to be exposed to situations that may result in PTSD.

Similarly, research shows that opioids may numb fear memory, which may help explain the relationship between PTSD and opioid abuse. Opioid addiction is also linked to chronic pain, which is also strongly linked to PTSD. As reported in a 2019 review, since the prevalence of opioid use disorder in chronic pain patients is higher among those with PTSD, treatment for chronic pain patients should include screening for baseline PTSD.

Who Are the Most Vulnerable Groups to PTSD with Addiction?

One of the highest risk groups for both addiction and PTSD is the veteran population. Not only does this group often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental strain, but PTSD is also linked to sexual assault during military service. While sexual trauma can happen to service members of any gender, approximately 1 in 5 female veterans are diagnosed with military sexual trauma.

Since war veterans with PTSD also often suffer from depression, these individuals are often diagnosed with binge drinking.

How Renewed Light Recovery Treat PTSD and Substance Abuse

While PTSD and substance abuse disorder are two separate conditions, upon entering a dual-diagnosis program, they are not viewed as being independent of one another. One can fuel the other, and vice versa. That is why both are taken into consideration during your recovery process at Renewed Light. Various therapy and treatment options will be offered based on these disorders, as well as your individual needs.

For example, if you are living with alcohol use disorder and PTSD, your treatment program will begin with the detoxification process. Withdrawing from alcohol can be dangerous, even deadly. That is why you must seek professional assistance. Once your body is physically rid of all substances, it will then be time to begin the healing process of PTSD and other co-occurring disorders. You cannot treat one condition without treating the other.

At Renewed Light, we approach recovery with different forms of treatment. This process is offered in both outpatient and inpatient programs, as well during aftercare. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) encourages patients to reevaluate their thinking patterns to diminish negative thoughts so that they can respond to situations in a more effective way. From exposure therapy to cognitive restructuring, there are many types of CBT available.

Start Your Personalized Healing Today for PTSD and Substance Abuse

At Renewed Light, your treatment plan will be created based on what’s best for you and your recovery. As you progress through treatment, your recovery plan will adapt to your changing needs. For optimal effectiveness, provide a range of treatment and therapy options. In addition to evidence-based therapies, we’ll help you address your current lifestyle and overall well-being with holistic options.

This holistic approach will help you heal from the inside out, supporting both your body and mind. After all, our goal is to set you up for a bright and healthy future, a future where you feel happy and free. You can achieve sobriety and overcome your trauma — all you need to do is take that first step.

If you’re ready to kickstart your road to recovery, we’re here for you. Contact a professional at Renewed Light today.