How PTSD and Addiction Are Related

Comorbidity (two diseases occurring at once) is incredibly common with substance abuse.

In fact, studies have shown that individuals with mental health disorders were twice as likely to have a substance abuse problem than individuals without such disorders.

In that same vein, persons with substance use disorders were also twice as likely to have a co-occurring mental disorder.

Like other mental disorders, PTSD and substance abuse are intricately connected.

The pain and anguish that this debilitating mental health problem causes typically lead sufferers to use and abuse drugs, both legal and illicit, in order to cope with the persistent and overwhelming symptoms of this disorder.

That’s why if you’re struggling with PTSD, it’s important that you understand just how common the overlap is between these two disorders so you can identify the signs of substance abuse and get the proper help you need to recover.

What Is PTSD & Who Is Affected by It?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a mental health disorder that occurs as a result of having seen or experienced a traumatic event.

Like addiction, PTSD can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender, religion, or sexuality.

While the types of people affected by this difficult disorder can be varied, there are several risk factors, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, associated with PTSD, which include:

  • Getting hurt
  • Having undergone dangerous events and traumas
  • Seeing a dead body or other people getting hurt
  • Childhood trauma
  • Feeling extreme fear, helplessness, or horror
  • Lack of social support post-traumatic event
  • Dealing with extra post-traumatic stress (ex. death of a loved one, pain inflicted or injury, job loss, or losing a home)
  • Mental illness history or history of substance abuse

Determining the most commonly affected PTSD age groups can be difficult since the disorder is so widespread among different ages. However, one study found that among 6,548 participants, men were most vulnerable to developing PTSD from the ages 41 to 45 years while women were most vulnerable from 51 to 55 years.

Beyond that, both genders were least likely to experience PTSD when they were in their early 70s while the biggest difference between the two genders occurred in 21 to 25-year-olds where the female to male ratio was highest.

PTSD Causes & Symptoms

As the National Center for PTSD highlights, the traumatic events that cause PTSD can be varied and may include any life-threatening event such as natural disaster, combat, sexual assault, or car accident, just to name a few examples.

Experiencing trauma; however, is actually quite common. In fact, around 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women will experience at least one traumatic event over the course of their lives.

And while such events may normally result in victims simply reliving upsetting memories about the situation, the characteristics of PTSD are much more severe. This disorder is composed of four specific types of symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing the symptoms – It could be bad dreams, persistent memories, or even especially vivid memories where they feel like they are experiencing the event all over again, called flashbacks.
  • Evading triggers reminding you of the trauma – People, places, objects, and even ideas and smells can all trigger distressing memories of the event and, as such, PTSD sufferers try to desperately avoid them.
  • Significant increase in negative feelings and beliefs – After the event, PTSD sufferers may notice a substantial change in their beliefs, both about themselves and about the world around them. Old hobbies may no longer interest them, everything may seem more dangerous, and people may come off as untrustworthy. They may feel like they’ve lost the ability to be happy.
  • Hyperarousal – Also known as feeling “keyed up,” hyperarousal is characterized by a state of always being on edge and looking for threats. Irritability, anger, anxiety, and panic may all be common among PTSD sufferers.

If these symptoms interfere with your daily life, last more than a month, or are especially distressing, this may be indicative of a PTSD.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder & Substance Abuse

While PTSD and substance use disorders are, in fact, distinct mental problems, they often overlap in individual patients. In fact, out of the individuals that actually sought treatment for their disorders, PTSD patients were 14 times more likely to have a substance use disorder than patients without the disorder.

Those are numbers you simply can’t ignore.

But why do PTSD and addiction often go hand-in-hand? There are several reasons behind this strong correlation.

For one thing, the symptoms of PTSD often result in higher levels of daily stress, a key risk factor in beginning a substance addiction. Heightened anxiety, the fear of flashbacks, and an incessant distrust of the surrounding people and world, in general, can all lead to the development of chronic stress problems.

Substance abuse, then, is often used as a means to help suppress those feelings which are often so overwhelming.

What’s more, the high felt from these drugs can also serve as a distraction from painful memories altogether.

Beyond being a means to both cope with and avoid significant stress, substance abuse is also often used to help PTSD sufferers overcome the sleep problems that are so common among PTSD patients. After a continued pattern of use though, the drugs soon become a necessity for sleeping at all.

A combination of sleeplessness, hyperarousal, and a desire to avoid painful memories, then, will all play a role in why PTSD sufferers turn to drugs to cope with the detrimental effects.

A Few More Alarming Stats on PTSD & Addiction

PTSD can be absolutely crippling. And yet, a shocking number of sufferers don’t actually end up seeking treatment.

For example, of the surprisingly large number of U.S. citizens that suffer from PTSD, only approximately half of them actually get treatment.

Below are a few more surprising statistics on these co-occurring disorders:

  • About 7.8 percent of Americans will suffer from PTSD during their lifetime.
  • Alcohol abuse and PTSD occurring together is especially common. Estimates from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions found that among PTSD sufferers, an alarming 46.4 percent exhibited signs of a substance use disorder.
  • According to the Australian National Survey of Mental health and Well-Being, over 34 percent of individuals with PTSD also qualified for having at least one substance use disorder.

Addiction & PTSD Statistics in Military Veterans

The incredibly intense situations that come with time spent in the military are some of the most common causes of PTSD today.

And given the strong connection between addiction and PTSD, it’s no wonder that a staggering number of military veterans are dealing with both PTSD as well as a substance use disorder.

A few statistics on PTSD and substance use disorders among veterans, as provided by the National Center for PTSD, include:

  • Over 20 percent of veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder.
  • Binge drinking is the most common form of substance abuse among war veterans.
  • Of veterans entering treatment for a substance use disorder, almost one-third also have PTSD.
  • Nicotine use is twice as high, around 60 percent, for veterans with PTSD than those without it.
  • Almost 10 percent of returning soldiers from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has a substance use disorder.

Military veterans, then, are overwhelmingly at risk for developing PTSD as well as substance use disorders.

The Importance of Dual Diagnosis

When an individual experiences PTSD, anxiety, depression, or any other mental disorder while also coping with a substance use disorder, they’re referred to as having co-occurring disorders. Also called dual diagnosis, these disorders often make the symptoms of the other disorder far worse than if they occurred alone.

The symptoms of a substance use disorder, for example, may lead to increased stress on relationships, careers, and social life, causing the individual to experience deepened depression or heightened anxiety.

Conversely, these intensified symptoms of depression and anxiety may cause someone with a substance use disorder to fall headfirst into a cycle of addiction, furthering their dependence on the drug.

That’s why it’s absolutely crucial if you are struggling with PTSD and a substance use disorder that you get help from a specialized rehabilitation facility. Not only will these centers dramatically increase your chances of a complete recovery, they’ll also be able to treat the symptoms of PTSD that might exacerbate your substance use disorder as well.

Without treating both of these disorders, you’re bound to fall back into addiction at one point or another.

PTSD and Addiction: Recovery Is Possible

It’s clear that individuals suffering from PTSD are at a significantly higher risk of developing a substance use disorder, the symptoms of which can make living with PTSD even harder to bear.

Seeking treatment from an addiction facility that is well versed in both of these mental disorders, therefore, is the best way to kick your substance use habit while finding healthy ways to cope with the hardships caused by PTSD.

These centers have the treatment options you need to be well on your way to a healthy and productive life free of illicit substances.

If you or someone you love is struggling with co-occurring disorders, you can find the treatment centers best equipped for recovery with the Drug Treatment Center Finder. Help is always available. Call 855-619-8070 today.

Carlos Rivera :