Are PTSD and Addiction Connected?

People may associate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with veterans or active military members who have experienced combat, but that is not always the case. PTSD can affect anyone who has experienced trauma. Unfortunately, those suffering may turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to deal with that trauma. Find out more about co-occurring disorders and treatment.

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is diagnosed in patients who experience intrusive symptoms after going through or bearing witness to trauma. These symptoms can be extremely disruptive to the person’s ability to interact positively with others, sleep, work, and otherwise function in the world.

They may be defined by:

  • Negative changes in personality and response to others
  • Avoidance (e.g., avoiding the subject of the trauma or any reminder of the event)
  • Uncontrollable memories (e.g., flashbacks, nightmares, etc.)
  • Intense emotional response to relatively small stimuli

It is also not uncommon for people who struggle with PTSD to experience suicidal thoughts and behaviors as well as symptoms of varying intensity that contribute to a sense of instability.

Veterans, PTSD, and Addiction

Many veterans have experienced intense psychological turmoil from engaging in active combat or the uncertainties and worries associated with deployment. While serving in the military, veterans are exposed to traumas, stressors, and life-threatening experiences and PTSD is often the result of these experiences. Stress also increases a person’s risk of developing PTSD and substances like drugs and alcohol are often used as a way to cope with the psychological burden of PTSD symptoms. More than 1 million veterans have both a substance use disorder and mental illness.


Whether or not PTSD results, trauma is very often connected to substance use and abuse. Though no causal relationship has been shown, it is clear that the experience of trauma can be one of the issues underlying or related to drug and alcohol abuse.

Why? Consider the symptoms associated with PTSD – the emotions experienced after sexual or physical abuse, living through a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, seeing others succumb to the same, and living through war. The desire to escape these memories is understandable, and many mistakenly believe that they will be able to accomplish this feat by drinking or using drugs.


Healthfully managing triggers – both the triggers caused by PTSD and the triggers associated with misusing drugs or alcohol – is the primary challenge in recovery from both disorders.

For everyone, the best coping mechanisms may vary and depend upon:

  • The specifics of the traumatic event.
  • The type and intensity of PTSD symptoms experienced.
  • The drug of choice and the context in which it was used as well as withdrawal symptoms experienced.
  • Whether or not family members also struggle with substance abuse or co-occurring mental health disorders.
  • Previous treatment efforts for either disorder.

No matter what the specifics are, intensive treatment for both disorders that emphasizes healthy lifestyle choices and relapse prevention can be successful in helping the individual to build a balanced life in recovery.

Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders

When both PTSD and a substance use disorder are diagnosed, early intervention is recommended as is the comprehensive care mentioned above. Though each person’s experience is different and will require a unique treatment plan, in general, treatment for the co-occurring disorders of substance abuse or addiction and PTSD may include:

  • Medical detox: For those who are addicted to substances that trigger withdrawal symptoms, the detox period may be focused on ensuring medical safety. Round-the-clock monitoring is recommended to address any complications swiftly and to prevent relapse in the first few days.
  • Residential rehab: This level of care provides a sober environment supported by supervision and 24/7 monitoring from medical and clinical staff in the structured residential setting of our facility.
  • Relapse prevention: Identifying triggers for both PTSD and the substance abuse issue, and then creating an actionable plan to minimize or handle them positively, is key to long-term success in recovery.
  • Family support: Assisting the family in understanding the nature of both disorders and preparing them for what to expect through treatment and beyond, as well as connecting them with support services, can significantly improve the outcome for the client as well.
  • Aftercare: Long-term engagement with ongoing mental health treatment for PTSD and addiction, as well as continued connection with peers in recovery, can help clients to continue living without relapse as they build new lives for themselves.

If you are struggling with addiction and mental health disorder our New Jersey rehab can help kickstart your road to recovery. Contact our admissions navigators available 24/7

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