PTSD and Substance Abuse How Trauma Affects You

Nearly half of all people struggling with persistent Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (lifetime PTSD) also struggle with substance abuse. Typically, substances can act as a “quick fix” or “self-medication” to overcome the symptoms of PTSD. If left unchecked, people can become physically dependent and addicted to drugs or alcohol, leading them to struggle with both disorders simultaneously.

If you or your loved one need help overcoming PTSD and substance abuse, call our addiction specialists today.

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder affecting roughly 8% of the population at least once in their lifetime. It can be a debilitating problem leading to major changes in an individual’s day-to-day life. PTSD can last for months, or even years in some cases, bringing back memories of trauma accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions.

What Is PTSD?

PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and is a mental health problem that typically occurs after someone goes through a traumatic experience, such as: sexual assault, a car crash, a natural disaster, war, and more.

Usually, PTSD begins after someone experiences an event involving actual or possible threat of death, injury, or violence. However, anyone at any age can develop PTSD from a variety of situations including: sudden death of a loved one, the end of a valued relationship, and more.

Like most mental health disorders, PTSD is a problem that affects the day-to-day lives of those affected. It can interfere with their professional, social, and emotional well-being and some will make major life adjustments to accommodate for this issue.

What are the 4 Types of PTSD Symptoms?

PTSD can affect the mind and body in numerous different ways. The symptoms of this mental illness can best be looked at when broken down into four categories.

1. Re-Experiencing Symptoms 

Re-experiencing symptoms are characterized mainly by flashbacks of the events and reliving the traumatic event. This can lead to follow-up symptoms including a racing heart, sweating, recurring dreams related to the event, distressing thoughts, physical signs of stress.

2. Avoidance Symptoms

As the name suggests, avoidance symptoms occur when the individual actively chooses to stay away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. It also involves avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the event.

An example of avoidance would be refusing or being reluctant to drive a car after being in a car accident.

3. Cognitive and Mood Symptoms

In some cases, PTSD can lead to symptoms that affect your cognition and mood. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Memory problems in relation to the traumatic event
  • Negative or depressive thoughts about oneself
  • Increased negative emotions including fear, anger, guilt, shame, and more
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Loss of interest in activities

4. Hyperarousal Symptoms

PTSD can also lead to problems related to someone’s hyperactivity. These symptoms can include being easily startled, feeling tense or “on-edge”, having problems with concentration, engaging in risky behavior, and more.

Symptoms will vary person-to-person and are also dependent on a person’s unique trauma experience.

Are you self-medicating to overcome PTSD symptoms? Learn how to stop at The Hope House

Adverse Childhood Connections (ACEs) is trauma that individuals will face at a young age. These traumas can range from emotion and sexual abuse to mental illness in the household to emotional neglect.

It has been found that the more trauma you are exposed to at an early age, the greater the likelihood of certain health risks including:

Disrupted Neurodevelopment

Social Impairment

Emotional Impairment

Substance Abuse

Early Death

Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the most common co-occurring disorders that affect substance abusers.  In fact, over 46% of individuals with lifetime PTSD also met the criteria for substance use disorder. Someone who has both problems is said to have a dual diagnosis and treatment will require expertise in both mental health and substance abuse.

Is Substance Abuse a Symptom of PTSD?

Oftentimes, people with PTSD will turn to substance abuse to help cope with the trauma that they are dealing with. But, using substances as a form of escape will only make the two situations worse and can cause an individual to develop and addiction.

PTSD and Drug Use

Studies have shown that the pathways in the brain that respond to pain are the same pathways that respond to symptoms of PTSD. This can lead many patients to their doctor to relieve pain or lessen their symptoms. It is common for doctors to prescribe benzodiazepines as a sedative or prescribe opioids for pain.

Because the root cause of the post-traumatic stress disorder is not being addressed, even when taking the medication as prescribed, people can become physically dependent on the drugs — even experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop taking them. This leads to a cyclical problem that can result in addiction if left unchecked.

PTSD and Alcohol Abuse

After experiencing a traumatic event, one that may lead to the development of PTSD, people often report using alcohol to relieve their symptoms. This is typically a form of self-medication as alcohol is a depressant and can relieve PTSD symptoms and avoid emotional distress.

People with chronic and re-occurring PTSD will often return to alcohol to reproduce a numbing effect, temporarily shielding them from trauma. While this may help in the short-term it does nothing to help the problem in the long-term. Moreover, it can make someone reliant on alcohol in order to continuously tune out the trauma – which can lead to addiction.

Struggling with PTSD and substance abuse? The Hope House can help.

We’ve developed Arizona’s most advanced dual diagnosis program to help you tackle both conditions at the source.

Is PTSD Curable?

Studies have shown that with the help of certain therapies, those dealing with both single-trauma and multi-trauma issues can eliminate PTSD symptoms that they may be suffering from.

Along with therapy, medications do exist for treating individuals with PTSD. These forms of medication will work by raising the chemical levels of serotonin in the brain. It will help regulate mood, appetite, and sleep and help improve communication between the cells which can improve mood and decrease anxiety. The common form of PTSD medications are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

SSRI Medications for PTSD





If you are interested in finding treatment for a mental health disorder like PTSD, there are tools available online to find therapists to help. Psychology Today has a database filled with therapists available to help near you.

If you are looking for treatment in Arizona, especially for a substance abuse and mental health dual diagnosis, The Hope House is a drug and alcohol rehab in Scottsdale that can offer treatment for co-occurring disorders. 

Treat Your PTSD and Addiction At The Hope House