The Role of PTSD in Addiction


Blue sky with clouds and rainbow says "PTSD is real, don't self-medicate"
PTSD is as stormy as the weather, but there's a rainbow at the end if you don't self-medicate.

Unfortunately, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in addiction is quite common. This is because PTSD has both mental and physical symptoms (e.g., severe anxiety, nightmares, inability to function in daily living). Many people don’t know how to react to these things, so they turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. To understand this, you must first look at what PTSD is.

What PTSD in Addiction Is

PTSD is a psychological response to a traumatic event. This means that the person was involved in or witnessed some form of trauma (e.g., armed conflict, childhood abuse, natural hazards, sexual assault). Afterward, the person is left feeling powerless and thus develops PTSD.

Once a person develops PTSD, they’ll experience bad dreams and flashbacks of the traumatic event. They’ll also develop extreme tension, fury, restlessness, and may become forceful. Symptoms usually occur when the individual is “triggered” and recalls the event (usually quite vividly).

When treatment isn’t available, many people try to self-medicate, which is why PTSD plays a major role in addiction. The National Center for PTSD at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says that women are especially prone to this when they’ve been sexually abused, whereas men usually develop PTSD from war. 

Blue heart in a blue sky with the words "PTSD is real, don't self-medicate" in it.
PTSD may make you feel alone, but addiction won't help.

Why PTSD Plays a Role in Addiction 

The symptoms of PTSD can be very troubling. Many people try to self-medicate these symptoms, but this frequently shows up as PTSD in addiction.

One of the most commonly abused substances is alcohol. More men than women choose to go this route. According to the Public Comorbidity Study, distributed in 1995 in the Documents of General Psychiatry (Kessler et al.) between 35% and 52% of men and about 27% of women abuse alcohol. 

Another commonly abused substance when you look at PTSD in addiction is marijuana. This can backfire quite easily because it can make you dissociate - a symptom that’s already quite common for people with PTSD. Researchers have also discovered that marijuana and PTSD affect the same area of the brain. 

Many people do find it a great escape for a short period. However, as you develop a tolerance for marijuana, your brain slows down and works less efficiently. If you use too much marijuana, you can develop neurosis, uneasiness, increased vigilance, and higher arousal.

Treating PTSD in Addiction

PTSD is seen in addiction quite commonly. This is because you develop a tolerance for your substance of choice. Once this occurs, you need more of the substance so you can feel “normal.” Eventually, when you have enough opportunities to abuse the substance, you grow dependent - something that affects the cerebrum. Therefore, it’s important to treat both issues at the same time.

To treat PTSD in addiction, a person will need cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This can also be used to treat dependence issues, which is why most treatment facilities use it. Exercise is also beneficial because of the endorphins they create. These endorphins create a sense of calmness. Sometimes antidepressants are also necessary, though.

As someone who suffers from PTSD, I want you to know that I understand what you’re going through. I’ve been there. Both hope and help exist. You just need to reach out to them. I’m also here to help you, so take a look around at what I offer.