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PTSD and Co-Occurring Substance Abuse


It is common for both Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders (SUDs) to be co-occurring conditions, bringing many challenges to dual-diagnosis individuals seeking treatment and recovery. This is why it’s important that both conditions are simultaneously treated by a rehabilitation program that caters to both with a team experienced in dual-diagnosis treatments.

What Is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is considered an anxiety disorder likely developed after the individual experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. According to the American Psychiatric Association, traumatic events are “events that involve actual or threatened death, serious injury, or threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others, and are responded to with intense fear, helplessness or horror.”

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Vivid and intrusive memories/flashbacks
  • Recurring and distressing dreams relating to the traumatic event
  • Avoiding anything that reminds them of the event
  • Constantly on edge, irritable, or heightened alertness
  • Persisting negative thoughts or beliefs about oneself or the world
  • Emotional numbness or detachment from others

Substance abuse and addiction are common among those with PTSD, as drugs and alcohol are used in an attempt to minimize symptoms of their disorder. Alcohol abuse is particularly more common than drug use, with those self-medicating for PTSD. It is also common to find heavy drinking alongside PTSD in those who have served in the military.

How Many People With PTSD Are Addicts?

One study reports that “[a]mong individuals with PTSD, nearly half (46.4%) also met criteria for an SUD and more than one-in-five (22.3%) met criteria for substance dependence.”

When a person goes through traumatic events, stress chemicals are released in the brain, which can cause damage and even rewiring of the brain over long periods of time. There are many who, in response to the stress and reminder of traumatic events, attempt to self-medicate to minimize their symptoms.

Childhood Trauma

Trauma experienced in childhood can result in self-esteem issues, personality disorders, violence to others or one’s self (self-harm), and, often, substance abuse and addiction.

Physical and Emotional Abuse

Those experiencing physical or emotional abuse may, in response to the stressors in such relationships and environments, turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Traumatic Loss

Sudden or tragic loss tends to bring emotional pain and grief to those who experience it. Some cope with the depths of these emotions by drinking alcohol or using drugs, which can lead to abuse and addiction.

What Are The Co-Occurring Disorders With Complex PTSD?

Complex PTSD refers to a form of the disorder where the person experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse over a longer period of time, whether they experienced multiple traumatic events or a prolonged one. 

Some of the ways people who have Complex PTSD cope include:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Avoiding discomfort or conflict, people-pleasing
  • Overreactions to relatively minor criticism
  • Self-harm behaviors

Such behaviors or methods of coping can lead to co-occurring conditions like alcoholism, drug addiction, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorders.

What is Dual Diagnosis for PTSD and Co-Occurring Disorders?

Dual diagnosis refers to a person having both mental health and substance use disorders simultaneously, and, many times, are causally linked and exacerbate the symptoms of each other. This is why dual-diagnosis treatment targets both co-occurring conditions with various treatments depending on the patient’s particular condition and needs.

Some of these treatments include:

  • Behavioral Therapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
  • Residential Treatment Programs: Round-the-clock support in an environment conducive to sobriety and recovery.
  • Support Groups: Social support is important for long-term sobriety.
  • Medical Support: If necessary, FDA-approved medication can be used in conjunction with other treatments.

Get the Help You Need With Into Action Recovery Centers

We understand the complexities of dual diagnosis, which is why we offer integrative treatment that covers the whole spectrum of addiction and mental health conditions, including our residential and outpatient treatment programs.

Some of our recovery treatments and activities include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Techniques: Treatment for anxiety, personality, and substance disorders, etc.
  • Motivational Interviews: Normative-based feedback to evaluate motivation over the course of ongoing behavior change.
  • Relapse Prevention Education & Counseling: Training on relapse prevention activities.
  • Relationship Counseling: Identifying and managing or reconciling differences and negative patterns in the client’s relationships.
  • Life Skills Training: Training in skills that meet the demands and challenges of everyday life.
  • Coping Skills Education & Counseling: Training in coping skills for personal and interpersonal challenges, such as facing stressors or triggers.
  • Mindfulness Training: Training in mindfulness and stress reduction techniques.
  • Aftercare & Discharge Planning: Planning for treatment, housing, work, and self-care.

Looking to take the next step to life-long recovery? 

Call us today at 844-303-3969 to schedule an appointment or to find out more about our programs.

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