Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

ptsd addiction signs symptoms and treatment

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops after you experience something traumatic. You could also develop this condition after seeing or hearing about a traumatic event. The symptoms can begin immediately after the traumatic event or take a few weeks or even months to arise, however, they usually develop within 6 months. 

Not everyone who witnesses something traumatic will develop PTSD. While many people experience symptoms of trauma, this is normal as someone slowly comes to terms with what happened. Eventually, their symptoms will go away after a few weeks or so. 

If you develop PTSD, your symptoms will last longer than just a few weeks. Some people with this condition experience symptoms for several years. When left untreated, people with this condition may seek ways to self-medicate their symptoms – leading to addiction. 

People suffering from PTSD and addiction may experience overlapping symptoms, isolate themselves from friends and family, and struggle with immense anxiety and depression, but a dual diagnosis treatment center can help.

What Causes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

You can develop post-traumatic stress disorder after experiencing, witnessing, or hearing about a single or repeated event such as:

  • Serious accidents 
  • Physical and sexual abuse 
  • Childhood and domestic abuse or neglect
  • Racially-based trauma 
  • Work-related exposure to trauma (i.e. from being a doctor or part of the military)
  • Trauma that is related to serious health problems 
  • Childbirth 
  • War and conflict 
  • Torture
  • Natural disaster

It is important to note that this is not an exhaustive list of causes. PTSD can be caused by anything you find traumatic. 

Traumatic events can affect your belief that life is fair, reasonably safe, and your sense of security. However, not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD. 

PTSD is more likely to develop if the traumatic event:

  • Is unexpected 
  • Goes on for a long time 
  • Involves being trapped 
  • Is caused by people 
  • Causes many deaths 
  • Involves a perceived or real threat to your life 
  • Causes mutilation to the body 
  • Involves children 

What are the Symptoms of PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder can cause you to feel unsafe, and insecure, and experience high levels of anxiety or fear. 

For example, let’s say you were in a serious car accident that caused you to develop PTSD. This may cause you to avoid driving a car or being in a car altogether, as you no longer feel that being in a car is safe. Additionally, anytime you are near a car you could experience flashbacks of your car accident. 

The symptoms of PTSD are different for everyone, but the main symptoms include:[1]

  • Reliving the experience through flashbacks, intrusive memories, or nightmares
  • Overwhelming emotions associated with flashbacks, memories, or nightmares 
  • Being unable to feel emotions (feeling numb)
  • Dissociation 
  • Avoiding people, places, or things that remind you of the trauma
  • Negative mood and thinking 
  • Difficulty controlling your emotions 
  • Feelings of anger, panic, irritability, and anxiety 
  • Anhedonia (difficulty feeling pleasure)
  • Guilt or shame 
  • Negative self-perception
  • Problems relating to others 
  • Feeling detached from others 
  • Issues with sleeping and concentrating 
  • Being easily startled or scared 
  • Self-destructive behavior 
  • Feelings of current threats otherwise known as hypervigilance 

The symptoms of PTSD can make daily life difficult. Symptoms can disrupt your work, school, and relationship with yourself or others. Because the symptoms of PTSD are difficult to manage without treatment, the condition may cause you to turn to drugs or alcohol which can lead to addiction and significantly worsen the symptoms of PTSD. 

The Connection Between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Addiction

Post-traumatic stress disorder changes brain chemistry in a similar fashion as addiction does. Oftentimes, these conditions develop at the same time and cause the symptoms of each other to become exacerbated. The same traumatic event that caused PTSD can also cause a substance use disorder to develop. 

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “46.4% of individuals with lifetime PTSD also met criteria for SUD.”[2] 

Another study from the National Library of Medicine found that women show high rates of this dual diagnosis (from 30% to 59%) and their PTSD is most commonly derived from childhood physical or sexual assault. For men, the rate of co-occurring addiction and substance abuse is 2 to 3 times lower than women, with their PTSD mostly stemming from combat or crime trauma.[3]

After a traumatic experience, the brain has a hard time producing endorphins–the chemicals that make you feel happy and regulate your mood. This may cause you to seek outside forms of happiness, through the use of drugs and alcohol. 

How are PTSD and Addiction Treated?

PTSD and addiction are both treated through trauma-informed behavioral therapy. Trauma-informed care can help you process your trauma in a safe environment, slowly allowing the symptoms of PTSD to fade away over time. Behavioral therapy also helps you overcome the symptoms of addiction by retraining the brain to use positive coping mechanisms instead of self-medication through drugs and alcohol. 

PTSD is often the cause of addiction, so as you recover from your trauma and learn to manage the symptoms of your PTSD in behavioral therapy, you will recover from your addiction as well.

Medications may be offered to people who suffer from severe PTSD to help them manage their symptoms more effectively.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Trauma-focused CBT helps you manage your symptoms of PTSD by changing how you think and behave. 

The goal of CBT is to help you manage your symptoms and your reaction to trauma and help you cope with the related emotions. Sometimes this form of therapy may be directed towards a specific symptom of PTSD, like anger or insomnia. 

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

Cognitive processing therapy focuses on helping you overcome your thoughts about a traumatic event. 

This form of therapy is based on the belief that PTSD symptoms occur because of a conflict between pre-trauma and post-trauma beliefs. These conflicts are referred to as “stuck points” and are addressed through activities like writing about the traumatic event. 

Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET)

Narrative exposure therapy helps you to reduce feelings of distress that have resulted from multiple traumatic experiences. The goal of NET is to put your trauma into context to create and express a clear narrative of your life. While this mainly focuses on the trauma, you will include the positive events in your life as well. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

While thinking about a traumatic event, a therapist will lead you to make eye movements to train your brain to deal with painful memories differently. Therapists will use eye stimulations or other methods like taps and tones while you process certain memories. This is done until the memories are no longer distressing. 


If your symptoms of PTSD are extremely distressing, your doctor may recommend medication to use alongside your therapy. Antidepressants may be used to limit the symptoms of depression and anxiety. On the other hand, people who experience psychosis or severe hyperarousal may be given antipsychotic medication to manage those symptoms. 

Find Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Addiction

If you or a loved one suffer from PTSD and addiction, it’s time to seek help. Living with both conditions unmanaged can cause you to have a difficult time functioning in your daily life. PTSD and addiction can cause unhealthy relationships, insomnia, and an overall decreased quality of life. 

A dual diagnosis rehab facility offers integrated care that can teach you how to manage your symptoms of PTSD and addiction healthily. Contact Moving Mountains Recovery Center today to get started. 


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