Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder & Drug or Alcohol Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 7.7 million adults have co-occurring disorders.1 In this sense, the term “co-occurring” refers to the simultaneous presence of a substance use disorder (SUD) and a mental health condition.2

The presence of both PTSD and a substance use disorder is one of the most common co-occurring disorders. This article will discuss how and why PTSD often co-occurs alongside drug or alcohol addiction.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

PTSD is a condition that develops as a response to experiencing one or more highly traumatic, life-threatening events, such as terrorism, combat exposure, gun violence, rape or sexual assault, or any other circumstances where a person is threatened with serious injury or death.3 Exposure to such trauma can result in intense emotional and physical responses even long after the event has occurred, and can include flashbacks, nightmares, and/or panic attacks.3

People with PTSD may experience emotional distress in the form of sadness, fear, anxiety, and anger.3 They may have a tendency to isolate themselves to avoid potentially triggering events.3  Situations that would otherwise be considered ordinary, such as an accidental touch or loud noise, can evoke strong negative emotional and physiological responses in those who have PTSD.3

Signs & Symptoms of PTSD

Individuals with PTSD can experience a number of effects. Individuals with this condition might present with just a few (or several) of the following signs and symptoms:4

  • Intrusive distressing memories of the trauma that recur involuntarily
  • Recurring distressing dreams about the traumatic event
  • Flashbacks of the traumatic event that feel as if they are actually happening
  • Psychological distress or physiological reactions when faced with a situation that resembles or symbolizes an aspect of the traumatic event
  • Persistent avoidance of reminders that evoke distressing emotional responses related to the traumatic event
  • Negative ideas and beliefs about oneself, others, or the world as a result of the trauma
  • Feelings of detachment from others
  • An inability to feel positive emotions such as happiness, satisfaction, and loving feelings
  • An alteration in reactivity, such as an exaggerated startle response, irritable behavior, angry outbursts, or reckless behavior

Co-Occurring PTSD and Drug or Alcohol Addiction

woman suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms

A co-occurring disorder is defined as an individual having at least one mental health disorder and at least one substance use disorder that occur simultaneously. This is also sometimes referred to as dual diagnosis or comorbidity, which implies interactions between the co-occurring disorders that can cause both conditions to worsen.2

A substance use disorder that occurs alongside PTSD is an example of a common co-occurring disorder. Research has shown that 46.4% of people who have PTSD also meet the criteria for having a substance use disorder.5 In fact, compared to women without PTSD, one study showed that women with PTSD were 2.48 times more likely to struggle with alcohol misuse or dependence and 4.46 times more likely to struggle with drug misuse or dependence.5

Similarly, that same study reported that compared to men without PTSD, men with PTSD were 2.06 times more likely to experience alcohol misuse or dependence and 2.97 times more likely to experience drug misuse or dependence.5 It is important to note, however, that a diagnosis of PTSD does not mean that the individual will in fact develop a substance use disorder, however PTSD can be a trigger to misuse substances. Individuals with PTSD may misuse substances in order to numb or cope with their signs and symptoms, putting them at risk of developing a substance use disorder.

Symptoms of Co-Occurring PTSD and Addiction

PTSD and addiction are diagnosed as co-occurring when a person meets the criteria for each of these disorders in addition to having them simultaneously. The diagnosis of a substance use disorder is based on a pathological pattern of behaviors related to the misuse of a substance, including impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria.4

These behaviors will vary depending upon the type of substance being used, as well as other factors related to the addiction. Symptoms of addiction include, but are not limited to, the following:4

  • Developing a tolerance to the substance, which occurs when a person needs to regularly increase the amount they are using to achieve the desired effect
  • Continuing to take the substance for longer than was originally planned
  • Craving the substance
  • Continuing to take the substance even when doing so is physically dangerous
  • Being unable to stop using the substance, even when there is a desire to do so
  • Withdrawing from social and recreational activities due to substance misuse

Together, the symptoms of both PTSD and addiction can worsen when both conditions are co-occurring.7 The symptoms associated with this condition can include:7

  • Increased physical health problems.
  • Poor social functioning.
  • Increased risk for suicide attempts.
  • Lack of adherence to treatment.
  • Increased cravings.

Veterans With PTSD and Substance Use Disorder

Research has shown that compared to the general population, veterans are more likely to develop comorbid PTSD and a substance use disorder.7 Research suggests that the severity of combat exposure is proportionately correlated to the development of substance use disorders. The greater the severity of exposure, the higher the odds of misuse and the potential for developing addiction.7 For example, the prevalence rate for the development of alcohol use disorder in veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom is estimated to be approximately 21%, while 41.4% of veterans who served in the Vietnam era or later received a dual diagnosis of PTSD and SUD.7

AdCare Treatment Centers is proud to offer our Veterans program, which provides quality co-occurring disorder treatment for veterans. We are in the VA’s network of community care providers, so our facilities are covered under VA healthcare for at least a portion of your treatment.

Treating Co-Occurring PTSD or Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Veteran talking to therapist about his need for trauma based therapy

AdCare’s mission is to improve the lives of our patients and their families by providing safe, effective, recovery-based alcohol and drug treatment. Treatment is the recommended course of action for families working through PTSD and SUDs, and treating them together has a bigger impact than treating them individually.2

AdCare Treatment Centers offer different levels of addiction treatment for co-occurring disorders with specialized programming options for veterans. If you or someone you love is struggling with PTSD and a substance use disorder, contact us right now at . We can connect you with one of our compassionate and experienced rehab admissions navigators who can provide you with more information about several things, including payment options and potential insurance coverage for rehab.

Get the process of your recovery started right now by filling out our safe online . Do not wait. Reach out for the help that you or your loved one deserves.

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