post traumatic stress

How Does PTSD Affect Substance Abuse?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating mental disorder which brings on symptoms such as intense anxiety, flashbacks and can interfere with activities of daily living. Many individuals turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with symptoms and as a way to numb painful experiences. Find out how PTSD affects an individual and why substance use is so prevalent for individuals who suffer from the disorder.

What is PTSD

PTSD is a condition where an individual experiences extreme stress or anxiety after witnessing or engaging in a traumatic event. Physical or psychological trauma can leave an individual feeling powerless and out of control. This may lead to PTSD with some of the common causes being:

  • Military combat
  • Violent assault
  • Natural disasters
  • Sexual assault
  • Childhood abuse

Flashbacks and nightmares are hallmarks of PTSD which are basically unresolved crises in a person’s life. A person with PTSD will experience anger, resentment and fear over a sense of powerlessness. Sexual abuse in women is one of the most common causes of PTSD and addiction. Combat is another big factor for men with PTSD who are veterans.

Symptoms of PTSD

The following are some of the symptoms of PTSD for individuals who suffer:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Avoidance
  • Aggressive outbursts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Depression
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic illness

People who experience symptoms for at least one month may be diagnosed with PTSD. Alcoholism and drug abuse fall into an avoidance symptom where the individual seeks to numb pain with substances. Under the influence of substances, a person is more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior such as driving under the influence or engaging in an altercation with someone else. Legal problems, incarceration, poverty, unemployment and other issues may arise as a result of PTSD and substance use.


A dual diagnosis of PTSD and addiction disorder will require intensive support from psychiatric professionals, family and friends. People who battle PTSD and a substance use disorder may be reluctant to seek treatment. Many who experience PTSD live with intense guilt and shame associated with trauma. Addiction may add to guilt which makes it harder to reach out and ask for help. A treatment facility may help an individual find motivation to use recovery resources with support and encouragement from an integrated treatment team. The following may be included in a treatment plan:

  • Individual therapy to teach individuals how to handle triggers to use substances
  • Counseling with other individuals who suffer from PTSD and addiction
  • Couples or family therapy
  • Membership in 12-step group
  • Medication therapy (antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds)

Individuals with PTSD and addiction need specialized support services to recover and live a healthy life. It takes time to experience peace but in time a person can learn to live with some parts of the condition while mitigating symptoms in a positive way, without the use of drugs or alcohol.


PTSD and addiction disorders require specialized support. The Villa can provide information and resources about how to seek help if you are suffering from flashbacks, trauma and addiction. Call us to find out how we can help you.