The link between PTSD and Addiction

I was diagnosed with PTSD 17-years-ago. For the longest time I did a pretty good job of hiding my symptoms but they eventually affected my life negatively on a daily basis, sometimes for days at a time.

The breaking point came for me when I was in line at my bank and one of the guys that was involved with the murder of my brother was 4 people behind me in line.  He eventually ended up directly behind me and I blacked out. I don’t remember screaming at the top of my lungs, the police and paramedics coming and being transported to the hospital.

Through counseling I learned my anxiety, depression and OCD were directly related to past traumas not only the murder of my brother.

When Jennifer Woodson asked if she could provide a guest post on the link between PTSD and Addiction of course I said yes.

I want everyone to be aware of and to understand Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and most of all I want those that suffer or love someone who suffers that there is life beyond this disorder and if you want to get there, want to feel happy, alive and safe again please ask for help.

Photo by jarmoluk

 Alcohol whisky


The Link Between PTSD and Addiction: Important Factors to Know

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that occurs after someone faces a life-threatening or traumatic event, such as being sexually assaulted, witnessing a violent crime, going to war, or being in a serious car accident. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD: the risk factors include being abused or neglected as a child, being a woman, having other mental health problems, and lacking a good support system. Military combat is the most common cause of PTSD in men, and sexual assault is the most common cause of PTSD in women.

Each year, approximately 5.2 million adults struggle with PTSD; it is more common in women than men. Typically, PTSD occurs with other disorders; in fact, 80% of people diagnosed with the disorder also suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), substance abuse and addiction, depressive disorders, and other anxiety disorders. Studies show that people with PTSD are more likely to develop addiction than people who do not have it. One study in particular found that up to 75% of combat veterans with PTSD also abuse alcohol.

PTSD and addiction, by the numbers

Studies show that about 8% of Americans will develop PTSD. Studies also show that about 8% will become addicted to an illegal drug, while approximately 17% will develop an alcohol problem. 34% of men and 27% of women with PTSD will become addicted to drugs, and 28% of women and 52% of men with PTSD will become alcoholics. All in all, individuals with PTSD have a higher risk of becoming addicts than people who do not suffer from the disorder. Recent data estimates that nearly 33% of people who seek treatment for substance abuse suffer from PTSD.

Pills 2

The connection between PTSD and addiction

Some experts believe that PTSD and addiction are closely linked because people with PTSD turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate in an effort to escape the flashbacks, depression, and anxiety that are characteristic of PTSD. Initially, the drugs and alcohol may make the person feel better, forget the trauma, and sleep better; however, the longer the person uses drugs and alcohol, the better her chances of becoming an addict.

What people with PTSD may not realize is that substances like drugs and alcohol make depression worse. Drugs and alcohol increase the chances of the person becoming more violent and aggressive, which in turn makes her feel guilty for lashing out and drives her to drink more. These substances also strengthen depression and can increase paranoia, anxiety, and fear.


Female veterans, PTSD, and addiction

Research shows that veterans often have a dual diagnosis of PTSD and substance abuse disorder. Female veterans are at risk for PTSD if they participate in active combat missions, suffer military sexual trauma, feel isolated and alone, or worry about family. These women may begin abusing drugs or alcohol when they are in the military or after they come home to self-medicate. Other female veterans may develop an addiction because they have an existing mental health disorder and are prescribed medications for managing pain from a service-related injury. No matter the cause, female veterans need to seek help if they are diagnosed with PTSD and substance abuse disorder.

PTSD, addiction, and suicide among veterans

Because of the long-lasting effects of trauma and PTSD, people who live with the disorder are at an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Their increased risk is due, in part, to their other mental health challenges with depression and substance abuse disorder. People who have PTSD and abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to act impulsively or engage in risky behavior that can lead to suicide.

Veterans with PTSD and substance abuse disorder especially are at an increased risk for suicide. They often struggle with the trauma, anxiety, depression, and flashbacks when they return home, or they may struggle with being separated from friends and family while on active duty. Some veterans’ PTSD is not diagnosed, and these service members are at a higher risk for developing an addiction in an effort to escape their traumatic experiences or cope with returning to civilian life.

The link between PTSD and addiction may require some more study, but it is an issue that requires intensive treatment in a program that addresses both disorders. Getting help early is important so that the person can learn how to cope in healthy ways and avoid triggers to start on a path toward wellbeing.

 Jennifer Woodson enjoys serving the public as a writer for The site is dedicated to putting the public back into public health by serving as a hub of reputable and useful public information on health topics.

21 Responses to “The link between PTSD and Addiction”

  • Great article and important information for people to know. PTSD is widely misunderstood, with only the most dramatic cases getting attention. People don’t recognize trauma for what it is, and the impact it has on your perception — so many things can trigger intense anxiety.

  • I didn’t know this, but it makes perfect sense, that link. As far as PTSD, I am surprised they diagnosed it 17 years ago–at least you knew what you were dealing with. Sounds like you have managed well despite it.

  • I had no idea you had been through so much Doreen – I keep learning more about your journey every time I read one of your posts. I can’t imagine what you would have felt that day at the bank! So good to see information being put out there to help those who are so desperately in need of it. x

  • Estelle:

    This is important info to share. So sorry you have had to deal with PTSD.

  • Wow, excellent blog, Jennifer. Isn’t it strange how differently we all respond to events in our lives? I was in a very bad car accident in the rain…and I still get nervous and upset when driving in the rain. A mild form, perhaps.

  • Oh my goodness, Doreen. I’m so sorry you’ve had experience with PTSD.

    Thank you so much for sharing Jennifer’s article. I imagine there are thousands of folks who could be helped reading it. As I live in a city with numerous military bases and MANY friends and folks who might benefit from reading this, I’ll keep it in mind for sharing.

  • There is so much important information here. PTSD seems a natural reaction to tragedy. I’m glad there’s help and I’m glad you’re doing well.

  • This makes me wonder if every service person who leaves the service should be given a PTSD exam before they go, or after active duty in combat? It seems like in that case, anyway help could be put into place sooner rather than later. PTSD is no joke, but as we continue to ignore or vilify mental health issues, people will continue to needlessly suffer. Great article and the website Jennifer writes for is to be commended on their mission.

  • Wonderful information on PTSD. It gives us a better understanding of how it affects others who are not victims of war but of other traumas. I’m so sorry you have had to go through all this Doreen. Glad you’re doing better now.

  • Excellent article, Jennifer, and it hits close to home. My father was on the front lines of the Korean War. He suffered from PTSD, had terrible nightmares and was an alcoholic. Finally, at age 60, after sustaining severe injuries in a car accident, he was able to beat his addiction. I only wish he had asked for help earlier in his life.

    Thanks, Doreen, for sharing this article. I’m so sorry you yourself suffer from PTSD but it sounds like you are doing well, now.

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