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

2 min read · 5 sections
Those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder are 3 times more likely to abuse substances.1 Treatment for substance use disorders with co-occurring mental health issues is available. Here you can learn about your treatment options for PTSD co-occurring with substance use disorder.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that is caused by a traumatic experience in a person’s life, such as military combat, sexual abuse, or car accidents.2 According to the National Center of PTSD about 8 out of 100 American will suffer from PTSD.3 Some may experience and symptoms that include flashbacks of the traumatic event, fighting thoughts, and bad dreams.2

Signs of PTSD

Signs and symptoms of PTSD may include:4

  • Attitude and behavioral changes, such as easily irritated and angered.
  • Difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
  • Feeling numb and avoiding people, places, or activities.
  • Reliving the trauma, experiencing flashbacks, and having nightmares.

Substance Abuse and Co-occurring PTSD


Substance abuse and addiction is commonly connected to co-occurring disorders like PTSD, depression, and anxiety.5

People seeking treatment for PTSD are 14 times more likely to also be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder (SUD).6 Attempting to self-medicate can be a cause to why many people with PTSD also abuse substance.6 The thought is that by abusing substances, a person with PTSD, will null or avoid PTSD symptoms. Those with PTSD with a SUD are more likely so abuse alcohol over drugs, such as cocaine.6

Research has found that service members and veterans that have heavy drinking tendencies are more likely to have PTSD, depression.7 War veterans with a PTSD diagnosis, who also drink alcohol, tend to be diagnosed with binge drinking.8

Military and Veterans with PTSD

One of the highest risk groups for both PTSD and addiction is the veteran population. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, veterans who seek out treatment for a SUD are often diagnosed with PTSD.10 This is most likely due to the emotional stress, physical demand, and mental strain of combat.10 Service members that were deployed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan are at a higher risk of developing PTSD.11

In addition, PTSD has also been linked to veterans that have been sexually assaulted or harassed during their military service or experience.  Military service trauma can happen to any service member, of any gender, during their military service.11 Sexual trauma includes sexual assault, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment.11 About 1 in 5 female veterans have been diagnosed with military sexual trauma by Veteran Affairs (VA).12

Signs of Drug Abuse

Someone misusing or abusing drugs can have the following signs and symptoms:9

  • Being argumentative when asked about substance use.
  • Changes in spending habits and issues with finances.
  • Noticeable changes in behavior.
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss.
  • Lack of motivation and poor work performance.
  • Looking sick, such as bloodshot eyes and changes in skin tone.
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