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How PTSD Leads to Addiction


Approximately half of all individuals seeking treatment for substance use disorder also meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. Studies have shown that not only are cravings and urges to use more intense for those with PTSD, but relapse is also more common after completing treatment. 

How PTSD Can Form 

One of the most common ways people develop PTSD is through early traumatic experiences during childhood or adolescence. Some of these traumatic experiences, are included in the ACEs tests, such as: 

  • Experiencing violence or abuse 
  • Having a family member attempt or die by suicide 
  • Growing up in a house with substance abuse 

Childhood trauma, often leads to increased symptomology of PTSD, which, in turn, can lead to an increased likelihood of substance use disorders. 

Symptoms of PTSD 

Some of the most common emotional symptoms of PTSD and early childhood trauma include: 

  • Flashbacks of the event 
  • Negative thoughts 
  • Difficulty with relationships 
  • Feeling emotionally numb 

Along with these, there are many physical symptoms of PTSD as well: 

  • Being easily startled or frightened 
  • Irritability 
  • Angriness 
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame 
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much 

Symptoms can combine and make it more difficult for people to go about their normal day. This typically leads to self-medication through substance abuse to dampen the mood symptoms associated with these stress responses. 

Substances Abused Based on Trauma 

There are specific correlations between drugs that are abused, and the type of traumatic experiences men and women go through:

In Women: 

Women who experience sexual abuse are more likely to deal abuse cocaine and marijuana.  

In Men: 

Meanwhile, men who experience physical abuse tend to suffer from lifetime heroin use. 

Multiple Forms of Trauma: 

People who experience the three most common forms of trauma during childhood (sexual, physical, and emotional) were found to have even higher rates of addiction to substances, including: alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana. 

PTSD Treatment 

Fortunately, there are healthier alternatives that people with PTSD can use to overcome their problems. 

Therapy is one of the most common and effective treatment options for those dealing with these issues. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing 

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, is a form of psychotherapy designed to help patients dealing with past trauma. EMDR has shown to be remarkably successful. 

For example, some studies have shown that up to 90% of single-trauma victims no longer experience PTSD after just three 90-minute sessions. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

Along with EMDR, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another form of treatment that can improve symptoms related to PTSD. In a review of multiple studies it was found that CBT was one of the top therapies for PTSD over other forms and when reassessed two years later, only 10% of patients still had PTSD. 

Overall, PTSD, and trauma in general, are major problems that should not be taken lightly. These can lead to numerous issues including negative thoughts, emotional problems, frightening flashbacks, and more. The symptoms can cause some to turn to drugs and alcohol to try and weaken these symptoms. 

Treating a Dual Diagnosis 

Patients who experience both substance abuse and a mental health issue, like PTSD, are given a dual diagnosis. While it can seem daunting to overcome, there are treatment facilities around the country that treat substance abuse and mental health problems. 

Not all facilities can treat both diagnoses simultaneously. In 2017, less than a quarter of facilities met the criteria for treating dual diagnosis. So, be sure to research addiction treatment centers before admitting yourself or loved one. 

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