Substance Use Disorder and PTSD

 In co-occurring conditions, Drugs or Alcohol Abuse, mental health, mental illness, substance abuse

It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in danger. People who have PTSD and substance use disorder need to have both disorders treated at the same time for the best results.

Not everyone who goes through a serious and traumatic event will develop signs of PTSD. There are various factors that influence whether a person might develop PTSD after witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event. For example, more women develop PTSD in response to trauma vs. men. In general, between three and four percent of adults in the United States have PTSD. The rate becomes higher when you look at groups like military veterans as well as first responders and law enforcement.

Substance Use Disorder and PTSD

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with Substance Use Disorder? 

PTSD is a mental health disorder that develops after exposure to a traumatic event. The traumatic event may be experienced directly, witnessed, or happen to someone close to you. 

Some examples of traumatic events are:

  • Serious accidents.
  • Military combat.
  • Natural disasters.
  • Personal assaults.
  • Abuse.

Although anyone can technically develop PTSD through traumatic scenarios, some people are more at risk. Those with repeated trauma, a history of mental illness, childhood abuse victims, and those who experience further stress after the traumatic event are more at risk to develop PTSD.

Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder and PTSD

PTSD changes brain chemistry in much the same way substance abuse and addiction do. Often, these disorders form at the same time and feed off one another. The same trauma that caused PTSD can also trigger a substance use disorder.

Following a traumatic experience, the brain produces fewer endorphins, one of the chemicals that help us feel happy. People with PTSD may turn to alcohol and other mood-enhancing drugs, which increase endorphin levels. Over time, they may come to rely on drugs to relieve all of their feelings of depression, anxiety, and irritability.

People with PTSD are more prone to violent outbursts and panic attacks, which can be difficult for family and friends to witness. Feelings of guilt over these outbursts can drive those with PTSD to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Continued use of alcohol or other drugs in this way can lead to an addiction.

Symptoms And Effects Of PTSD and Substance Use Disorder

Symptoms of PTSD can change over time. Some symptoms might appear within 3 months of a traumatic episode, or it might take years until the disorder fully comes about.


PTSD impacts the parts of the brain associated with memory and emotions. A healthy brain can tell the difference between past memories and present experiences, but PTSD interferes with this process. Someone with PTSD might react to a current environment that reminds them of past trauma. The brain responds as though the person is still in the past, triggering fear, anxiety, and stress.


After a traumatic event, a number of symptoms must surface for the person to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. There are four different types of PTSD symptoms:


  • Intrusion symptoms. At least 1 intrusion symptom must be present.
  • Avoidance symptoms. At least 1 avoidance symptom must be present.
  • Cognitions and mood symptoms. At least 2 negative changes in cognitions and mood must be present.
  • Arousal and reactivity symptoms. At least 2 noticeable changes must be present.

In more detail, the symptoms can be described as: 

  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Severe anxiety
  • 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.
  • Avoiding thinking or talking about the event
  • Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind you of the event
  • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Always being on guard
  • Self-destructive behavior

Statistics on PTSD and Drug Abuse

PTSD and substance abuse statistics show significant relationships between these conditions:

  • Around 33 percent of veterans seeking substance abuse treatment have comorbid PTSD.
  • About 50 percent of people in inpatient substance abuse treatment also have PTSD.
  • Nearly 80 percent of women seeking substance abuse treatment have lifetime histories of sexual or physical assault.
  • People who abuse opiates and cocaine report higher rates of exposure to trauma than users of other substances.
  • People with PTSD are at least two times more likely than the general population to have an alcohol use disorder.
  • 75 percent of veterans with PTSD have a co-occurring substance use disorder.
  • Most people with PTSD—about 80%—have one or more additional mental health diagnoses. They are also at risk for functional impairments, reduced quality of life, and relationship problems. 

Due to the strong link between PTSD and addiction, it is important to screen for and treat PTSD and substance use disorder together.

Making the Connection: Trauma and Substance Abuse

In the past, it was common to treat comorbid PTSD and substance use disorder separately. In fact, the substance use disorder was often treated first, and the treatment of PTSD would be put off until the person was sober for a period of time.4

Recently, treatment courses have changed. The integrated model of treatment is used to address both the substance use disorder and PTSD at the same time. The person may see the same clinician for both treatments, rather than seeing 2 separate professionals.4 This approach helps address the complexity of comorbid symptoms, since some may overlap. Further, the person can address triggers and emotions linked with their substance use, which can help foster and maintain recovery.


PTSD and Substance Use Disorder in Veterans

Research has shown that PTSD and substance use problems are strongly linked in people who served in the military. Many people try to deal with the symptoms of PTSD by drinking heavily, using drugs or alcohol, or smoking too much. Furthermore, people who have issues with drugs or alcohol are also more likely to develop PTSD. 

How Common is Co-Occurring PTSD and SUDs in Veterans?


  • More than 20% of veterans with PTSD also suffer from a co-occurring substance use disorder.
  • Almost 30% of veterans seeking treatment for a substance use disorder also suffer from co-occurring PTSD.
  • The number of veterans who smoke (nicotine) is almost twice as much for those with PTSD (about 6 out of 10 vs. those without PTSD at 3 out of 10).
  • In the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, about 1 in 10 returning veterans had a problem with drugs or alcohol.
  • War veterans with alcohol problems and PTSD are more likely to binge drink. (Binge drinking is when a man consumes 5 or more within 2 hours or a woman consumes 4 or more drinks within 2 hours).

Men’s Residential Treatment Facility Substance Use Disorder


Residential drug rehab programs are a form of inpatient treatment that’s designed to address substance abuse problems along with any underlying behavioral issues or mental illnesses. As a result, residential drug rehab promotes recovery and healing. 

With ongoing care and in-depth treatment, residential drug rehab patients receive the help that they need while being guided through the addiction treatment process. As long as residential drug rehab patients make a conscious effort to learn and take part in every aspect of their treatment programs, they’ll get the most out of the experience. 


A men’s residential treatment drug rehab program requires patients to live in the addiction treatment facilities where they’re receiving care at. Therefore, it’s important for individuals that are planning to attend residential drug rehab to receive care at a quality addiction treatment facility. 

Little Creek Recovery is the perfect addiction treatment facility for men that are looking to attend residential drug rehab for substance addiction. This is because Little Creek Recovery specializes in substance abuse treatment for men. Men who stay at the Little Creek Recovery residential treatment facility here in PA will reap all the benefits of inpatient drug rehab as they pursue healing and freedom from substance abuse.

Leave a Comment

Contact Us

For Help Today Email or Call us at 570-630-9354.

Little Creek Lodge
359 Easton Turnpike
Hamlin, PA 18427