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There is strong evidence that addiction and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are connected. Studies have shown that people with PTSD are more likely to develop a substance use disorder (SUD), and vice versa. In fact, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), people diagnosed with PTSD are three times more likely to be diagnosed with drug or alcohol addiction and approximately one-half of the people with a diagnosis of PTSD also have a drug or alcohol addiction.
A mental health issue, PTSD develops in some people after they witness or experience a life-threatening event, like child abuse, sexual assault, war, or a natural disaster. Not everyone who experiences such an event develops PTSD, and researchers do not yet fully understand why. It is thought the development of PTSD depends on a combination of factors, including the severity of the traumatic event, the person’s reaction to the trauma, their support system, and their coping skills.
People who are likely to develop PTSD include those who:
- Have experienced one or more past traumas
- Have a family history of mental health problems
- Have certain personality traits, such as being highly sensitive or anxious
- Use alcohol or drugs to cope with stress
What Causes PTSD?
When people think of PTSD, they often associate it with military combat. But PTSD can develop after any event that results in serious physical or emotional injury or threat of harm, such as childhood abuse or neglect, severe car accidents, serious accidents or medical problems, terrorist attacks, domestic abuse, being the victim of a crime, or being threatened with a weapon.
Additional events that can result in PTSD include:
- The loss of a loved one, especially in a traumatic event
- Witnessing a death
- Severe bullying
What are the Symptoms of PTSD?
The symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person, but they typically fall into four categories:
- Re-experiencing: intrusive memories, flashbacks, and nightmares about the traumatic event can make people feel as if they are reliving it.
- Avoidance: people with PTSD avoid people, places, activities, thoughts, or feelings that remind them of the event.
- Negative changes in thinking and mood: these changes include negative thoughts about oneself, others, or the world. People with PTSD may also feel detached or estranged from others.
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions: this might include problems sleeping, being easily startled, and feeling on edge. People with PTSD may also have difficulty concentrating and controlling their emotions.
The Connection Between PTSD and Addiction
The connection between PTSD and addiction is complex. One possible reason for the connection is that people with PTSD may use substances to self-medicate their symptoms. Flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety can be very distressing. Using drugs or drinking alcohol can temporarily relieve these symptoms, but over time it can make such symptoms worse.
Interestingly, it seems that the same factors that make someone susceptible to PTSD also make them susceptible to drug or alcohol addiction. For example, both disorders are more common in people who have experienced childhood trauma.
Other similarities in the causes of addiction and PTSD include:
- Genetics: There is some evidence that genetics may play a role in the development of both PTSD and addiction.
- Neurobiology: Substances and PTSD affect the brain’s reward system, which can lead to addiction.
- Stress: Both PTSD and addiction can be caused by or worsened by stress.
- Social factors: Poverty, homelessness, and lack of social support can also increase the risk of both PTSD and addiction.
We Can Help
Addiction is a chronic brain disease that can affect anyone. If you or a loved one struggles with a substance use disorder or co-occurring disorders, we can help. At Canyon Vista Recovery Center in Mesa, Arizona, you will get the help you need to regain control of your life. Using a combination of psychiatric, medical, clinical, and holistic approaches, our skilled professionals will guide you as you acquire the skills you need to live a healthy life.