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How and Why Can PTSD Lead to Addiction?

Learn more about the connection between PTSD and addiction and how to get the necessary treatment for both.

Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) results from a traumatic or horrifying event. These events can include experiencing abuse, accidents, medical diagnoses, and more.1

PTSD often develops within a few weeks to a month after the traumatic event, but in some cases, the onset of symptoms may not start for years. The symptoms and side effects often cause difficulties for the individual in personal, social, or work situations. The intensity of PTSD symptoms will vary from person to person and are often made worse when the individual experiences any sort of stress. Often, they may worsen over time if the individual does not receive professional help.2

PTSD and Addiction

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Does PTSD Cause Co-Occurring Disorders?

PTSD may also lead to co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. It is important to seek help for both conditions and treat the causes of any mental health challenges, not just the symptoms.

What’s the Relationship Between PTSD and Addiction?

PTSD and addiction are often linked, as many people with PTSD will often self-medicate to help mitigate symptoms. Research shows that PTSD co-occurs with substance abuse in 40% of individuals with these mental health disorders. The dual diagnosis of PTSD and addiction can create a heightened risk for other mental health disorders, along with increased rates of suicide, unemployment, and social impairment.3

The most common reason for addiction with PTSD is self-medication. Self-medication is when people use substances to cope with symptoms of other disorders, such as PTSD. Other reasons that PTSD and addiction are connected include genetics, behavior, and environment.These will vary from person to person and are also dependent on any other potential risk factors they may be experiencing.4

Signs and Symptoms of Co-Occurring PTSD and Addiction

Signs of co-occurring PTSD and addiction will look different for everyone, as they are dependent on how severe symptoms are, genetics, and any other environmental factors. While PTSD and addiction do not always co-occur, taking note of these potential risks can help you be aware of when you may need professional help.

Common Indications of PTSD

Some common signs that you or a loved one may have developed PTSD include:

  • Intrusive memories of the traumatic event
  • Going out of your way to avoid certain situations, family, or friends
  • Sudden and intense mood changes, such as violence or depression
  • Emotional changes that impact your life

Common Indications of Substance Abuse

Potential signs of substance abuse may include:

  • A lack of interest in things you used to find enjoyable
  • A fixation on acquiring or using a substance
  • Not meeting your work or social obligations
  • Having intense cravings for the substance
  • Behavioral changes
  • Experiencing mental health challenges like anxiety or depression
If you notice any of these signs, especially symptoms from both PTSD and substance abuse disorders, it may be time to reach out to a treatment center.

Effects of PTSD

Common effects of PTSD include distortion of beliefs, avoidance, nightmares or flashbacks, and cognitive challenges.

Distortion of Beliefs

People with PTSD may experience a distortion of beliefs, such as self-blame or hopelessness. These often occur due to the brain attempting to rationalize or deal with the traumatic event.5


Avoidance often leads people to self-medicate, as they’re attempting to forget about or not think about the traumatic event. They may even avoid certain people or places that may cause a difficult flashback. This can cause a person to feel isolated and unwell.

Nightmares or Flashbacks

A very common side effect of PTSD is nightmares or flashbacks of the event. These can cause undue stress, anxiety, or emotional distress for the individual. Further, these occurences can negatively impact sleep, only worsening a person’s cognitive functioning and overall wellness.

Cognitive Challenges

Cognitive challenges, or cognitive distortions, are very common for those with PTSD. These are negative thoughts that are often exaggerated or not consistent with what is happening in the real world. These can eventually lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as self-medicating and substance abuse.6

PTSD and addiction treatment

PTSD and Addiction Treatment

There are many treatment options for PTSD and addiction. These options can include:
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps patients realize certain negative ways of thinking or acting so that they can deal with these issues in a healthier way.7
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy: This therapy involves the patient thinking about their traumatic event while receiving eye stimulation, which weakens the emotions surrounding the event.8
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapdiy (DBT): DBT aims to help people unlearn unhealthy behaviors.9
  • Exposure Therapy: A therapist creates a safe environment to expose the patient to the stressor. The goal is to work through it in a healthy manner while developing coping mechanisms.
Most of these treatment options are also effective for treating substance abuse disorders.

Find Help With PTSD and Addiction at Ripple Ranch Recovery Center

If you or a loved one are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, or both, Ripple Ranch Recovery Center may be able to help. We offer individualized plans for each of our patients to tailor treatment to each person’s specific needs. Our holistic and compassionate care involves many different treatment options, and our staff will make sure that you get the necessary support every step of the way during your recovery.
Dealing with PTSD and addiction can be difficult, but you don’t have to do it alone. We want to make sure you feel supported and cared for throughout your detox and recovery journey.

Reach Out to Ripple Ranch Recovery and Begin Healing

Please reach out to Ripple Ranch Recovery Center today if you or a loved one are ready to start treatment for PTSD and addiction. Our highly-qualified and empathetic team of professionals is eager to help you begin the process of recovery. We will help you accomplish long-term, sustainable wellness and enable you to lead the life you deserve, wholly uninhibited by the grapples of addiction.