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PTSD and Addiction

Table of Contents

PTSD and addiction are complex and debilitating conditions that can significantly impact an individual’s life. Although they are distinct disorders, they can frequently co-occur, and individuals who have PTSD are at an increased risk of developing an addiction. Similarly, those struggling with addiction are more likely to develop PTSD. The relationship between PTSD and addiction is complex, and treating individuals struggling with both conditions can be challenging. It is critical to understand the connection between PTSD and addiction, the symptoms and causes of each disorder, and the available treatment options to help those suffering.

Definition and diagnosis of PTSD

PTSD is a mental health issue that affects those who have been through or observed a traumatic event. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines PTSD as having been subjected to death or sexual violence through direct experience, serious injury, witnessing, or learning about the event occurring to a close family member or friend. To meet the diagnosis requirements, a person must have one of the following symptoms for at least one month: intrusion, avoidance, unfavorable changes in changes in arousal and reactivity, and cognition and mood.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD symptoms can be divided into four categories, which are as follows:

Intrusion: Recurrent, involuntary, and distressing memories, nightmares, flashbacks, or dissociative symptoms related to the traumatic event.

Avoidance: Avoidance of painful memories, thoughts, feelings, or external reminders of the traumatic incident.

Negative alterations in cognition and mood: Persistent troubling thoughts or expectations about oneself, others, or the world, as well as persistent negative feelings such as fear, horror, rage, guilt, shame, or lessened interest in activities.

Alterations in arousal and reactivity: Hypervigilance, excessive startle reaction, difficulty concentrating, impatience, and sleep disruptions are all symptoms of hypervigilance.

Causes of PTSD

depression and addiction

The development of PTSD is usually associated with exposure to a traumatic event, such as physical or sexual assault, military combat, a natural disaster, a serious accident, or the unexpected death of a loved one. However, not all individuals who experience trauma develop PTSD. The risk factors for PTSD include the severity and duration of the trauma, a history of previous trauma or mental health conditions, genetic vulnerability, and social support. PTSD can occur at any age, and both men and women are equally susceptible to it.

The relationship between PTSD and addiction

How PTSD can lead to addiction

PTSD can lead to addiction through self-medication. Individuals who have PTSD frequently experience symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia, and they may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Substance use can provide temporary relief and lead to addiction over time. Additionally, individuals with PTSD may engage in risky behaviors like drug use to seek excitement or avoid negative emotions.

The cycle of PTSD and addiction

The cycle of PTSD and addiction can be self-perpetuating. Individuals with PTSD may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms, which can lead to addiction. Addiction, in turn, can exacerbate the symptoms of PTSD and increase the risk of experiencing traumatic events. This can create a vicious cycle where PTSD and addiction fuel each other, making it challenging for individuals to break the cycle and seek help.

To achieve the best results, it is critical to understand the link between PTSD and addiction and treat both illnesses concurrently. Effective treatment should address the underlying causes of both disorders and provide support to help individuals develop healthy coping mechanisms and build a strong support system.

PTSD and Addiction Statistics

Treatment options for PTSD and addiction

Types of treatments

Several types of treatment are available for individuals struggling with PTSD and addiction. Two common types of treatment are behavioral therapies and medications.

Behavioral therapies

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) & eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are two behavioral therapies that can be used to treat both PTSD and addiction. These therapies help individuals to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors, cope with traumatic memories, and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Dual diagnosis treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment is a specialized approach designed to meet the specific needs of people who have co-occurring disorders such as PTSD and addiction. This treatment approach integrates the treatment of both disorders into a comprehensive, individualized plan. Dual diagnosis treatment typically involves a combination of behavioral therapies, medications, and support groups, and it can be provided in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

The goal of dual diagnosis treatment is to address both the symptoms of PTSD and addiction, as well as the underlying causes of these disorders. This approach recognizes that PTSD and addiction are interconnected and that treating both disorders at the same time is essential for achieving lasting recovery.

Importance of treating both PTSD and addiction

Treating both PTSD and addiction is essential for successful recovery. However, focusing solely on treating addiction without addressing underlying trauma can lead to relapse, as substance use may be used to cope with unresolved trauma. Similarly, treating PTSD without addressing addiction can lead to continued substance use, as drugs or alcohol may be used to manage symptoms.

Success rates of treatment

The success rates of treatment for individuals with PTSD and addiction can vary depending on the severity of the conditions and the individual’s willingness to engage in treatment. However, research has shown that integrated treatment approaches, including dual diagnosis treatment, can effectively reduce symptoms and promote recovery. These approaches typically involve a combination of behavioral therapies, medications, and support groups, and they can help individuals achieve long-term recovery and improve their overall quality of life.

Resources for those struggling with PTSD and Addiction

Support groups
Examples of support groups for individuals with PTSD and addiction include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Dual Recovery Anonymous (DRA).
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Burning Tree Ranch is a specialized treatment center that provides dual diagnosis treatment for individuals with co-occurring PTSD and addiction. Our program includes individualized treatment plans, evidence-based therapies, and a supportive, recovery-focused environment. We also offer a range of aftercare services, including relapse prevention planning and ongoing support, to help individuals recover after leaving the program.


LMSW, LCDC | Counselor
Kristina Robertson serves as Counselor at Burning Tree Ranch. Holding both a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Social Work, Kristina’s greatest joy is “watching our clients learn to love themselves again.” An avid equestrian, mother to twenty-one horses, and all-around animal lover, Kristina serves as a bright shining example of long-term recovery in action. Her commitment to whole person health: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual makes her an invaluable member of the Burning Tree Ranch clinical team. As a distinguished Phi Theta Kappa and Alpha Zeta member, Kristina believes deeply in each client’s pursuit of becoming their best selves.

"A Message To Families"

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