The Connection Between PTSD and Addiction

young man in his early twenties on couch with knees drawn to chest and head down - PTSD

Although human beings have suffered trauma for their entire existence on earth, it wasn’t until 1980 that post-traumatic stress was acknowledged by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). That year, the organization added post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III).

What Defines PTSD?

Even after numerous types of traumatic events—world wars, natural disasters, terriorism, community violence, various forms of abuse (especially during childhood), and domestic violence—judgment of the nature of the human condition was harsh. Being human was to suffer, and to not endure it was a weakness of character or willpower.

Some people did endure, of course, and their resilience was admirable. But what about others? There’s no consistent form of measurement that equally evaluates how people experience, tolerate, and heal from extreme stress.

The APA defines PTSD as “a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.”

Additionally, the APA also notes that:

  • “PTSD can occur in all people, of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and at any age.”
  • “PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their
  • Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD.”
  • “Three ethnic groups—U.S. Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians—are disproportionately affected and have higher rates of PTSD than non-Latino whites.”

Some people can also suffer from PTSD after a serious illness, the loss of a loved one or, as new research reveals, the impact of COVID.

Symptoms of PTSD

There’s no single sign of PTSD, nor do individuals experience it the same way. Here are the most common symptoms:

  • Reliving the event through intrusive thoughts, repeated memories, nightmares, or flashbacks that make it seem as though a person is seeing/viscerally feeling the event again.
  • Avoiding activities, objects, people, places, and situations that prompt reminders of the event. Individuals might also refuse to talk about the trauma or how it makes them feel, and resist thinking about it.
  • Experiencing changes in cognition and mood, such as distorted beliefs and negative thoughts and feelings, as well as blaming self or others, and ongoing anger, fear, guilt, horror, or shame. Additionally, there’s reduced interest in activities enjoyed prior to the trauma, detachment from others, and a decrease in positive emotions or satisfaction.
  • Being more reactive, including increased irritability and anger, more violent or reckless outbursts and actions, hypersensitivity and suspicion of surroundings and people, and difficulty concentrating and sleeping.

It’s natural for anyone to experience these symptoms immediately after a traumatic event for a couple of days or even weeks. However, to be diagnosed with PTSD, an individual must have them for a month or more, to the point where they start to interfere with everyday life. PTSD symptoms might also develop over the course of three months, gradually affecting how a person thinks, feels, and reacts. Without proper treatment, symptoms might persist for years.

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or C-PTSD, includes additional, more severe symptoms such as dysfunctional emotional regulation, interpersonal relationship issues, and a negative self-concept.

The Connection Between PTSD and Addiction

When someone struggles with something they don’t understand or experiences a grave violation, it alters what they feel, how they think, and the way they perceive themselves and the world around them. Too often their first choice is to numb the pain. This is why many people who suffer with PTSD also have substance use disorder (SUD), which might also include alcohol use disorder.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports the following statistics, which we provide verbatim:

  • 46.4 percent of individuals with lifetime PTSD also met criteria for SUD.
  • In another national epidemiologic study, 27.9 percent of women and 51.9 percent of men with lifetime PTSD also had SUD.
  • Women with PTSD were 2.48 times more likely to meet criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence and 4.46 times more likely to meet criteria for drug abuse or dependence than women without PTSD.
  • Men were 2.06 and 2.97 times more likely, respectively. There are few comparable population prevalence estimates among veterans.

Mental Health America indicates (also verbatim):

  • Male veterans, regardless of their form of service, experience twice the rate of alcohol and drug use than female veterans.
  • Men are less likely than women to seek help for depression, substance abuse, and stressful events due to: social norms, a reluctance to talk, and downplaying symptoms.

Without a doubt, we do ourselves a great disservice as individuals and as a society when we make it more difficult to accept effective professional care than to deal with the intense pain of trauma.

Stop the Suffering

The board-certified staff at Willingway understands the impact of trauma and how the co-occurring condition of SUD or AUD compounds problems with mental, emotional, and physical health. Uncovering and treating the true cause of addiction is what helps people heal.

Our facility provides:

  • Inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation
  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Gender-specific issue groups and programs
  • Extended treatment services

Get Some Help

Isn’t it time to stop hurting? Speak to a member of our admissions staff anytime, day or night, to move through your pain and on to a better life.

Are you looking for a Georgia addiction specialist? To find out more about services offered by Willingway contact us 24 hours a day at 888-979-2140, and let us help you get started on the road to recovery.Willingway - Addiction Treatment Experts