PTSD and Addiction

Receive dual diagnosis treatment for PTSD and addiction.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that may develop after an individual witnesses or experiences certain types of trauma. In any given year, roughly eight million people in the United States are diagnosed with PTSD, and an estimated 8% of American adults will develop PTSD at some point during their lives. Many of these individuals with PTSD will also suffer from a substance addiction. This is because PTSD and addiction often correlate. PTSD and Addiction

PTSD tends to be more common in women. In fact, 10% of American women will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetimes. Approximately 4% of American men will receive a diagnosis of PTSD during their lives.

PTSD often occurs in conjunction with other conditions. In fact, between 50% to 66% of individuals with PTSD also have substance use conditions that involve drugs or alcohol. Having PTSD can more than double the risk of developing a substance use condition (addiction). 

Even with treatment, patients with substance use disorders have a relapse rate of up to 60%. In addition, patients with PTSD have a higher risk of experiencing eating disorders, suicidal thoughts or actions, depression, and anxiety.

This guide will help you understand the causes, symptoms, and complications associated with PTSD. It will provide information on diagnosis and treatment options, including dual diagnosis and treatment for patients who have PTSD and addiction.

What Causes PTSD?

PTSD may develop after the patient learns about, witnesses or directly experiences an event that involves sexual violation, serious injury, threatening of life, or actual death. The exact cause of PTSD is unknown, but clinicians believe that it may arise in certain individuals due to a combination of inherited mental health risk factors and personality traits (temperament). The amount and severity of witnessed or experienced trauma and the regulation of stress-related chemicals and hormones in the brain also play an effect.

Patients who experience trauma at a young age are more likely to develop PTSD. Military personnel and emergency responders are also at an increased risk of developing PTSD. 

Anxiety, depression, and substance use conditions all increase the likelihood of developing PTSD as well. Patients who have a family history of mental health conditions and/or a lack of support system at home have an elevated risk of PTSD.

What Types of Trauma May Lead to PTSD?

The most common types of trauma that are associated with the development of PTSD include:

  • Accidents
  • Sexual Violence
  • Childhood Physical Abuse
  • Physical Assault
  • Exposure to Combat
  • Being Threatened With a Weapon

However, it is possible to develop PTSD after many different types of trauma. Examples of other traumatic events that could potentially result in PTSD include:

  • Natural Disasters
  • Fires
  • Robberies
  • Plane Crashes
  • Terrorist Attacks
  • Torture
  • Kidnapping

Categories of PTSD Symptoms

Currently, doctors group PTSD symptoms into four major categories. Symptoms in each category tend to begin around one month after the traumatic event, but some individuals with PTSD may not show symptoms until several years have passed.

Intrusive Memories Category

What Causes PTSD?In the “intrusive memories” category of PTSD symptoms, patients may experience nightmares about a past traumatic event. Individuals with this category of PTSD symptoms may also experience flashbacks that feel as though they are reliving their past trauma. 

When exposed to something that reminds individuals of intrusive memories, individuals with PTSD may display severe emotional distress or severe physical reactions. Intrusive memories could also take the form of unwanted, recurrent memories of the event.


The next category of symptoms, “avoidance,” causes individuals with PTSD to avoid people, places, and activities that remind them of the types of trauma that they experienced. Individuals that experience this type of PTSD symptoms might try to avoid thinking of past traumatic events. They may also go to great lengths to avoid talking about past trauma.

Negative Thinking and Mood

Potential negative thinking and mood PTSD symptoms include negative thoughts about oneself and others, difficulty with remembering details of past traumatic events, and a feeling of hopelessness about the future. Patients that experience negative thinking and mood may also feel emotionally numb and detached from family and friends.

It might be difficult for individuals with these PTSD symptoms to maintain close relationships. Individuals that experience negative thinking and mood PTSD symptoms also struggle to maintain interest in activities that they once enjoyed. 

Alterations in a Person’s Physical and Emotional Reactions

The last of the four major categories involves alterations in the patient’s physical and emotional reactions. For example, individuals with PTSD that experience changes in the way that they physically respond to situations may struggle sleeping and concentrating.

Emotionally, such individuals might be easily frightened or display irritability, aggression, or feelings of anger. Feelings of overwhelming guilt or shame may be present, and patients could engage in self-destructive behavior. This includes excessive alcohol consumption, substance use, or reckless driving.

What Symptoms Occur in Individuals with PTSD and Addiction?

Individuals that struggle with PTSD and addiction may display additional symptoms that are associated with substance use issues. For example, some people with PTSD and addiction experience intense cravings for substances. Often, these cravings are so intense that they block out all other thoughts.Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Individuals With PTSD and Addiction

Individuals with PTSD and addiction will also spend more money than they can afford to maintain a steady supply of substances. These individuals may even engage in risky activities to obtain more substances. 

Such individuals will often have conflicts at work and in relationships. Withdrawal symptoms will occur in individuals with PTSD and addiction if they try to minimize or discontinue their use of substances. 

How Are PTSD and Substance Use Conditions Diagnosed?

To diagnose PTSD, patients may need to have a medical exam to rule out all other physical health issues that could be causing similar symptoms. Psychological evaluations are necessary to diagnose both PTSD and substance use conditions. These evaluations are completed by a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. First, clinicians will perform blood and urine tests to monitor a patient’s substance use.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Individuals With PTSD and Addiction

Dual diagnosis treatment treats both the PTSD and substance addictions that individuals that suffer from PTSD and addiction have. Until the 1990s, clinicians treated PTSD and addiction separately. Patients were sometimes required to successfully recover from their substance use condition before they could be offered treatment for PTSD. This approach resulted in delayed care, and the treatment was less effective.

Dual diagnosis treatment approaches and treats PTSD and addiction simultaneously. At dual diagnosis treatment centers, the patient receives holistic evaluation and treatment. Other substance use specialists can then identify any overlooked issues and contributing factors.

For example, substance use specialists and therapists at dual diagnosis treatment programs are often able to identify instability in the patients’ living situations. This includes anxiety, depression, chronic pain, underlying health issues, and other concerns that may be contributing to the patient’s conditions. Dual diagnosis treatment provides integrated care to individuals with PTSD and addiction so that they can achieve addiction recovery.

PTSD and Addiction Treatments

In general, treatment for PTSD and addiction involves a combination of medication and counseling. Treatment for intense dual diagnosis disorders such as PTSD and addiction usually occurs at residential treatment centers.

Dual diagnosis treatment patients who experience withdrawal symptoms associated with substance use receive medications to ease their anxiety, nausea, and other symptoms that occur during the detox withdrawal process. The exact medications that the patient receives will vary depending on the substance use issue.

While undergoing detox withdrawal, patients are closely monitored by medical staff. Anti-addiction medicines are also administered to help prevent patients from returning to substance use. Anti-anxiety medicines and antidepressants may be used to help treat PTSD at this time as well.

The treatment of PTSD and addiction uses several different types of counseling and therapy. Typically, individuals in treatment for PTSD and addiction receive intensive individual therapy and regular group therapy sessions with other patients. Couples therapy and family therapy help to build relationships. In addition to these methods, some patients might opt to participate in a 12-step program to enhance their support system.

What Therapies Are Used to Treat Different Types of Trauma?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a major psychotherapy method that can be beneficial for PTSD and addiction. This type of therapy helps patients learn healthy coping mechanisms. CBT patients also learn to identify limiting beliefs and thought distortions so that they can replace them with more positive thoughts that are more realistic and positive.

For the treatment of PTSD, patients may experience exposure therapy. This type of therapy gradually exposes patients to images and sensations associated with the types of trauma they witnessed. The therapy takes place in a safe, medically supervised environment so that patients are able to learn to confront their triggers. 

Exposure therapy for some types of trauma may use virtual reality to allow the patient to safely re-enter the environment where the trauma took place. Exposure therapy is particularly helpful for individuals who’ve experienced combat exposure, accidents, and other types of trauma that cause nightmares and flashbacks.

Therapists may use eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy when assisting patients who have experienced types of trauma that have been particularly severe or prolonged. EMDR therapy uses guided eye movements to help with processing traumatic events. The therapy helps the patient change how he or she reacts to memories of the events.

Receive Help for PTSD and Substance Use At Grace Land Recovery

Here At Grace Land Recovery in Memphis, Tennessee, we provide dual diagnosis treatment for PTSD caused by all types of trauma. We also treat substance use and related conditions. That’s because we here at Grace Land Recovery are a dual diagnosis treatment center. 

Therefore, our experienced healthcare team offers personalized, compassionate, and holistic care from diagnosis through recovery. Please contact us to find out more about how we can help you overcome your co-occurring disorder once and for all!



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