FREE Help & Advice - 0808 163 9632 | Intl: +44(0) 203 1313 416  

Addictions and PTSD

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is something that has been observed since as far back as the early 19th century. However, we didn’t begin to understand it until the late 1950s when the medical community began associating it with military veterans returning from war. Today PTSD is commonly recognised as a legitimate mental disorder in need of specific treatment.

PTSD can be the result of any traumatic event – from a horrific car crash to a violent criminal act. However, it is most associated with warfare. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), one in 10 soldiers returning from active combat duty suffers from some level of PTSD. Unfortunately, many of them also abuse drugs or alcohol as a way of helping themselves feel better.

Link between Addiction and PTSD

Since the 1970s Vietnam War era, there have been a number of studies undertaken to help understand the link between addiction and PTSD. The studies have revealed some very interesting data now making it easier to understand how the issues interrelate. And trust us when we say they are interrelated on many levels.

For example, almost every person suffering from PTSD will also be a substance abuser to one extent or another. The VA points to data showing binge drinking as the most common form of substance abuse. Simply put, individuals unable to cope with the emotional stress rely on alcohol consumption to deal with it.

Binge drinking is not, in and of itself, a symptom of alcohol dependence. Nevertheless, regular binge drinking is an early indication of alcohol abuse. Left untreated, this type of abuse can easily become addiction over time. That’s why it is so important for those with PTSD to pay very close attention to their drinking habits.

Other things to consider include:

  • Physical Pain – Military veterans suffering from PTSD have usually been involved in some sort of violent fight. That fight often results in injuries that can leave the individual with chronic pain for the rest of his life. The pain further adds to the problem when the individual uses drugs or alcohol to deal with it.

  • Insomnia – A common symptom of PTSD is insomnia. Memories of the specific trauma can keep the individual awake for weeks at a time. Self-medicating to battle insomnia may lead to substance abuse and eventual addiction.

  • Avoidance – Something common to most substance abusers and addicts is the problem of avoidance. This is a situation in which the individual seeks to escape his/her problems rather than dealing with them head-on. For someone dealing with PTSD, he or she can avoid dealing with the painful memories by using drugs or alcohol.

Treatment Protocols

Treating an individual suffering from both PTSD and addiction is very similar to treating other dual diagnosis conditions. It requires getting a handle on the addiction issue first, so that PTSD can be addressed properly. Treatment begins by first identifying the level of abuse or addiction.

Substance abuse and addiction are two separate things with different clinical diagnoses:

  • Abuse – A clinical definition of substance abuse is one of using drugs or alcohol in excess, with unhealthy regularity. For example, someone who binge drinks every weekend while remaining sober the rest of the week may be diagnosed as an alcohol abuser. His or her ability to remain sober the rest of the time means they are probably not an alcoholic.

  • Addiction – A clinical diagnosis of addiction is the result of continual, sustained use of drugs or alcohol over a long period. The addict is characterised as one whose life revolves completely around the addictive substances he or she is using. A true addict is unlikely to be able to remain sober for days at a time.

If a PTSD sufferer is diagnosed as a substance abuser, treatment is typically confined to outpatient programmes offered by charities, veterans’ services, professional counselling organisations, or the NHS. Some of these programmes are very effective without any further assistance.

For the addict however, a residential treatment programme is often necessary. Residential treatment isolates the individual from his or her normal surroundings, as well as drugs or alcohol, for up to 12 weeks. During that time, he or she undergoes detox and intensive rehab to break them of drug or alcohol addiction.

Addiction Post Recovery

After successful treatment of abuse or addiction, the individual can then be properly treated for PTSD. How this treatment proceeds depends on the assessment of the doctors and therapists involved. Please understand that PTSD sufferers should follow all of the instructions given by medical professionals to the letter.

For example, if an antidepressant medication is prescribed to control mood swings, the individual should take the medication exactly as prescribed. Taking more than what is recommended is an open door to relapse. If the medication is not doing its job as prescribed, it is far better to go back and see the doctor then to attempt to self-medicate.

It should also be understood that treatment for PTSD would likely last for years, if not the remainder of the individual’s life. So even after a drug addiction aftercare programme is completed, the individual must remain diligent to make sure his/her PTSD remains under control.

Get Help Today

A combination of posttraumatic stress disorder and addiction can be very challenging to say the least. However, the two are not impossible to conquer. In fact, thousands of individuals have already been successfully treated at both private clinics and government centres. The key is to get the help you need today.

We are here to assist you in finding that help when you call. We are an independent referral and consulting service tasked with the mission to provide you with treatment options specific to your needs. We can tell you what services and facilities are available, what types of treatments they offer, what the costs are, and how to make admission arrangements.

Because of our extensive experience in dealing with both addicts and their families, we know how difficult it can be to live with a dual diagnosis disorder. We know that a combination of addiction and PTSD often strikes entire families rather than just a single individual. That’s why we’re here to help everyone involved in your situation. If you need help, feel free to call us or send an e-mail.

Get Into
24 Hours

We'll Call You

close help
Who am I contacting?

Calls and contact requests are answered by admissions at

UK Addiction Treatment Group.

We look forward to helping you take your first step.

0808 163 9632