The PTSD and Addiction Connection

PTSD and addiction are tough, but can be fought.
istock/Pekic

Just like there’s never a one-sized-fits all depression or anxiety diagnosis, there’s not a one-size-fits-all type of PTSD. But similar to the relationship between depression or anxiety and addiction, PTSD and addiction are related in a very complicated way, too.

PTSD often takes time to develop. A person who has been through a traumatic experience could experience symptoms of PTSD three months after a traumatic, shocking or scary event, or PTSD could develop after many years.

A PTSD diagnosis is given if a person:

Has at least one re-experiencing symptom: Flashbacks, bad dreams, or scary thoughts.

One or more avoidance system: Avoiding where the event occurred, or places and thoughts that serve as reminders of the event.

At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms: Outbursts, problems sleeping, etc.

At least two cognition and mood symptoms: Negative thoughts about the world, not remembering certain parts of the event.

PTSD and addiction

Sometimes, a person who has experienced a traumatic event, or who is going through a series of traumatic events—think caring for an ill loved one, living in a domestic abuse situation, etc.—will develop PTSD and an addiction at the same time.

Other times, a person can develop an addiction and the addiction itself—the trauma of forgetting what you’ve done, hurting loved ones, getting into trouble or being assaulted while drunk or high—can actually cause trauma and lead to PTSD.

Addiction paired with PTSD is especially dangerous because alcohol and drugs can influence suicidal thoughts. And the events that lead.to suicidal thoughts can trigger a PTSD episode or a binge. That binge can increase a person’s willingness to try suicide.

“An addicted person’s brain is susceptible to triggers, or places and people associated with drug use that can lead to cravings,” Addiction Center reports.

“PTSD and addiction triggers can intertwine and intensify symptoms of both disorders.”

While fighting PTSD and addiction can be difficult, it can be done. Anyone seeking treatment for both need to address addiction and PTSD in treatment. Therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and adopting an exercise regimen can help a person control their PTSD and addiction.

Find out more about PTSD, PTSD risk factors, and resilience qualities at NIMH.gov.

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Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.