Can PTSD Cause Addiction? Coping With Trauma and Co-Occurring Addictions

Trauma and post-traumatic stress can lead to substance abuse and addiction. And when these already severe challenges overlap, the risks can be incredibly distressing and dangerous. If your loved one suffers from PTSD and addiction, it’s important that they receive dual-diagnosis care as soon as possible for the best recovery outcomes and urgent mitigation of their painful symptoms.

Cause and effect in mental health are rarely a straightforward equation. But it’s worth tracking down those complicated relationships when understanding the cause can help to shine a brighter light on the treatment possibilities.

Traumatic suffering and addiction often go hand-in-hand. But these problems aggravate each other, and the need for careful psychiatric attention becomes even more urgent. Clinicians can help to draw lines between the development of post-traumatic stress disorder and the development of substance use disorders. They understand how PTSD can cause addiction but also how the relationship between these disorders is often more complicated and deserving of extensive and comprehensive treatment.

Whereas trauma disorders and addiction can leave someone feeling completely hopeless and overwhelmed by pain, treatment offers a real path toward healing and empowerment. The best treatment program addresses a person’s challenges with PTSD and addiction to help them develop well-rounded coping skills and confidence to move forward with long-term recovery.

How Can PTSD Cause Addiction?


Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can provoke self-medication with drugs or alcohol when healthier coping mechanisms are not within reach. This kind of substance abuse can lead to dependence and addiction. But it’s also possible for PTSD and addiction to develop in tandem. The same trauma that leads to PTSD may also lead to the development of a substance use disorder. It gets a bit difficult to draw clear lines between cause and effect. And, in either case, the person struggles with both a trauma disorder and addiction simultaneously. In either case, they need immediate clinical attention because the risks of more serious symptoms and side effects are real.

The following complications can be traced to PTSD and addiction and can exacerbate an individual’s distress:


  • Isolation
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Violence
  • Guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Insomnia
  • Poor memory
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts

Researchers estimate that roughly 50% of people diagnosed with substance use disorders are also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. And the prognosis tends to be less optimistic for these co-occurring disorders compared to cases of PTSD or addiction alone. However, with comprehensive dual-diagnosis treatment, a person’s chances for stabilizing and developing the necessary coping skills for lifelong recovery are very good.

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How Are Co-Occurring Trauma and Substance Use Disorders Treated?


Trauma scars can be very confusing for family members to understand, especially when the scars aren’t always visible. The pain and anxiety of post-traumatic stress disorder are mysteriously intrusive, and alcohol and drugs never really help to heal the distress. These facts all point to the hope and the answers found in professional treatment. Clinicians can help to guide family members in this journey of recovery even as they put into place real, compassionate solutions for an individual’s problems with post-traumatic stress and substance abuse.

PTSD and substance use disorders churn simultaneously in a person’s life and psyche. When only one of these problems is addressed and not the other, the remaining issues will continue to play out and may just reignite the other problem again. Specialists have come to understand how important it is to treat these co-occurring disorders simultaneously for the best outcomes and for the best chances of hope and empowerment for the individual and their family. This strategy is called dual-diagnosis treatment. It is complicated but not at all out of reach in an environment designed to immerse someone in a diverse range of healing methodologies.

Because substance detoxification can be so volatile—even very dangerous—and the potential for retraumatization is so great, an inpatient environment is ideal to begin the recovery journey. In a comprehensive treatment center, constant medical supervision is possible for a client’s safety and comfort. At the same time, trusting therapeutic alliances are built. This will be critical for the delicate process of healing the depths of someone’s trauma from the inside out. This challenging and overwhelming process, which may seem impossible from where you now stand, is entirely within reach. Here, your loved one really can develop the coping skills and the serenity to step forward into the days and years ahead.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward lasting recovery.