PTSD Co-Occurring with Drug Abuse or Alcoholism in Adults and Teens

Stress disorder, or PTSD, also have addictions.

Do You Have Questions About Alcohol Rehab? Call Our Addiction Experts Now.

(888) 280-3348

They use drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate because it can help them deal with their symptoms. Over time, they grow dependent on them, and the result is an addiction that is difficult to recover from.

A lot of people with PTSD are unaware that they have it. Some may recall the events that led to the way they currently feel, but it is common for the subconscious mind to suppress them. It can be so difficult to experience the symptoms of PTSD without any knowledge about why.

The symptoms of PTSD can persist for months, or even years, which makes for a fertile breeding ground for addiction to thrive.

PTSD and Rehab

The anxiety, agitation and depression that can result from PTSD can be very overwhelming, and there are many people who don’t realize how closely PTSD and addiction can be linked. The symptoms of PTSD can persist for months, or even years, which makes for a fertile breeding ground for addiction to thrive.

PTSD and Addiction

Perhaps you feel you may have PTSD, or maybe you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, and you also have an addiction to either drugs or alcohol. If this is the case, the best thing you can do for yourself is to get professional help. However, it’s important to remember that in order for the professional help you obtain to be effective, it’s vital to treat both your addiction and your PTSD at the same time. This is called treatment for co-occurring disorders, or dual diagnosis treatment, and studies have shown that this method is the most effective way to get help.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

What Exactly is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that is caused by the occurrence of one or more traumatic events. There are different types of PTSD that can develop, and everyone is different as far as how they respond when trauma strikes. There are those whose PTSD causes them to constantly relive the event they experienced in their minds. These individuals might have physical sensations, or they might have flashbacks that strike out of nowhere that take them back to the day of the event. At times, it can almost be like watching a movie of the event playing over and over in the mind.

PTSD can also cause avoidance behaviors within certain people. As a result, they avoid being around people as much as possible, or they may avoid various places or things that they consider to be triggers for memories of the event that occurred. Memory loss is quite common, and sometimes people will even black out parts of the experience that are too painful for them to think about.

People who suffer from PTSD will usually feel numb inside. Their ability to connect with others is tarnished because of the events they’ve been through. They may find it difficult to relax, sleep, or even just remain still for a period of time. They often lose interest in activities or hobbies they once enjoyed, and may have a hard time functioning at work or within their families.

How Does PTSD Occur?

As you might imagine, there are a multitude of different events that can cause PTSD to develop. Many people experience these or similar events and eventually find that the symptoms they cause are quite short-lived. However, there are others who deal with their symptoms for a very long time, and this is when PTSD is suspected.

Some common events that can lead to PTSD include:

  • Being a participant in military combat
  • Witnessing acts of terrorism
  • Living through a natural disaster
  • Being in a serious accident
  • Sustaining a serious injury
  • Living through the death of a loved one
  • Being a victim of a physical assault as a child or as an adulthood
  • Being a victim of a sexual assault as a child or as an adult

When these events occur, they are crises that never really get resolved in the mind. Being unable to resolve them can have devastating consequences as time goes on. For example, if a soldier who was a prisoner during a battle experiences PTSD, flashbacks can occur that bring him back to the time he spent in prison. In the same way, children who are sexually abused often grow up with feelings of helplessness that follow them into adulthood.

Effects of PTSD on the Body and Mind

What Effects Does PTSD Have on the Body and Mind?

PTSD can have a profound effect on the body, and it’s not surprising that so many people choose to self-medicate when they’re suffering from this disorder. The symptoms that develop are different for everyone, and they can also change quite a bit as time goes on. For some people, their symptoms come to the surface within three months of when the event took place, whereas others might not begin to demonstrate symptoms for years.

PTSD can lead to feelings of:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts

It’s also quite typical for people who have PTSD to show signs of other conditions as well. For example, they may exhibit signs of having Attention Deficit Disorder. They may also suffer from having chronic pain throughout their bodies, or be diagnosed with a serious medical condition like diabetes, high blood pressure or liver disease.

Veterans have a very high rate of PTSD diagnoses, which is to be expected. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has found that there is a definite link between PTSD and overall physical health. According to their research, those who report having PTSD symptoms are much more likely to have physical health problems than those who do not. Even so, research is inconclusive as to whether or not PTSD causes poor health. Instead, experts believe that because the way the mind and body are not able to communicate well in those who have PTSD, the condition actually promotes poor health.

Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

What are the Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

You may suspect that you have PTSD because of a traumatic event in your past. However, it’s possible that you’re not completely sure because you don’t know the signs you should be looking for. Some of the more common signs and symptoms of PTSD might include:

  • Having repeating memories of a traumatic event
  • Experiencing night terrors that relate to a traumatic event
  • Experiencing physical sensations that are reminders of a traumatic event in your past
  • Finding it difficult to talk about the traumatic event you’ve experienced
  • Feeling as though you’re emotionally numb
  • Finding it hard to maintain close relationships
  • Experiencing lapses in your memory 

Another sign of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may be self-destructive behavior, such as binge drinking or using drugs. 

Link Between PTSD and Addiction

Understanding PTSD in Teens

There are some researchers who believe that as many as 40% of teenagers will experience at least one traumatic event. Many are able to work through it without any lasting effects. But for some, it can be very difficult to cope with those traumatic memories. These are teens that often end up getting diagnosed with PTSD.

Traumatic events can be anything that leads to these symptoms. Physical violence, sexual abuse, war, a car accident or even bullying at school are all perfect examples.

The development of PTSD in teenagers can depend on several different factors. These can include how severe the trauma was, how often it occurred and how others reacted to the event. When a teen has PTSD, they find it impossible to cope with the impact of the traumatic event. They may attempt to avoid anything that reminds them of it, and they may experience flashbacks of it. For them, it becomes a constant presence in their lives that cannot be escaped.

In order for a teen to be diagnosed with PTSD, they need to have symptoms that have lasted for more than a month. Their symptoms also have to be severe enough that they interfere with their daily lives.

Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD in teens include:

  • Having flashbacks.
  • Having nightmares.
  • Having panic attacks.
  • Difficulty with making decisions.
  • Feeling confused.
  • Having problems sleeping.
  • Becoming irritable or aggressive.
  • Feeling emotionally numb.
  • Feeling as though they are always on edge.
  • Struggling with focusing.
  • Pulling back from activities they once loved.
  • Avoiding anything that might be a trigger.

Many teens will develop suicidal thoughts as a result of PTSD symptoms.


The Link Between Trauma and Substance Abuse in Teenagers

Many teens begin experimenting with drugs or alcohol because of peer pressure or because they are curious about the effects. This is normal teenage behavior. But for teens who suffer from PTSD, their experiments often reveal less severe symptoms. This is often what keeps these young people going back to use again and again. Eventually, they form addictions.

Teens’ brains are still developing, and it is quite a challenge for them to manage their symptoms when they have PTSD. In their minds, using drugs or alcohol gives them a way to numb themselves or avoid having to deal with their painful thoughts. It presents as the perfect opportunity to feel better, even if it is just for a short period of time.

As many as 4% of boys and 6% of girls suffer from PTSD. For them, using drugs and alcohol is a form of self-medication. But what they do not realize is that while substance abuse may work for a short period of time, the effects tend to be short-term. In time, they typically form a tolerance to their drug of choice. This can lead them to use higher doses or add additional drugs or alcohol into the mix.

It can be easy for parents to ignore the signs of PTSD in their children, and many do, but not because they are being negligent. It can be difficult to decipher between normal teenage moodiness and some of the symptoms of PTSD. But not taking action is likely to be detrimental.

Parents should take the proper steps to get professional treatment for their teens if they suspect they have PTSD. The right treatment can make a huge difference in their lives. It can allow them to work through those painful memories and process them accurately. It can also give them better coping skills so they learn how to handle the way they feel in healthier ways.


How are PTSD and Addiction Linked with Each Other?

Dealing with the symptoms of PTSD is very difficult and trying, on both the mind and the body. Because of the amount of stress that’s created with PTSD, those who have it will often turn to using drugs or alcohol as a way to escape. In fact, 52% of men and 28% of women who have PTSD actually meet the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence. 35% of men and 27% of women meet the criteria for drug abuse.

Research has also shown that endorphin withdrawal plays a role in the way people with PTSD will use drugs or alcohol to control their symptoms as well. Endorphins are naturally released by the brain when experiencing a traumatic event, and these endorphins have the ability to reduce pain and serve as a way to cope. When the event has passed, endorphin withdrawal sets in, which is the same type of withdrawal that is experienced when drugs or alcohol are stopped. According to Alcohol Research & Health, it’s actually quite normal for people to turn to substances as a way to replace those endorphins. As time goes by, the individual begins to feel as though he or she needs drugs or alcohol to feel normal. This is when addiction takes place.

It’s easy to see how PTSD and addiction can be linked with each other. The question is, what is the proper way to treat them?

How Can Dual Diagnosis Treatment Help with PTSD and Addiction?

At one point, dual diagnosis treatment for PTSD and addiction was not available. When someone presented with both conditions, their addiction was treated first, and then once sobriety was reached, the PTSD was treated. The problem with this method was that the reasons for the addiction were never addressed, and this only serves to perpetuate a harmful and dangerous cycle of addiction.

Dual diagnosis treatment was developed because it was apparent that the “old” way of treating co-occurring disorders was not working. Relapse rates were high under the previous method, and it was apparent that there needed to be some significant changes made. Dual diagnosis treatment works by looking at both the mental health condition and the addiction as a whole. In many cases, PTSD leads to addiction, and so it’s important to deal with the source of the addiction in order for proper recovery to occur. This is done by taking a number of different steps:

  • Making sure that every patient receives the right diagnosis for treatment
  • Creating a treatment plan that completely addresses the needs of each patient on a personal level
  • Putting counseling into place that will address both the addiction and the PTSD diagnosis
  • Integrating group therapy, which has been proven to be effective for co-occurring disorders
  • Creating a follow-up plan for continued dual diagnosis treatment in aftercare 

If you suffer from PTSD and addiction, please be assured that it is possible to learn what your triggers are, and the best ways to handle those triggers, rather than turning to substances for comfort when you encounter them. A comprehensive and integrated treatment plan can combine the best of addiction treatment and treatment for PTSD to produce therapy that will be beneficial for both conditions.

Imagine by Northpoint: Help for Teens With PTSD and Addictions

Imagine by Northpoint is our newest outpatient treatment program. It is designed specifically to meet the needs of teenagers who are struggling with mental health issues like PTSD and addictions. Our facility is located in Nampa, Idaho, and we offer a day treatment program that is quite intensive.

Our goal is to provide the necessary support to teens and their families. We do this by offering several services, such as:

  • Crisis intervention services.
  • A complete mental health evaluation.
  • Individual psychotherapy sessions.
  • Group therapy.
  • Family therapy.
  • Nursing care.
  • Medication adjustment and monitoring.

Our clients spend about 30 hours every week getting the treatment they need. Teens can remain in the program for as long as they need to. Their treatment plans are designed to specifically meet their needs.

Also, we recognize the fact that mental health issues like PTSD and addiction often go hand-in-hand. That is why we offer treatment for co-occurring disorders. This allows teens to make the connection between their substance abuse and their mental health issues. By understanding how they are linked, they have a much better chance of recovering long-term.

Dual Diagnosis and PTSD

Getting Help for PTSD and Addiction at Northpoint Recovery

If you’re suffering from PTSD, it’s possible that you never thought about the fact that your addiction and your mental health condition could be linked with each other. Many people don’t. There are even those who keep their PTSD symptoms a secret from any professionals they come into contact with because they are afraid of being labeled as someone with a mental health condition. Whether you have a long-standing diagnosis of PTSD, or you suspect that you need to be diagnosed with it, getting the right kind of help for your co-occurring disorder is the only way you will be able to find relief.

Here at Northpoint Recovery, we want you to know that we understand how you feel. We know the stress you’re facing, and we know how difficult it can be to reach out and ask for help. However, our approach is different than what you might find at other addiction treatment centers. It is our goal to treat the source of your addiction so that you can experience a full recovery. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you overcome your addiction with dual diagnosis treatment, please contact us today.

Talk to a Rehab Specialist

Our admissions coordinators are here to help you get started with treatment the right way. They'll verify your health insurance, help set up travel arrangements, and make sure your transition into treatment is smooth and hassle-free.

Verify Insurance (888) 280-3348

Full Infographic:

PTSD and Drug Abuse