Understanding PTSD and Substance Abuse

Episodes of trauma can take a toll on us, and in some cases leave lasting scars. It is true that no matter the cause of the trauma—be it military combat experience, a natural disaster or emotional or physical abuse. That trauma can cause unpleasant memories of the event, restlessness or difficulty sleeping. These reactions are all normal. When those reactions do not go away, however—when they become chronic—that suggests that the problem is something more than just trauma. In fact, an individual may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

Something that compounds matters: PTSD is often accompanied by the co-occurring condition of addiction. Those who deal with trauma may reach for drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medication, emerging with a substance use disorder in addition to their PTSD. Recovery is always possible, but it begins with treatment—and the first step toward that is understanding.

What are the Symptoms of PTSD

For those struggling with PTSD, symptoms can be truly harrowing; they can be disruptive to everyday life, as well. While these symptoms tend to start immediately after the traumatic event, this is not always the case: Sometimes symptoms do not begin for months or even years after the event. Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include:


PTSD Symptoms Intrusive Memories

Intrusive Memories, Including Nightmares or Flashbacks

PTSD SymptomsAvoidance of Situations that may Trigger Memories

Inability to Talk About the Episode or Avoidance of Situations that may Trigger Memories

PTSD Symptoms

A Feeling of Emotional Numbness

PTSD Symptoms Anger, Aggression and Irritability

Anger, Aggression and Irritability

PTSD Symptoms Difficulty Sleeping at Night

Difficulty Sleeping at Night

PTSD Symptoms Thoughts of self-harm or Even Suicide

Thoughts of self-harm or Even Suicide

How Common is PTSD?

A common misconception is that PTSD is something that primarily affects Armed Service veterans. The reality is that this condition is much more common than that; in fact, it is estimated that 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some time in their lives. More than 3.5 percent of U.S. adults experience PTSD within the span of a given year. Also worth noting: Women are almost twice as likely as men to grapple with PTSD.

A related question: What are the experiences that most commonly result in PTSD? For men, the most common ones are combat exposure, rape, and either neglect or abuse experienced during childhood. For women, meanwhile, the most common sources of trauma are rape, physical attack, sexual abuse and being threatened with a gun or other weapon. However, any event that causes horror and feelings of helplessness could potentially cause PTSD.

Helping a Family Member or Friend with PTSD

Watching a friend or family member wrestle with PTSD can be a wrenching experience in itself; it can cause you to feel helpless and ineffective. In reality, there is much that can be done to offer support and encouragement to those experiencing PTSD. Start by learning as much as you can about the condition; arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Encourage your friend or loved one to seek medical care, and offer to attend medical appointments with them if they wish.

Also make an earnest offer to listen to your friend or loved one tell their story; you do not have to say anything or try to “fix” the problem. Just being a good listener can make a huge difference. At the same time, be understanding if the person does not wish to talk about it, and never force the issue.

Trauma, Relationships, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Trauma can have a significant impact on relationships—and that, in turn, is difficult both for the person who experienced the trauma and for friends and family members. PTSD causes a number of symptoms that make it difficult to have close relationships with people. Often, it can cause problems with trust, communication, and problem-solving. This can alter the way an individual with trauma interacts with others; in turn, it alters the way those others interact with the individual who has trauma. The problem becomes a cyclical one.

If you know someone who has gone through a traumatic event, understand that he or she may feel angry, numb, irritable or detached from the world. Also, understand that these symptoms can last for weeks or even months; if PTSD is not treated, the symptoms can last even longer. Understanding that this is a true disorder—not a matter of choice—is critical to empathy.

The Connection Between PTSD and Substance Abuse

Research has shown a strong link between PTSD and substance use disorders. For example, among military veterans, one in three who seek treatment for a substance use disorder also, have PTSD. This link is not just encountered among combat veterans either. All those who have PTSD are in a higher risk class for substance use disorders and addiction.

There are multiple explanations for why this is the case. Often, those who are haunted by trauma turn to drugs and alcohol as a way of self-medicating—as a way of soothing their symptoms. This spirals into dependence and, in the end, addiction. The connection is not always so simple or so cut-and-dry, but in all cases, the presence of addiction can mask the true symptoms of PTSD, and make it all the more important to seek dual diagnosis care. Dual diagnosis will ensure that each underlying condition is identified and treated.

What are the Treatments for PTSD?

Hope and healing are possible for those who struggle with PTSD, and in many cases it is possible to live a normal life with minimal disruption from the disease itself. Treatment is necessary and it comes in many forms. The first step is to get a proper diagnosis, including the diagnosis of any co-occurring conditions. WestBridge provides evidence-based dual diagnosis treatment programs.

Actual treatment for PTSD can take many forms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring, stress inoculation, and even virtual reality treatment might be employed. Ongoing therapy—in both one-on-one and group settings—is typically necessary, and in some cases medication might be administered. No two recovery plans ever look exactly the same, and treatment should always be fit to meet the individual. This is something WestBridge goes to great lengths to ensure, as we understand that all people and their struggles are unique.

What Can People Expect After PTSD Treatment

Following treatment for PTSD, participants transition back to daily life. This does not mean that the hard work of recovery is over. Actually, recovery is a lifelong process, and the symptoms of PTSD can sometimes return if healthy habits are not maintained. Staying active in therapy and/ or a support group is one way to stay active in recovery. Staying on top of general coping and stress management skills is also key.

For those who are in ongoing recovery for PTSD, having a support structure in place can help keep recovery on track. To get connected to a local support group, you can always call WestBridge.

Get Help at our Treatment Center for PTSD and Substance Abuse

An experience with trauma may seem like it has turned your world on its head. The good news is that you can still lead a happy, healthy and normal life. Recovery is possible, but it does not happen overnight. To start down the path to recovery, you need to develop the coping and stress management skills required to face each day’s challenges anew. That is something the WestBridge team can help you with.

Learn more about recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder, for you or your loved one. Contact WestBridge today.

WestBridge excels in the effective treatment of men with co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders. Call WestBridge Today 1.877.461.7711.