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PTSD and Substance Use Disorders: Common Grounds for Vulnerability

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PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a serious mental health disorder characterized by a failure to recover from traumatic events that one faces in life. Similar stressful situations can trigger flashbacks, and even everyday stressors can trigger stressful responses. PTSD can cause a person to spiral into severe anxiety, depression, and more. It can be treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication, allowing a person to live a contented life!

Introduction to PTSD and Substance Abuse

PTSD is a severe mental health disorder that is defined by a failure to recover from traumatic or shocking life events. Meanwhile, Substance use disorder (SUD) is a condition characterized by problematic substance use in the wake of severe physiological and psychological issues associated with it. It affects millions of people across the world each year. 

PTSD and Substance Abuse: Separating Facts from Myths

PTSD and substance use disorder (SUD) are often co-occurring. However, understanding the distinction between them is a crucial aspect of figuring out a recovery pathway. PTSD arises from traumatic experiences, while SUD is often seen as a coping mechanism. Integrated approaches are often effective in treating both disorders, which is crucial for holistic recovery. 

Debunking Common Myths

A popular myth about PTSD is that it is often associated with former army veterans and officials. However, the reality is that anyone who faces a traumatic event can develop the disorder. Another myth is that the disorder is more common in those who seem weak-willed, which is completely untrue. Actually, the disorder is a complex interplay of factors necessitating compassionate treatment. 

Statistics on PTSD and Drug Abuse

Even research reveals a link between PTSD and SUD. Around 20% of the individuals with PTSD also battle dependence on a substance. This is seen to be a little more common in army veterans. Early detection and dual diagnostic treatment are a major part of the recovery process in such situations. 

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Impact of Substance Abuse on PTSD Symptoms

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a severe disorder that can rapidly increase the intensity of the symptoms of PTSD. While substances can seem to provide temporary respite from PTSD symptoms, they can eventually exacerbate the severity of PTSD. This can turn into a cycle that is difficult to recover from, necessitating early detection and treatment. 

Exploring the Complex Link Between PTSD and Substance Abuse

The bond between PTSD and SUD is complex and works both ways. Trauma, which leads to PTSD, can drive individuals to misuse substances as a coping mechanism. On the other hand, substance abuse can increase the risk of individuals finding themselves in severely stressful situations. Such a complex relationship makes treatment all the more important. 

The Cycle of PTSD and Substance Use Disorders

PTSD and SUD are often part of a severely destructive cycle of behaviors and traumatic situations. Trauma can often lead to the use of substances as a way to cope with the symptoms of PTSD but only turns the symptoms into a worsening cycle, out of which escape is difficult. In turn, worsening symptoms make a person more likely to turn to substances as a way to cope. So, it turns into a difficult loop to break. 

Substance Abuse as a Coping Mechanism for PTSD

Individuals who are battling PTSD can sometimes turn to substances as a way to reduce the emotional pain and distressing memories associated with the disorder. This method of coping, while effective in the short term, can have some devastating consequences in the long term. Effective treatment of the same requires addressing both PTSD and the use of substances together. 

Self-Medication: Short Relief, Long-Term Harm

Medicating oneself with drugs or alcohol is a symptom that is seen to be common in those battling PTSD. However, this causes long-term harm and can even lead to other mental health disorders. This creates a horrible cycle that is difficult to break without the assistance of a mental health or medical professional. 

High-Risk Behavior

Both PTSD and SUD are associated with impulsive and high-risk behaviors that can land a person in severe danger. This can further lead to traumatic situations that can exacerbate both the disorders. This also complicates recovery and could even lead to a relapse in certain cases if left undetected. 

Genetic and Neurobiological Factors

As it is with most mental health disorders, there is a correlation between genetics and the co-morbidity of PTSD and SUD. Altered brain composition and chemical imbalance are seen to make a person more vulnerable to both disorders. Research is still underway and could paint a clearer picture in the future. 

Increased Vulnerability

PTSD is associated with severely distressing emotions and memories. In some cases, a person battling PTSD may feel compelled to take substances to deal with these emotions and memories, making them increasingly vulnerable to the cycle of addiction and dependence, along with the other risks associated with SUD.

Overlapping Symptoms of PTSD and Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

PTSD and SUD are two distinct disorders. However, they have certain symptoms that overlap with one another, making it difficult to distinguish between the two. This also highlights the need to treat both disorders to ensure better recovery outcomes for individuals. 

Mood disturbances

Mood disturbances are a defining feature of PTSD. It is associated with depression, anxiety, and increased irritability. Curiously, these are also symptoms that are evident in those who consume substances over a longer period and in increased quantities. This can make recovery more complicated for those who are battling both disorders. 

Avoidance behaviors

Individuals with PTSD and SUD both display avoidance behaviors. They tend to want to avoid people, places, and gatherings. For individuals with PTSD, such situations could trigger traumatic memories. In the case of those battling SUD, it could be a spot where they have easy access to substances they are dependent on. Such avoidance hinders recovery, necessitating specialized focus during the treatment journey. 

Increased arousal and reactivity

Increased arousal and reactivity, such as hypervigilance and exaggerated startle responses, are symptoms shared by PTSD and substance use disorder. These symptoms can perpetuate a state of heightened stress and anxiety, complicating recovery efforts and necessitating targeted therapeutic strategies.

Increased arousal and reactivity are symptoms common to both PTSD and SUD. Traits include hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, and more. Such traits can create a state of heightened stress and anxiety in the individuals, worsening the prognosis for them over time and complicating recovery processes. 

Cognitive impairments

Both PTSD and SUD are associated with cognitive impairments. There is seen to be a change in brain chemistry and structure in those battling both disorders. This can lead to impaired judgment, impulsive behavior, and more problems. 

Substances Frequently Misused by Individuals with PTSD

While PTSD increases a person’s vulnerability towards SUD in general, there are a few common substances that individuals are more likely to abuse over the course of their disorder. Here, we take a look at the relationship between various substances and PTSD. 

PTSD and Smoking

Individuals with PTSD may often use nicotine, found in cigarettes, as a means to manage their anxiety and stress responses. Smoking, as known widely, is a very addictive and dangerous behavior associated with several physiological conditions as well. Addressing both smoking and PTSD is a crucial part of the recovery process. 

PTSD and Alcohol

Alcohol is a highly addictive CNS depressant that is often used by those with PTSD to numb the emotional distress that they are going through. Alcohol is also highly addictive and damaging to the human body. It is important to identify any dependence on alcohol at an early stage to ensure effective recovery. 

PTSD and Marijuana

Marijuana is a drug that is commonly used by those with PTSD to deal with stressful emotions. It permeates a sense of calm and peace within a person. However, Marijuana addiction is a severe disorder that can cause a whole host of other mental health disorders to manifest in a person. 

Risks of Substance Abuse for People with PTSD

In individuals with PTSD, SUD is associated with severely worsening symptoms and further trauma. It also significantly impacts the effectiveness of any treatment regimen and leads to a vicious cycle of addiction and spiraling health. Addressing both is crucial for a good prognosis. 

PTSD and Substance Use Disorder: Navigating Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis is often a tricky path to navigate for those in such a situation. At Cadabams Anunitha, we provide specialized care in such situations with our Dual Diagnosis Treatment Program, which we have calibrated in association with CNTW, UK. Our treatment plans combine therapy, medication, and supplementary treatment pathways to ensure a long-term recovery that continues well after you step out of our rehab!

Criteria of Diagnosis

Our professionals focus on an accurate diagnosis first and foremost. Our treating team will evaluate a range of symptoms, including intrusive memories, avoidance behaviors, mood issues, and SUD, to arrive at a diagnosis. We conduct comprehensive physical and psychological assessments to ensure that you have a clear picture of the way forward!

The Challenge of Overlapping Symptoms

Symptoms of PTSD and SUD often overlap. These include signs like anxiety, depression, cognitive issues, and more. This makes diagnosis quite challenging. Hence, our treating team focuses on ruling out all other causes and arriving at a final diagnosis that is extremely accurate and identifies a person’s unique needs and realities. 

The Importance of Accurate Diagnosis

An accurate diagnosis ensures that a treatment plan is formulated as soon as possible, significantly improving the prognosis for a person. Assessments by a skilled mental health treating team ensure that both PTSD and SUD are identified at an early stage, paving the way for long-term and sustainable recovery through multimodal treatment options. 

PTSD and Substance Use Disorder Treatment

PTSD and SUD can be treated through an integrated approach that focuses on dual diagnosis and treatment. While outpatient support is seen to help a lot of people, it is rehabilitation at a dedicated de-addiction center that is seen to be most effective in creating recovery that is long-term and sustainable. A multidisciplinary approach to treating SUD and PTSD includes the following. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Approach for PTSD and SUD

A dual diagnosis approach focuses on treating both disorders at the same time. As we have learned before in this blog, even if one part of the issue is left untreated, it can exacerbate the symptoms of the other part. Hence, a dual diagnosis approach is mandatory for recovery from either and both the disorders that the person may be facing. 


Medication plays an important role in the treatment of both PTSD and SUD. A psychiatrist, as part of the treating team, may prescribe anti-anxiety medication, anti-depressants, and medication to manage addiction. These must be taken as prescribed. However, special care must be taken to ensure that these medications are not misused or abused. 

Evidence-Based Therapies

Evidence-based therapies encompass a whole host of psychotherapies that are seen to be useful in treating both PTSD and SUD. Evidence-based therapies are backed by research and statistics and are seen to significantly improve recovery outcomes when applied under the supervision of a trained professional. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is an extremely effective form of psychotherapy with modules that deal with PTSD and SUD separately. CBT focuses on identifying irrational or damaging thought patterns and allows for them to be replaced with more healthy and rational alternatives. This treatment option also focuses on helping individuals build healthy coping mechanisms. 

Prolonged exposure therapy (PET)

PET is a form of psychotherapy where an individual confronts their traumatic memories in a controlled environment. By exposing individuals to such memories over a period of time, their power is severely diminished. It allows a person to overcome certain symptoms of PTSD and improves daily functioning.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

EMDR is an approach that helps treat PTSD. It involves guided eye movements that help in the processing of traumatic memories. This method can help reduce the emotional trauma associated with the memories and reduce PTSD symptoms. EMDR is a valuable part of the integrated treatment approach. 

Family Behavior Therapy (FBT)

This form of therapy focuses on involving family members in the recovery journey. It addresses both PTSD and SUD throughout its course. FBT improves communication within the family and strengthens the support system that is available to a person, a crucial aspect during recovery. It is effective in creating a supportive atmosphere and promotes lasting recovery. 

Holistic Approaches

Holistic approaches to treating PTSD and SUD are often supplementary to the main avenues of medication management and psychotherapy. They include options such as Yoga, guided meditation, acupuncture, and more. They are a combination of traditional recovery approaches and well-being practices. 

Rehabilitation Support

For those with PTSD and SUD, rehabilitation at a de-addiction center is seen to be crucial to the recovery process. At centers like Cadabams Anunitha, individuals can find a safe space where they can approach detoxification, therapy, and skill-building while on the path to recovery. Such spaces are crucial for long-term recovery and sustenance of such recovery over time. 

Criteria for Choosing a PTSD and Substance Abuse Rehab

Things to look for in a PTSD and addiction rehab center include the following:

  • Experience of the organization in treating co-occurring disorders.
  • Experience and expertise of the treating team involved.
  • If the rehab has a multidisciplinary treating team or not.
  • The infrastructure that is present at the rehab.

Embrace Recovery: PTSD and Substance Use Solutions at Cadabams Anunitha

At Cadabams Anunitha, we focus on not only recovery from symptoms but also the holistic development of an individual. We drive a person towards independence in daily life while also helping them pursue their interests. We believe that an individual is not defined by the disorder they are battling.

If you are searching for a solution to your problem, Cadabams Anunitha’s De-Addiction Centre can help you with its team of specialized experts. We have been helping thousands of people live healthier and happier lives for 30+ years. We leverage evidence-based approaches and holistic treatment methods to help individuals effectively manage their PTSD and Substance Use Disorders. Get in touch with us today. You can call us at +91 96111 94949.


Book screening with our director of triage,  Kamlesh Verma

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1. What is the relationship between drug addiction and trauma?

There is a relationship between drug addiction and trauma. Those with trauma often turn to drug addiction as a form of coping with stressful emotions and memories. Meanwhile, those who battle drug addiction can often end up in traumatic situations due to the impulsive behaviors associated with drug addiction and dependence. 

2. Does substance abuse worsen PTSD symptoms?

Yes, substance abuse severely worsens PTSD symptoms. Often beginning as a coping mechanism, a Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD) can quickly turn into a worsening spiral that exacerbates PTSD symptoms. 

3. How common are co-occurring addiction and PTSD?

Addiction and PTSD are often seen to be co-occurring in many cases. Individuals with PTSD are 20% likely to develop an addiction disorder, according to existing research. This is more common among army veterans, according to available data. 

4. Is substance abuse an effective coping strategy for people with PTSD?

No, substance abuse is not an effective coping strategy for those battling PTSD. While it may provide short-term respite, it always exacerbates the mood issues, emotional distress, and more associated with PTSD, apart from bringing a host of issues on its own.

5. Which substances are commonly misused by individuals with PTSD?

Substances commonly misused by individuals with PTSD include cigarettes (smoking), alcohol, and Marijuana.

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