Although seemingly unrelated conditions, PTSD and addiction are commonly diagnosed together. Those who develop PTSD as a result of a traumatic event or experience often use alcohol or drugs to cope with their symptoms. In  time this substance use can become just as disabling as the condition it is being used to alleviate, and those suffering from both PTSD and addiction will need to get help for both issues concurrently so that the symptoms of one condition don’t affect the treatment of the other.


What Is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition brought on by traumatic experiences that affects the mental health of the sufferer. Symptoms include flashbacks and anxiety, as well as uncontrollable intrusive thoughts relating to the event that brought about the PTSD.

In the first 3-5 months after a trauma, people suffering from these symptoms will be said to be suffering from Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). If symptoms persist beyond 6 months then the sufferer is likely to get a diagnosis of PTSD.

Symptoms Of PTSD

  • Flashbacks to the traumatic experience(s)
  • Nightmares
  • Re-experiencing the trauma of the event
  • A range of intense psychological or physiological responses to reminders of the trauma
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Feeling paranoid or ‘on guard’
  • Avoidance of places and people connected to the traumatic event
  • Avoidance of talking about the trauma, or thoughts and feelings related to it
  • Hopelessness
  • Decreased interest in social and professional life

Why Do People With PTSD Become Addicts?

The wide range of symptoms and feelings associated with PTSD can be extremely difficult to deal with, and many people turn to the use of drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with this. However, there are actually four main theories relating to why people suffering from PTSD are so susceptible to addiction. These are:

Self-Medication Theory

Put simply, this idea theorises that those with PTSD are using various substances in order to reduce their symptoms, or at least reduce the distress that they feel when faced with these symptoms.

High-Risk Theory

This theory suggests that substance abuse issues are already in place before PTSD develops, believing that those with problems with alcohol and drugs are more likely to experience events that lead to PTSD.

Susceptibility Theory

Similar to high-risk theory, this idea suggests that some aspect of alcohol or drug use makes a person more susceptible to the development of PTSD symptoms after a traumatic event has occurred.

Shared Vulnerability Theory

This theory believes that some people are predisposed to developing both PTSD and addiction issues following a traumatic event, thanks to their genetic make up.

PTSD And Substance Abuse Treatment

Whilst PTSD and substance abuse commonly appear together, they are different types of conditions and have been treated separately in the past. In most cases the addiction issues would be treated first, and PTSD dealt with after the person had achieved sobriety.

However, treatment programmes have changed in recent years, with the focus now on dealing with both conditions at the same time. If PTSD symptoms are treated during the detox process then this helps the sufferer to deal with the intense thoughts and feelings brought on by therapy without putting them at risk of relapse. Treating both conditions concurrently also means that a patient can work with one clinician instead of two, ensuring that they feel more comfortable and helping the doctor to better understand where symptoms and feelings of the two issues overlap.

There are various ways that PTSD and addiction can be treated together. A combination of these will usually be applied, according to what works best for the sufferer.


Medication can be important for detox from alcohol and drugs, helping to make withdrawal symptoms less intense and helping with things like depression and anxiety that can come about as a result of getting sober. Antidepressants are common in treating addiction as well as PTSD.


Medications are most effective when combined with therapy, to help the sufferer to get to the root cause of where their feelings come from, rather than just covering up those feelings with the use of more drugs. Individual therapy sessions are helpful, but in rehab, group and family therapy sessions are also provided to deal with every aspect of addiction.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

The most popular form of therapy to support addicts and those with PTSD is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This type of therapy is designed to help a person look at their thoughts, emotions and patterns of behaviour to see how these are affecting their lives and mental health. CBT makes it easier for addicts to recognise the relapse triggers that lead them to use alcohol or drugs, and come up with coping mechanisms so that they can deal with these triggers when they occur.

CBT also covers things like exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring. Exposure therapy is where a patient with PTSD is exposed to their trauma in a safe and secure environment, allowing them to learn to cope with it. Meanwhile, cognitive restructuring helps a person with PTSD to carefully examine their memories of the traumatic event, in order to better understand the images and their reactions to them.

Treatment Options

For those suffering from PTSD or addiction, or both, there are a range of treatment options to choose from. You could look into one of these, but a combination of both is more likely to have a long lasting effect, and help you to achieve a permanent remission from these distressing conditions.

Residential Care

A rehabilitation centre offers a dedicated, full-service environment to help you to focus on your recovery. Ocean Recovery Centre offers a luxurious and welcoming environment in which you can detox, receive individual, group and family therapy and even take part in wellness classes and activities to heal every part of your body and mind.

Outpatient Treatment

You may be able to go to outpatient sessions at a clinic, in a group or at a rehab centre. Ocean Recovery offers an outpatient aftercare service which allows you to get in touch with someone around the clock when you are struggling, helping you to continue the good work that you started in the clinic.

Support Groups

Many people find support groups useful, as it facilitates you meeting other people who have been through similar experiences to you and talk about them in a secure environment. There are usually a few support groups within every city, so look online to see where your nearest one is.

To find out more about Ocean Recovery Centre, call 01253 847 553, or text HELP to 83222, and we’ll walk you through the next steps

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: December 14, 2021

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.