Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders: PTSD and Substance Abuse

The connection between PTSD and addiction is a strong one. In fact, those suffering from PTSD are 3 times more likely to suffer from a substance abuse issue than those who don’t. A major reason for that is due to the mental toll that PTSD takes on the person that’s suffering. In many cases, the mental distress caused by PTSD is so severe that those suffering will look for any way to ease the mental pain, including turning to drugs and alcohol just so they can get some relief.

 When someone suffers from both a mental health disorder, such as PTSD and addiction, it’s known as a co-occurring disorder. The good news is for those suffering from a co-occurring disorder there are treatment options available so you don’t have to suffer anymore. For this page, let’s take a look at a specific co-occurring disorder and that’s PTSD and addiction.

How Can PTSD Lead To Addiction?What is PTSD?

PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a mental health disorder that is caused as a result of experiencing a traumatic experience, either directly or being a witness to one. This can include a car accident, military combat, or abuse (either sexual, mental, or physical). Those suffering from PTSD commonly experience feelings of anxiety, depression, and agitation. These feelings can last for months or even years after the traumatic event and can oftentimes be debilitating.

Common signs and symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Attitude changes
  • Behavioral changes
  • Feeling numb
  • Avoiding certain people, places, or situations
  • Having difficulty performing even basic tasks
  • Having a tough time sleeping or concentrating
  • Experiencing flashbacks or reliving the traumatic experience

How Can PTSD Lead To Addiction?

PTSD can actually change the overall chemical makeup of the brain in the same way that substance abuse and addiction can. It’s one of the many reasons why those suffering from PTSD are much more likely to develop a substance abuse issue. The depression and anxiety that comes with PTSD can be so severe that it can be debilitating. 

Those suffering just want to forget about what happened to them and feel better, even if it is just for a few minutes. Since most people suffering from PTSD are too afraid or embarrassed to talk to someone about it or seek help. They often turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of self-medicating so they can feel better. Once they realize that these substances can help them feel better they will seek out more and more of it until they have developed a full-blown addiction.

What Are Some of the Signs of Addiction As It Relates to PTSD?

Since those suffering from PTSD tend to show similar traits to those suffering from addiction, it can sometimes be difficult to identify when a person is suffering from addiction as a result of their PTSD. That’s why it’s important to know some of the common signs of addiction as it relates to PTSD. Knowing what to look for can be a great first step in helping get a family member or loved one the proper help they need.

Some signs of PTSD and substance abuse include:

  • Changes in spending habits
  • Sudden and unexplained financial issues
  • Becoming argumentative when the topic of substance abuse comes up
  • Significant changes in behavior
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Changes in weight either gain or loss
  • Change in activities
  • Change in social groups
  • Bloodshot eyes or changes in skin tone
  • Sudden legal issues

ptsd and addictionWho Tends To Be Most Severely Affected by PTSD?

While anyone can be affected by and suffer from PTSD, there are certain groups of people who are more susceptible to PTSD due to the nature of their profession. Those who work as first responders or those who serve in the military are significantly more likely to suffer from PTSD due to the nature of their work. This can include police officers, fighter fighters, paramedics, EMTs, hospital workers, and members of the military. In fact, those who served in the military make up the majority of those who suffer from PTSD.

What Are the Treatment Options for PTSD and Substance Abuse?

For people who have developed an addiction issue as a result of their PTSD, there are several different treatment options available to them. The first step in the treatment process is to enter into a detox program so that the body can rid itself of any and all harmful substances. Without doing that, the body and the brain can’t truly recover from both addiction and PTSD. 

The best, and safest, way to detox is to do so under the care and supervision of trained detox professionals. This can be done at either a medical facility, a dedicated detox center, or a treatment center that also provides detox services such as Harmony Place. Attempting to self-detox can be incredibly dangerous and even life-threatening due to the withdrawal symptoms that are associated with detoxing.

Once detox has been completed, several treatment programs are available to those suffering from co-occurring disorders such as addiction and PTSD.

What is PTSD?Residential or Inpatient Treatment

For those who are dealing with particularly severe cases of PTSD and addiction, or for those who don’t have a supportive home environment, inpatient treatment is ideal. During inpatient treatment, the person in treatment will live at the treatment facility for the duration of their treatment period. 

During this time they will participate in a variety of different types of therapy sessions including individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy as well as undergo any necessary medical care. 

Outpatient Treatment

Not everyone needs inpatient treatment. Some people have obligations and cannot live in a treatment facility for weeks or even months. Also, many individuals may not have an addiction issue severe enough to need inpatient treatment. 

For these people, outpatient treatment is a great option. During outpatient treatment, the person in treatment goes to the facility during the day to attend therapy sessions and then goes back home when finished. The amount of time someone spends in outpatient treatment varies from person to person based on the type of outpatient program they enter into.

12 Step Programs

In addition to participating in group and individual therapy sessions, many suffering from PTSD and addiction will also choose to attend 12-step programs such as AA or NA. They will likely start attending these meetings towards the end of their treatment and will continue doing so even after treatment has been completed.

During these meetings, people share their experiences and things that are happening in their life in a supportive environment. 12-step programs can be a great way to develop a support system in recovery while learning how to deal with any problems a person might be having in a healthy manner.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

During treatment for both PTSD and addiction, one of the more successful therapies is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. This therapy helps the person in treatment identify the triggers that lead to their substance abuse as well as encourages them to look at how their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors can influence others in a negative way as well. CBT is one of the many therapy options available at Harmony Place.

Holistic and Experiential Therapy

While the traditional therapies have been proven to be successful, more and more treatment facilities are incorporating holistic and experiential therapies to complement the more traditional ones. These types of therapies can be great because not only are they more enjoyable than your standard group and individual therapy sessions, but in many cases, these therapies can be continued on your own after leaving treatment. At Harmony Place we are proud to offer the following holistic therapies:

  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic care
  • Energy work
  • Massage Therapy
  • Mindfulness


For some suffering from co-occurring PTSD and addiction, their treatment professional might recommend certain medications to help deal with mental illness and any negative substance withdrawal symptoms as well. The drug sertraline has been specifically approved to treat those who suffer from PTSD. In addition, it can also help reduce alcohol use and dependency. Other medications that have shown to be successful when it comes to PTSD include:

  • Disulfiram
  • Naltrexone
  • Desipramine
  • Prazosin

Do You Suffer From PTSD and Addiction?

Many people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder often become addicted to drugs or alcohol because they are too embarrassed or scared to seek help and turn to these substances to self-medicate. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, addiction, it’s important to know that you don’t have to be scared or embarrassed to get help. At Harmony Place, we’re here to help you from the beginning to the end of your journey and beyond. Contact us today to learn about our different treatment options for PTSD and addiction and how we can get you back to enjoying your life drug and alcohol-free.