Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorder (SUD) often occur together. Studies have shown that individuals with PTSD are more likely to develop SUD and vice versa. This is known as comorbidity, where two or more disorders exist in the same individual at the same time.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health disorder that can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, combat, sexual assault, or physical violence.
Symptoms of PTSD may include:
- Intrusive memories, flashbacks, visions, and nightmares of the traumatic event
- Avoidance of reminders of the trauma
- Negative changes in mood and cognition
- Hyperarousal, such as feeling easily startled or on edge
- Feelings of detachment from others, including family and friends
- Social isolation
- Guilt, shame, and low self-esteem
- Anger or rage
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
What is Substance Use Disorder?
SUD is a chronic pattern of substance use that leads to significant impairment, distress, or adverse health effects. It can manifest in various forms, such as alcohol use disorder or opioid use disorder. SUD symptoms include:
- An uncontrollable desire or urge to use alcohol or other substances
- Difficulty controlling substance use
- Continued use despite negative consequences
- Tolerance (needing more of the substance to achieve the same effect)
- Negative symptoms when you skip or stop using
The Connection between PTSD and SUD
Based on treatment-seeking populations, individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder are up to 14 times more likely to be diagnosed with a co-occurring substance use disorder than those without the condition.
This is because individuals with PTSD may turn to substance use as a way of self-medicating or dealing with the emotional and psychological distress associated with PTSD. This can ultimately lead to substance dependence.
Though often overlooked, SUD can also lead to PTSD development. This is because substance use can increase the likelihood of experiencing traumatic events, such as physical or sexual assault, or engaging in reckless behavior like driving under the influence.
Impact of Comorbidity
Having comorbid PTSD and SUD can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental and physical well-being. The symptoms of both disorders can exacerbate each other, leading to a cycle of substance use and trauma-related symptoms.
PTSD and SUD comorbidity has also been associated with increased chronicity of symptoms, decreased functioning, greater risk of suicidal behavior, and increased likelihood of hospitalization or institutionalization.
Treating Comorbid PTSD and SUD
Fortunately, there are treatments available for comorbid PTSD and SUD. The first step is typically detoxification from the substance being abused. After that, a comprehensive integrative treatment plan should be developed to address both conditions simultaneously.
This may include psychotherapy, medications, and lifestyle changes. Additionally, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous can provide individuals with additional resources and peer support.
The Bottom Line
Comorbid PTSD and SUD is a common occurrence and one that can have a devastating impact on your mental, emotional, and physical health. But with the right treatment, those diagnosed with both disorders can learn to manage their symptoms and regain control of their lives.
If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD and SUD, it’s important to seek professional help and get the care and support you need.