A dictionary with the word PTSD highlighted in red

For many who suffer from some form of substance abuse disorder, drugs and alcohol are not the only issue they face. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) reports that nearly one in five Americans live with a mental illness (1).

In particular, those who suffer from substance abuse disorder have a high rate of also suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. (2)

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD for short) is a disorder that an individual can develop after undergoing a shocking, dangerous, or distressing event. When a traumatic event occurs, the individual will experience a wide range of emotions that stem from their “fight-or-flight” response.

While this is normal, for some people these emotions will continue or periodically remerge after the traumatic event has occurred. The reemergence of these emotions when an individual is not in any danger is referred to as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms of PTSD?

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder manifests itself in several ways. Most people begin experiencing symptoms within the first three months after the traumatic incident, but sometimes months after. The following are common signs and symptoms of PTSD (3):

  • Re-experiencing Symptoms – These include symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and frightening thoughts
  • Avoidance Symptoms – These include avoiding certain places, events, or objects that remind one of the traumatic event.
  • Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms – These include behaviors such as being easily startled, being tense, sleeping difficulties, or emotional outbursts
  • Cognitive and Mood Symptoms – These include memory loss from the traumatic event, overall negative feelings, guilt, and loss of interest in day-to-day activities

What is the connection between PTSD and Substance Abuse Disorder?

A strong correlation between post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse disorder has been firmly established in several studies. Studies have indicated that post-traumatic stress co-occurs with substance abuse disorder in about 40% of cases.

The self-medication theory of substance abuse is the most commonly cited theory for this phenomenon. The self-medication theory argues that those who suffer from PTSD will be more likely to try and use drugs and alcohol to alleviate themselves from their symptoms. (4)

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So what does this mean?

The reality is that many people who suffer from a substance abuse disorder will also suffer from one or more mental health issues. This is known as dual-diagnosis. It is crucial to deal with both the substance abuse issue and the mental health issue at the same time, rather than separately.

If you or a loved one is suffering from both an addiction and mental health issues, it is crucial to find a treatment center that specializes in dual diagnosis treatment.

Final Note

This article is intended for those considering a new way of life, free of the pain of drug and alcohol addiction. For more information on recovery and anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783 or visit us online.


  1. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml
  2. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2002-06114-000
  3. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4928573/