PTSD & Substance Use Disorder | Symptoms, Risk Factors, & Treatment

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on July 27, 2023

Co-occurring PTSD and substance use disorder can put your health at risk and hurt your relationships with others. Dual diagnosis treatment centers, including Ohio Recovery Center, can give you the physical and mental health services you may need to recover.

Symptoms of co-occurring PTSD and substance use disorder (SUD) may include flashbacks about a traumatic event, withdrawal symptoms and cravings when not taking drugs or alcohol, and abusing alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.

About 45 percent of PTSD victims may also suffer from a co-occurring SUD during their lifetime. Additionally, those with PTSD have an increased risk of drug or alcohol abuse compared to the general population.

Entering a dual diagnosis treatment program can help you or your loved ones overcome co-occurring disorders. 

Mental health and addiction treatment options, such as medication and psychotherapy, can manage your PTSD symptoms and reduce your chances of relapsing on drugs or alcohol in the future.

Symptoms Of PTSD

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are separated into several distinct categories, including:

  • avoidance symptoms, or staying away from places, things, or feelings related to the traumatic event
  • re-experiencing symptoms, or flashbacks or dreams about the traumatic event
  • arousal and reactivity symptoms, including irritability, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping,
  • cognition and mood symptoms, including long-term feelings of guilt, mood swings, loss of interest in hobbies

These symptoms can hurt your relationships with others and cause problems in your daily life. The severity of these symptoms differ between patients.

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Symptoms Of Co-Occurring PTSD & Substance Use Disorder

A substance use disorder can co-occur alongside symptoms of PTSD. If you drink alcohol or take drugs to self-medicate PTSD symptoms, you may have a high risk of developing a substance use disorder.

Symptoms of a co-occurring substance use disorder with PTSD may include:

  • needing alcohol or drugs for your daily routine
  • physical or mental health problems when you are not taking drugs or alcohol
  • difficulties in school or at work
  • problems with your family members, loved ones, or friends
  • any of the above symptoms combined with avoidance, re-experiencing, reactivity, or cognition symptoms

People suffering from PTSD may be more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs compared to people without PTSD.

PTSD & Commonly Abused Substances

Those with PTSD v may commonly turn to alcohol to self-medicate. 

Between 60 to 80 percent of Vietnam War veterans looking for PTSD treatment have a drinking problem. In general, PTSD patients are between 2 to 3 times more likely to have a drinking problem than people without PTSD.

Other common drugs of abuse for those with PTSD include nicotine, marijuana, and opioids. These drugs have short-term sedative and psychoactive effects.

Short-term drug or alcohol use may provide temporary relief from PTSD symptoms. However, prolonged drug or alcohol use may worsen your mood, sleeping problems, and mental health.

Risk Factors For Co-Occurring Substance Abuse & PTSD

Risk factors for co-occurring substance abuse & PTSD may include:

  • experiencing a traumatic event, such as sexual assault, a car accident, or natural disasters
  • serving in the military or being a military veteran
  • a family history of alcohol or drug abuse
  • preexisting mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety disorders

Dual Diagnosis Treatment For Co-Occurring PTSD & Substance Use Disorder

Dual diagnosis treatment involves treating symptoms of PTSD and substance use disorders at the same time.

Therapy and mental health services are a primary focus of dual diagnosis treatment programs. This is because successful therapy can reduce PTSD symptoms as well as your risk of relapse in the long term.

Due to the wide range of symptoms, needs, and health conditions of patients with co-occurring disorders, a variety of approaches may be used during your treatment program.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Prolonged exposure therapy (PE) can be effective in treating patients with co-occurring PTSD and substance use disorders. PE therapy can involve discussing and recounting traumatic events during therapy sessions, 

Over time, PE can help patients manage their reactions to traumatic events.

Seeking Safety

Seeking Safety is an effective PTSD treatment approach which can focus on topics such as healthy relationships, coping with triggers, and reaching out to community resources. 

Seeking Safety counseling may not require patients to revisit traumatic experiences, which can be difficult for many PTSD victims.

Additional Psychotherapy Options

Other psychotherapy options for PTSD patients living with addiction may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). These therapies help patients address past trauma as well as unhealthy attitudes and behaviors.


Some studies suggest antidepressants can be effective in reducing PTSD and SUD symptoms. Depending on your alcohol or drug use problem, your treatment provider can also prescribe different types of medication.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

If you have an alcohol use disorder, a licensed Ohio treatment provider can prescribe acamprosate or naltrexone. If you have an opioid use disorder, your treatment provider can prescribe methadone or buprenorphine. 

These MAT medications can improve your long-term treatment outcome, especially when combined with therapy and counseling.

Other Treatment Options

Other treatment options for co-occurring PTSD and SUD may include:

  • attending support groups
  • drug or alcohol detox programs
  • family or group counseling
  • social activities
  • social and employment skills training

Your Ohio treatment provider, such as Ohio Recovery Center, can offer these services depending on your specific needs.

Ohio Recovery Center

Co-occurring disorders are difficult to manage without professional help. Outpatient and inpatient treatment centers in Ohio can help you focus on your health and recovery in a safe environment.

A dual diagnosis treatment program from Ohio Recovery Center provides treatment services such as detoxification, mental health counseling, medication management, and individual and group therapy. 

To find out if our mental health and substance abuse treatment services work for you, your loved ones, and your family members, please contact us today.

  1. National Institute of Mental Health - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  2. National Library of Medicine - Prevalence and Axis I Comorbidity of Full and Partial Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in the United States: Results from Wave 2 of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Seeking Safety
  4. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs - Treatment of Co-Occurring PTSD and Substance Use Disorder in VA

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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