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PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental disorder that can develop after an individual has experienced a traumatic event. It can be triggered by a number of siutations, including sexual abuse, assault, rape, accidents, military combat, and natural disasters, among others. The nervous system appears to go into overdrive attempting to deal with the physical and psychological reactions to the event, and the person may continue to experience flashbacks and nightmares for some time after the initial trauma. If left untreated, the symptoms of PTSD can begin to heavily impact the individual’s daily life, and he or she may turn to alcohol or drugs to manage them.

How are Mental Illness and Addiction Linked?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that both addiction and mental health problems may have causes based in brain chemistry deficits, genetic vulnerabilities and exposure to stress and trauma. When these factors present a mental illness, it increases the likelihood of developing a substance abuse problem. In addition, addiction itself can trigger mental health symptoms that did not previously exist, and these problems can increase the severity of the addiction.

What is the Relationship between PTSD and Addiction?co-occurring-disorders

As if addiction is not a large enough issue on its own, it is often complicated by the presence of mental health problems. In these circumstances, specialized treatment is vital to increase the odds for success in recovery. These specialized programs are known as dual diagnosis treatment. The term “dual diagnosis” is used to describe the co-occurrence of mental illness and a substance abuse disorder.

Someone suffering from PTSD and addiction can find lasting benefits in dual diagnosis programming at a qualified, professional addiction treatment facility.

Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder experience a number of problems that make them vulnerable to substance abuse. They may feel profoundly depressed as a result of the traumatic experience. They often feel socially isolated and may withdraw completely from normal social contacts. Individuals with PTSD may also experience hyper-alertness, paranoia and sleep issues. The severity of these symptoms often causes them to turn to alcohol and drugs to manage flashbacks or help these individuals function normally. Unfortunately, these individuals may be at risk for addiction. This can negatively affect their careers, their relationships, and their overall well-being. Professional treatment is then necessary to restore those suffering from PTSD and addiction to normal function. Any underlying mental illness symptoms must be treated in conjunction with substance abuse in order for treatment to be successful.

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Treating Co-Occurring Conditions

Dual diagnosis treatment was developed as addiction specialists began to take notice of the high rate of substance abuse in correspondence with mental illness. Once addicts underwent detox, symptoms of emotional trauma were often uncovered. Some patients deal with these symptoms on a daily basis and are completely unaware of what it means for their mental health.

In order to provide effective treatment for the addiction, addicts must be treated for the mental health problem and drug or alcohol dependence simultaneously. This way, the patient can make full use of the therapies provided in dual diagnosis rehab programs.

Patients with post-traumatic stress syndrome may require carefully managed medications to deal with depression, anxiety or sleep problems. These are all commonly associated with this condition. Other types of therapy can also be effective for managing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including desensitization therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing technique (EMDR). These therapies are critical to maintaining emotional and functional stability, so that patients can continue their addiction recovery efforts.

Goals For Treatment

Addiction treatment programs must encourage patients to work toward a number of goals to help them function effectively when they return to their normal lives. These goals include:

  • Helping patients understand how post-traumatic stress disorder affects their behavior and their reactions
  • Motivate the patient to accept that both PTSD and addiction can be managed effectively
  • Encourage patients to make the changes in their lives that will support recovery from addiction
  • Provide practical skills for managing the negative thoughts that occur
  • Instill tools for changing behavior to manage both PTSD and addiction to achieve success in recovery

Aftercare that Supports Continued Recovery

Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder generally require ongoing counseling and medications to manage their symptoms. These patients also benefit from specialized support groups for individuals with both PTSD and addiction. This allows them to share practical advice for dealing with the everyday problems that occur in rebuilding one’s life after addiction.

If you or a loved one suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction, contact a professional treatment center to discuss dual diagnosis treatment options and how it can help you take your life back.


  1. Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses [PDF]. (2008, December). National Institute on Drug Abuse .
  2. Abuse, N. I. (2014, January 03). Severe mental illness tied to higher rates of substance use. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from
  3. Rodriguez, T. (2012, December 11). Can Eye Movements Treat Trauma? Retrieved August 30, 2016, from
  4. Abuse, N. I. (n.d.). Why do drug use disorders often co-occur with other mental illnesses? Retrieved August 30, 2016, from

Last updated on April 6th, 2017 at 07:50 pm

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