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PTSD and Addiction, Emotional Abuse, Types of PTSD, Symptoms, Signs of Drug Abuse & Dual Diagnosis Treatment

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. This disorder has a strong connection to drug addiction because those experiencing PTSD might turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress. In this piece, you will learn about the strong connection between PTSD and Addiction.

As stated by the scientific piece ‘Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population’, published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, exposure to traumatic experiences, especially those occurring in childhood, has been linked to substance use disorders (SUDs), including abuse and dependence. SUDs are also highly comorbid with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mood-related psychopathology.

Most people who have suffered through traumatic events eventually overcome the anxiety, depression, and agitation caused by those experiences. But when PTSD develops, these symptoms don’t just go away. They might last for months or years after the event. PTSD can emerge as a result of witnessing or experiencing:

PTSD and Addiction
PTSD has a strong connection to drug addiction because those experiencing this disorder might turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress.
  • Military combat
  • Serious accidents and injury
  • Natural disasters
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Sexual or physical assault during childhood or as an adult
  • The death of a loved one

PTSD and Addiction often co-occur in response to serious trauma. Getting a proper dual diagnosis treatment is crucial to treating both conditions and getting sober.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that is caused by a traumatic experience in a person’s life, such as military combat, sexual abuse, or car accidents. According to the National Center of PTSD, about 8 out of 100 Americans will suffer from PTSD. Some may experience symptoms that include flashbacks of the traumatic event, fighting thoughts, and bad dreams.

Types of PTSD

PTSD from emotional abuse can be considered complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). This is not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but many health professionals have distinguished C-PTSD from PTSD. It is included in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) as its condition.

PTSD tends to refer to a response to one-time or short-term trauma, such as rape or terrorist attack. On the other hand, C-PTSD happens because of ongoing trauma without the ability to leave the situation. This category includes emotional abuse, as well as other ongoing trauma such as being a prisoner of war, experiencing human trafficking or prostitution, or facing repeated violence.

Someone with C-PTSD may have the same symptoms as someone with PTSD, such as reliving the trauma, avoiding trauma, and experiencing hyperarousal. Nonetheless, complex PTSD may cause its symptoms, such as a negative self-perception and inaccurate views of the perpetrator.

The Emotional Component of PTSD

PTSD from emotional abuse is not distinguished as C-PTSD because of its emotional rather than physical nature. All PTSD, even from physical forms of trauma, is based on emotional and psychological reactions to trauma, which develop because of fear and distress.

PTSD and Addiction
With enough time and use, the PTSD sufferer can become addicted. Both disorders have a complex impact on the brain.

Also, regular PTSD can happen because of any event the person finds disturbing or distressing, even when the person witnesses it or hears about it rather than experiencing it first-hand. PTSD can come from emotional responses to experiences such as:

  • Hearing about a terrorist attack
  • Going through a hurricane without experiencing any physical harm
  • The sudden death of a loved one
  • Witnessing a murder

The distinction between PTSD and C-PTSD is not because of a difference between physical and emotional trauma. The difference has to do with the ongoing nature of the trauma involved in C-PTSD.

Short-term effects of emotional abuse

You might be in denial at first. It can be shocking to find yourself in such a situation. It’s natural to hope you’re wrong. You may also have feelings of:

  • Confusion
  • Fear
  • Hopelessness
  • Shame

This emotional toll can also result in behavioral and physical side effects. You may experience:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Moodiness
  • Muscle tension
  • Nightmares
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Various aches and pains

Long-term effects of emotional abuse

Studies show that severe emotional abuse can be as powerful as physical abuse. Over time, both can contribute to low self-esteem and depression. You may also develop:

  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Guilt
  • Insomnia
  • Social withdrawal or loneliness

Some researchers theorize that emotional abuse may contribute to the development of conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD 

Symptoms of PTSD can change over time. Some symptoms might appear within three months of a traumatic episode, or it might take years until the disorder fully comes about.

PTSD impacts the parts of the brain associated with memory and emotions. A healthy brain can tell the difference between past memories and present experiences, but PTSD interferes with this process. Someone with PTSD might react to a current environment that reminds them of past trauma. The brain responds as though the person is still in the past, triggering fear, anxiety, and stress.

Alcohol and drug addiction are also affected by memory. An addicted person’s brain is susceptible to triggers, places, and people associated with drug use that can lead to cravings. PTSD and Addiction triggers can intertwine and intensify symptoms of both disorders.

Categories Of PTSD Symptoms:

Intrusive Memories

  • Repeated memories of the traumatic episode
  • Night terrors about the event
  • Vivid flashbacks of traumatic episodes
  • Extreme physical reactions to reminders of the traumatic event


  • Attempting to avoid talking or thinking about the traumatic episode
  • Trying to avoid people, places and activities that trigger memories of the event

Drastic Changes in Thinking or Mood

  • Emotional numbness
  • Difficulty keeping close relationships
  • Being incapable of positive emotions
  • Lapses in memory
  • Negative feelings about self or others

Changes in Emotional Reactions

  • Irritability
  • Feeling “on guard” at all times
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Insomnia
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Self-destructive behavior (binge drinking or reckless driving)

Signs and symptoms of Drug Abuse

Someone misusing or abusing drugs can have the following signs and symptoms:

  • Being argumentative when asked about substance use
  • Changes in spending habits and issues with finances
  • Noticeable changes in behavior
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Lack of motivation and poor work performance
  • Looking sick, such as bloodshot eyes and changes in skin tone

How does PTSD and Addiction work? 

Substance abuse and addiction are commonly connected to co-occurring disorders like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. People seeking treatment for PTSD are 14 times more likely to also be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder (SUD). Attempting to self-medicate can be a cause of why many people with PTSD also abuse substances. The thought is that by abusing substances, a person with PTSD will null or avoid PTSD symptoms. Those suffering from PTSD and Addiction are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, such as cocaine.

The research ‘PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans’, published by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, has found that service members and veterans that have heavy drinking tendencies are more likely to have PTSD and depression. War veterans with a PTSD diagnosis, who also drink alcohol, tend to be diagnosed with binge drinking.

PTSD and Addiction
Substance abuse and addiction are commonly connected to co-occurring disorders like PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

Military and Veterans suffering from PTSD 

One of the highest risk groups for both PTSD and Addiction is the veteran population. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, veterans who seek out treatment for a SUD are often diagnosed with PTSD. This is most likely due to the emotional stress, physical demand, and mental strain of combat. Service members that were deployed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan are at a higher risk of developing PTSD.

In addition, PTSD has also been linked to veterans that have been sexually assaulted or harassed during their military service or experience.  Military service trauma can happen to any service member, of any gender, during their military service. Sexual trauma includes sexual assault, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment. About 1 in 5 female veterans have been diagnosed with military sexual trauma by Veteran Affairs (VA).

PTSD and Addiction Treatment

Prolonged alcohol and drug abuse eventually rewire the brain’s neurocircuitry. Over time, the user needs the drug to feel normal. With enough time and use, the PTSD sufferer can become addicted. Both disorders have a complex impact on the brain. It’s crucial to treat PTSD and drug addiction simultaneously to undo this damage.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help those with PTSD cope with their painful memories. Many inpatient and outpatient drug rehabs use CBT to treat addiction, as well. Clinics specializing in PTSD and Addiction can coordinate CBT treatment plans for both disorders.

Physical exercise can be an effective part of PTSD and drug addiction recovery. The endorphins released during physical activity can soothe depression and anxiety. Doctors in specialized drug rehabs can also prescribe antidepressants to manage withdrawal symptoms and anxiety during detox.

Reclaim your life from PTSD and Addiction

PTSD and Addiction are conditions that can cause major health, social, and economic problems that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up Washington treatment center can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from PTSD and Addiction with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.

We Level Up Washington Mental Health Center: Primary Mental Health Treatment with Secondary Co-Occurring Treatments

The We Level Up Washington primary mental health center stands ready to help. Offering secondary treatment programs for underlying conditions like addiction that frequently fuels harmful behaviors. Taking that first step to get the professional support you need can be life-transforming.

We know how mental health disorders and secondary co-occurring substance abuse diagnoses directly affect one another. The We Level Up Washington treatment center provides recovery programs through science-based mental health treatments that can help you feel better. Call us now for a free mental health evaluation! 

Inpatient medical detox and residential primary addiction treatment may be available at affiliated facilities at other We Level Up Treatment Centers locations beyond the Washington treatment facility.


[1] Khoury, L., Tang, Y. L., Bradley, B., Cubells, J. F., & Ressler, K. J. (2010). Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population – U.S. National Library of Medicine (

[2] ‘PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans’ – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (