The Link Between PTSD and Addiction

Table of Contents

PTSD and addiction commonly co-occur. Individuals with a diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are three times more likely to engage in substance abuse than those without a diagnosis. Fortunately, there are many treatment options available for individuals dealing with both PTSD and drug addiction or alcoholism. Read on to learn more about the link between PTSD and substance abuse. You can also find out how to connect with PTSD and substance abuse treatment in Ohio.

Are Addiction and PTSD Co-Occurring Disorders?

Addiction and PTSD are often co-occurring disorders, meaning that they frequently manifest simultaneously. Several factors contribute to PTSD co-occurring disorders:

  • Self-medication: Many people with PTSD turn to substances like drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication to cope with anxiety, nightmares, intrusive memories, and other distressing symptoms of PTSD. Substance use may initially provide relief but it does nothing to address the underlying issue and can lead to addiction over time.
  • Complex relationship: The relationship between PTSD and substance use is complex. PTSD and addiction can co-occur when people use substances to alleviate the symptoms of trauma. Regrettably, substance abuse can also worsen and complicate the course of PTSD, making it harder to recover from both conditions.
  • Higher prevalence: Research indicates that individuals with PTSD are more likely to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder (the clinical term for addiction). Seeking treatment for PTSD often reveals co-occurring substance misuse.
  • Costly clinical course: Co-occurring PTSD and substance use disorder tend to lead to a more complex and costly clinical course than treating either disorder alone. This includes increased healthcare utilization and treatment challenges.

Understanding the PTSD addiction connection is essential for informing effective treatment. Integrated PTSD and addiction treatment approaches address both disorders simultaneously, and this is proven more effective than treating each condition in isolation.

An image of a man with his hands on his head, depicting the link between PTSD and addiction

Symptoms of PTSD That Can Lead to Addiction

PTSD can manifest in various ways, and some of its symptoms can lead people to turn to addictive substances as a means of coping. Here are some common symptoms of PTSD that may contribute to the development of addiction:

Recurrent intrusive memories

PTSD often involves intrusive thoughts and memories of traumatic events. To escape from these distressing recollections, some people may resort to substance use as a way to temporarily numb their emotions.

Avoidance behavior

People with PTSD may avoid people, places, or activities that remind them of the trauma. This avoidance can lead to isolation, loneliness, and a desire to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to ease the emotional pain. PTSD and alcohol abuse does nothing to address the underlying problem, though.

Negative changes in thinking and mood

PTSD can cause persistent negative thoughts and emotions, such as guilt, shame, and anger. Substance use might be seen as a way to self-soothe or escape from these overwhelming feelings.

Changes in emotional reactions

PTSD can heighten emotional reactivity, leading to irritability, anger, and outbursts. Substances like alcohol or drugs might be used to manage or blunt these intense emotional reactions.

Difficulty sleeping

Sleep disturbances are common in PTSD. The use of substances like alcohol or sedatives may initially provide relief by inducing sleep, but it can ultimately contribute to addiction.

Risk-taking behavior

Some individuals with PTSD engage in reckless or impulsive behavior as a result of their condition. This can include engaging in substance abuse, which can be dangerous and further traumatizing.

Flashbacks and nightmares

Vivid flashbacks and nightmares related to the trauma can be extremely distressing. People may turn to substances in an attempt to suppress or forget these haunting experiences.


PTSD can lead to a constant state of hypervigilance and anxiety. Individuals may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and temporarily alleviate anxiety symptoms.

Understanding the link between PTSD symptoms and addiction can help inform providing appropriate treatment and support to individuals who are struggling with both conditions. Seeking professional help is the first step toward recovery.

Treatment for PTSD & Addiction

Integrated treatment approaches address both PTSD and addiction simultaneously, recognizing their interplay. This approach aims to provide comprehensive care by treating the root causes and symptoms of both conditions.

Psychotherapy, particularly trauma-focused therapy like PE (prolonged exposure) and CPT (cognitive processing therapy), is frequently employed to address PTSD. These talk therapies help individuals process traumatic experiences and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

In some cases, medication may be used to assist in addiction treatment. FDA-approved medications like buprenorphine or methadone can be prescribed to manage opioid addiction, for instance.

Support groups and peer support can play a significant role in recovery. Sharing experiences with others who have faced similar challenges can provide valuable emotional support and encouragement.

Inpatient or outpatient rehab programs may be recommended, depending on the severity of the addiction and co-occurring mental health disorder. These programs offer a structured environment for recovery and skill-building.

Treatment plans should be tailored to each person’s unique needs and circumstances. Personalized care increases the likelihood of successful recovery.

Remember that seeking help is the first step toward recovery. If you or someone that you care about is struggling with both PTSD and addiction, reaching out to a healthcare provider or addiction specialist can lead to a comprehensive assessment and appropriate treatment planning.

image of a group of people representing treatment for alcohol addiction and ptsd

Get Treatment for Co-Occurring Alcohol & PTSD at Ohio Recovery Centers

We specialize in dual diagnosis treatment at Ohio Recovery Centers in Cincinnati, OH. If you have been grappling with alcohol use disorder and co-occurring PTSD, you can address both conditions simultaneously in an outpatient setting.

If you require a more intensive and immersive treatment experience, we offer IOPs (intensive outpatient programs), as well as traditional outpatient programs to help you initiate PTSD and addiction recovery.

All addictions are unique, so access a personalized blend of interventions that include medication-assisted treatment, psychotherapy, individual and group counseling, and a variety of holistic therapies. All Ohio Recovery Centers feature a robust aftercare component to minimize the likelihood of relapse derailing your recovery.

Call 877-679-2132 today and begin your recovery from PTSD and addiction tomorrow.

Table of Contents

an image of author Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
An image of Ohio Community Health staff

Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

An image of Ohio Community Health staff

Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

An image of Ohio Community Health staff

Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

An image of Ohio Community Health staff

Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

An image of Ohio Community Health staff

Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

An image of Ohio Community Health staff

Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

An image of Ohio Community Health staff

Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

An image of Ohio Community Health staff

Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn