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PTSD and Substance Abuse

June 27th, 2018

June 27th as been designated as National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day.


PTSD is a condition that causes an individual to feel extreme amounts of stress and anxiety after being involved in a traumatic event. Any event that leaves an individual with intense feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability may lead to PTSD Some of the most common events include:

  • Military Combat
  • Childhood Abuse
  • Natural Disasters
  • Violent assault
  • Sexual Trauma and Abuse

Who Suffers from PTSD

The National Center for PTSD approximates:

  • 60 percent of men will endure at least one traumatic event in their lives.   
  • 50 percent of women will endure at least one traumatic event in their lives.

Yet, in the United States:

  • 4 percent of men will struggle with PTSD, at some point in their lives.
  • 10 percent of women will struggle with PTSD, at some point in their lives.

About PTSD

During a traumatic event, the brain chemicals are released to stimulate the “fight-or-flight” response. This flood of chemicals elevates  heart and respiratory rates, heightens focus and attention. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. The following factors have been identified to increase the risk of PTSD, by The National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Living through dangerous events/traumas
  • Getting hurt
  • Seeing another person hurt
  • Trauma throughout childhood
  • Feeling horror, helplessness or extreme fear
  • Receiving little to no support after trauma
  • Dealing with additional stress after trauma (i.e. loss of a loved one, home or job)
  • History of mental illness or substance abuse

Those suffering from PTSD, may have the same extreme reaction to memories or similar events occurring in their life, even when there is no real danger. Flashbacks, severe anxiety, depression, aggression, angry outbursts, and avoidance are all common symptoms that someone suffering from PTSD may experience.

Substance Abuse and PTSD

Due to the intense nature of these symptoms, as well as the unpredictability of when they may strike, individuals with PTSD have a higher chance of developing substance abuse disorder. TIME reports that 50-66% of people suffering from PTSD also battle some type of drug or alcohol addiction.

Individuals may use drugs or alcohol to cope with the symptoms of PTSD, which only provide temporary relief. Once the substance wears off the symptoms of PTSD generally get worse, creating a dangerous cycle.

Individuals with PTSD who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol are more likely to engage in high risk activities, which can lead to legal problems, incarceration, family problems, and unemployment.

The National Institutes of Health suggests that variances from the same part of the brain that makes a person more susceptible to developing PTSD may be like those that predispose a person to addiction suggesting that substance abuse may contribute to the development of PTSD just as PTSD can cause a person to abuse drugs and alcohol to cope and self-medicate. (American addiction centers)


If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, Fieldview™ at Holland is here to help.
Reach out today.



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