PTSD and Addiction


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after exposure to trauma. It is characterized by symptoms like nightmares, intrusive negative thinking, pervasive memories of the event, and hypersensitivity to triggers from the experience. PTSD can worsen over time and become debilitating, impairing a person’s ability to function in his or her daily life. A study from the Journal of Clinical Medicine reveals that PTSD is one of the most common mental health conditions: 6-8% of the US population will deal with this disorder at some point in their lives.


Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD. The likelihood of developing this condition may depend on someone’s personality, background, environment, and the degree of trauma that he or she has experienced.

How Is PTSD Connected to Addiction?

A study published in Current Psychiatry Reports states that 50% of individuals with a substance use disorder also have PTSD. One reason for this is because individuals may be self-medicating their PTSD symptoms through the excessive use of alcohol or drugs. In fact, the study says that PTSD symptoms have been shown to coincide with cravings for alcohol. 

Research cited in the study reveals that PTSD and addiction tend to worsen together when untreated — and improve together when treated. When individuals receive treatment for addiction, they also see improvement in their PTSD symptoms, even if they are not treated specifically for PTSD.

Veterans are a population particularly vulnerable to developing PTSD alongside an addiction. The US Department of Veterans Affairs states that one in five veterans with PTSD also has a substance use disorder, and nearly one in three veterans seeking treatment for substance use has PTSD. According to the Journal of Clinical Medicine study referenced earlier, 10-30% of veterans will meet the criteria for PTSD in their lifetime.

Common Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD does not always develop immediately after a traumatic experience, and symptoms that arise may worsen over time. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the following are common symptoms of PTSD:


Experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive memories of the traumatic event

Disassociation, which includes emotional numbness and avoidance of people and places that remind one of the traumatic event

Hyperarousal, which may include restlessness, insomnia, inability to focus, and the ability to become angry or irritated very quickly


To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must be experiencing these symptoms for a thirty day period following the traumatic event. This is a summary of criteria for the condition; a therapist will evaluate full DSM-5 criteria to make a clinical diagnosis. 


In severe cases, individuals who are triggered may fall back into their memory and act as if they were reliving the event. They may endure bouts of extreme paranoia and even hallucinations. 


In life-threatening or harmful events that cause trauma, our body’s “fight or flight” response is triggered. We gain a surge of survival energy in order to escape or defend ourselves. However, sometimes we freeze in the moment, or we are unable to defend ourselves even if we try. When this happens, that survival energy becomes “trapped” in our bodies and minds, affecting the way we think about ourselves and the world. Our bodies may continue to re-trigger signals from the traumatic experience, leaving us either detached or hypersensitive, unable to restore a normal connection between our mental state and physical being. Treatment for PTSD is fundamentally about restoring the mind-body connection to a healthy status and providing a path for that pent-up survival energy to be released.


It is important to note that not all trauma arises from singular events; some trauma may be accumulated over time through abuse or neglect that happened continually and was not necessarily tied to a particular time or place.

The BeWell team develops a safe environment for open communication between providers, family, and other resources of care in our clients’ lives while they are under our care and well after they discharge.

Throughout an individual’s treatment, our team model healthy boundaries and provide integrative, wrap-around care. Our evidence-based practices and multiple therapeutic relationships help to break the bonds of trauma that are harmful to ongoing wellness.

Treatment for PTSD and Addiction


There are a number of different approaches for treating PTSD and addiction. During addiction treatment, individuals will discover how to examine their reasons for using substances and create their own goals for becoming healthy. They will learn new coping skills for managing anxiety, depression, and negative thinking that can also help them manage symptoms of PTSD. 


Trauma resolution in a compassionate environment, with guidance from a licensed therapist, can help individuals move past years of pain, reducing symptoms and the compulsion to use substances to self-medicate. Positive connections with treatment center staff and support from peers who are on the same journey can make a significant difference in a person’s ability to heal from both addiction and PTSD. 


At BeWell Network, we utilize a trauma-informed care approach that is evidence-based and allows us to find safe pathways into the psyche for trauma resolution. We do not attempt to re-trigger trauma or coerce the disclosure of traumatic storylines. We promote healing through methods such as Somatic Experiencing, experiential therapies, individual therapy, and group support. We curate treatment experiences for our clients to meet their individual needs and encourage ownership of their personal journey to wellness.

Help for PTSD and Addiction at BeWell Network

In addition to being key to initial recovery, trauma resolution is also instrumental in preventing relapse. With a greater understanding of the experiences that have shaped their lives, a changed perspective, and a new path to follow, individuals can actively avoid relapse triggers. They can overcome obstacles with new coping skills and rely on a healthy support system. They can rediscover their authentic selves, have healthy relationships, and learn to love their lives without feeling compelled to use substances. 

Help for Trauma and Addiction at BeWell Network

BeWell Network is a family of evidence-based treatment centers. We help individuals suffering from addiction find the path to recovery, offering customized treatment experiences for the restoration of the mind, body, and spirit. If you or a loved one is seeking therapy for trauma and addiction, please get in touch with our team today. We can assess your situation and recommend treatment options, verifying your benefits for free. We have a no-hassle billing process and are committed to providing treatment designed specially for you. 

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