Some people try to cope with their Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD) symptoms by drinking heavily, using drugs, or smoking too much.
People with PTSD have more problems with drugs and alcohol both before
and after getting PTSD. Also, even if someone does not have a problem
with alcohol before a traumatic event, getting PTSD increases the risk
that he or she will develop a drink or drug problem. Eventually, the
overuse of these substances can develop into Substance Misuse Disorder
(SMD), and treatment should be given for both PTSD and SMD to lead to
successful recovery. The good news is that treatment of co-occurring
(happening at the same time) PTSD and SMD works.
How common is co-occurring PTSD and SMD in Veterans?
Studies show that there is a strong relationship between PTSD and
SMD, in both civilian and military populations, as well as for both men
Specific to Veterans:
More than 2 of 10 Veterans with PTSD also have SMD.
Veterans with PTSD and alcohol problems tend to be binge drinkers.
Binges may be in response to bad memories of combat trauma.
Almost 1 out of every 3 Veterans seeking treatment for SMD also has PTSD.
number of Veterans who smoke (nicotine) is almost double for those with
PTSD (about 6 of 10) versus those without a PTSD diagnosis (3 of 10).
In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 1 in 10 returning soldiers have a problem with alcohol or other drugs.
How can co-occurring PTSD and SMD create problems?
If someone has both PTSD and SMD, it is likely that he or she also
has other health problems (such as physical pain), relationship problems
(with family and/or friends), or problems in functioning (like keeping a
job or staying in school). Using drugs and/or alcohol can make PTSD
PTSD may create sleep problems (trouble falling asleep or waking
up during the night). There can also be a high prevalence to Night
Terrors which, can involve the individual reliving the experiences via
sleep and studies have shown that lack of sleep can trigger or
exacerbate issues of mental illness. You might ‘medicate’ yourself with
alcohol or drugs because you think it helps your sleep, but drugs and
alcohol change the quality of your sleep and make you feel less
refreshed and more mentally unstable triggering symptoms of mental
illness such as anxiety, paranoia and lack of motivation/concentration.
makes you feel ‘numb,’ like being cut off from others, angry and
irritable, or depressed. PTSD also makes you feel like you are always
‘on guard.’ All of these feelings can get worse when you use drugs and
Drug and alcohol use allows you to continue the
cycle of ‘avoidance’ found in PTSD. Avoiding bad memories and dreams or
people and places can actually make PTSD last longer and have a greater
impact on the individual. You cannot make as much progress in treatment
if you avoid your problems.
You may drink or use drugs
because it distracts you from your problems for a short time, but drugs
and alcohol make it harder to concentrate, be productive, and enjoy all
parts of your life. Addiction also brings about other issues for the
individual as issues can then impact on others such as family members or
What treatments are offered for co-occurring PTSD and SMD?
Evidence shows that in general people have improved PTSD and SMD
symptoms when they are provided treatment and support that addresses
both conditions. This can involve any of the following (alone or
Individual or group LEAP programme
Specific psychological treatments for PTSD,working
Medications that may help you manage the PTSD or SMD symptoms
Being around others who are/have experienced similar issues, taking away taboo’s or feeling alone in one's experiences
Talk to Lighthouse about their recovery programme for specific symptoms like pain, anger, or sleep problems.