Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction

A Comprehensive Guide

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction

A Comprehensive Guide

Table of Contents


Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can happen to anyone at any age. The National Center for PTSD reports: 1

Approximately 7 to 8 of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lifetimes.

About 3.6% of Americans had PTSD in the past year.

Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men.

Other research studies report that:2

People with PTSD often also have substance use problems requiring treatment at a rehab facility.

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

PTSD is the reaction a person has to a highly stressful event. Not everyone who is exposed to a traumatic event develops post traumatic stress disorder. Approximately 50% of adult Americans will face at least one traumatic event in their lives, but most do not then get PTSD.3

People who experience post traumatic stress disorder may have recurring scary thoughts and memories of the event. It’s normal to feel scared or shocked during and after a frightening, stressful experience. These reactions are part of our natural “fight-or-flight” response to danger. Fear creates many rapid responses in our bodies so we can defend ourselves or avoid the threat.

Most people will experience a range of reactions after trauma, but most recover on their own. The symptoms fade naturally. But there are those individuals whose symptoms persist. They may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in danger.PTSD

PTSD Risk and Resilience Factors

Risk factors for PTSD stress disorder include:

Surviving frightening and dangerous traumas 

Getting injured 

Seeing people get injured or die 

Childhood trauma 

Feeling helplessness, horror, or extreme fear

Little or no social support after the event 

Added stress after the trauma (pain, injuries, losing a loved one, job loss, losing a home)

A history of mental health illness or substance misuse/abuse

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Resilience Factors

Resilience factors for PTSD include:

Reaching out for help and support from friends and family

Going to support group meetings after the trauma

Learning how to feel good about one's actions during the traumatic event

Developing ways of dealing with the traumatic event

Learning from the trauma

Being able to act and respond in positive ways despite experiencing trauma-related fear

Common Causes of PTSD

Generally, events that cause post traumatic stress disorder include, but are not limited to:


Violent personal assaults

Natural or human-caused disasters

Other types of violence

Combat and PTSD

War is a highly stressful and dangerous experience. The stress of trying to survive mortal danger creates tremendous pressure. The shock and horror of the injuries and death war causes can stick with a person long after the war ends.

In the past, PTSD in war veterans was called shell-shock or battle fatigue. After the Vietnam war, “post-Vietnam syndrome” was the term used. It’s estimated that about 700,000 Vietnam veterans (about 25%) have needed help for problems related to combat exposure.4

Depression is the most common mental health issue along with PTSD found in military veterans.4 Major depression is 3 to 5 times more likely to develop in vets with post traumatic stress disorder than those without PTSD.4 Anxiety and substance abuse issues are also commonly seen co-occurring conditions in military veterans that have PTSD.4

Violent Personal Assaults

Violent assaults upon people, including sexual assaults, can lead to PTSD. Sexual assault is defined as when sexual contact is made without voluntary consent. It is an act that violates a person’s sense of control and choice. Violent attacks that are life-threatening, involve major force or result in physical injuries may lead to post traumatic stress disorder.


Motor vehicle accidents and other mishaps that shock or cause injury can lead to PTSD. Many victims of serious motor vehicle accidents experience violent, unexpected impacts, and sudden pain. Fear of the wreck’s results on the driver and the passengers during the episode is also stressful. These taken together can create such a high level of trauma that PTSD can be the result for some.

Natural or Human-Caused Disasters

Natural and human-made disasters can lead to many different mental and physical effects. Post traumatic stress disorder is a common post-disaster disorder. Disasters like:







Terrorist attacks

All those disasters can contribute to PTSD in the people who experience them. First responders and disaster workers who help victims are particularly vulnerable to PTSD. One study found that an average of 23% of these workers who responded to 9/11 suffered PTSD afterward.5

Signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

For a person to be diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, they must experience the following for at least a month (after one month has passed since the trauma event):

Re-experiencing Symptoms

Avoidance Symptoms

Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms

Cognition and Mood Symptoms

Physical Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Trauma Symptoms in Children

Children and teens exposed to traumatic events can develop PTSD just like adults can. Children and teens exposed to the following are at risk of post traumatic stress disorder:





Sexual abuse

Young people may exhibit symptoms differently from adults.

For children, re-experiencing symptoms can occur through play that repeats trauma-related stories as opposed to memories. Bad dreams may have general themes, rather than specific trauma-related themes.

In children ages 5 and under, these symptoms can include:

Bedwetting after being toilet-trained

Being unable to or forgetting how to speak

Acting out the frightening event repeatedly during play

Being clingy with parents or other adults

Children 6 years and older and teens typically show symptoms that are more like those seen in adults. They may also:

Become disrespectful, disruptive, or destructive

Experience guilt for not preventing injury or deaths

Having thoughts of revenge

Treatments For PTSD


For people with post traumatic stress disorder, the American Psychological Association recommends prescribing serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as: