Can PTSD Lead to Substance Abuse?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs when a person has sustained difficulty recovering from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Trauma can include illness, a near-death experience, a car crash, violence, military combat, and more. There is a clear timeline of the event that sets it apart from the rest of a person’s memories. Some people turn to harmful substances to try to cope with their PTSD.


Symptoms of PTSD

People may experience a variety of physical and psychological symptoms. These symptoms can vary in intensity. The onset of symptoms also varies. For example, for some, PTSD may begin within a month of the traumatic experience. For others, PTSD may not begin for several years.

There are four groupings of PTSD symptoms:

  1. Flashbacks of the traumatic experience. This means the original trauma can be relived both mentally and physically. This can cause sweating, heart palpitations, nightmares, and frightening thoughts.
  2. Avoidance is another symptom of PTSD. The person suffering may avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event, as well as anything, anyone, or any place associated with the event.
  3. People may be on guard for danger, easily startled, surprised, or tense. This can lead to difficulty sleeping, irritable or angry outbursts, and engaging in self-destructive behavior.
  4. Feelings of hopelessness is the final grouping of PTSD symptoms. These can include negative thoughts about yourself, others, or the world. People may experience memory problems, feelings of detachment, trouble experiencing positive emotions, lack of interest in activities, and an overall feeling of numbness.


How Trauma Can Lead to Substance Abuse

PTSD cannot be pushed down and avoided forever. Some people try to avoid dealing with PTSD, whereas others may not even recognize they are suffering from it. In those cases, it is a family member or loved one who initially notices changes in the person’s behavior.  PTSD can disrupt a person’s daily living, their job, and their relationships, making it difficult to function normally.

It can be extremely difficult to experience a traumatic event. It can be even more difficult to relive it again and again. The fear, discomfort, and overwhelming feeling of guilt and shame have been known to contribute to an increased risk of substance abuse. Many people turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to numb their feelings.



It is crucial to properly diagnose a person so they can get the treatment they need. This is the first step. Many people who rely on substances to dull the symptoms of PTSD have never been properly diagnosed in the first place. For the best chance at a sober life and the tools needed to deal with PTSD connected to substance use, contact us at Holland Pathways. We are here to help.