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Understanding the Relationship Between PTSD and Addiction

For those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, addiction may be a greater struggle. PTSD and addiction are often linked and may seem impossible to separate, but when you understand the relationship between addiction and PTSD you will be able to change your mindset and find the right help. 

In this article, we will discuss the definition and symptoms of PTSD and explain the complex relationship between addiction, PTSD, and ultimately, recovery. Remember, if you need help finding drug addiction treatment in Tampa, reach out to the team of specialists at Phoenix House Florida.

Definition and Symptoms of PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often depicted as something that only war heroes experience, but the actual disorder is much more common, and complicated, than that. PTSD can occur in people who have experienced a variety of traumas, or even who have witnessed something traumatic. 

Symptom patterns are clustered into criterion from DSM-5:

  • Criterion A refers to the exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. These can either be directly or indirectly (e.g., learning of a traumatic event of a family member) experienced.
  • Criterion B includes intrusion symptoms. These may be recurrent or intrusive memories or dreams, and may include flashbacks.
  • Criterion C includes avoidance symptoms. This is demonstrated by persistent effortful avoidance of distressing trauma-related stimuli after the event (e.g., people, places, conversations, situations). Alcoholism and drug abuse fall into the category of avoidance symptoms, as the individual may use these chemicals to avoid memories or to numb fear.
  • Criterion D includes negative alterations in cognitions and mood. These changes in mood occur or worsen after the trauma and may include persistent and distorted negative beliefs, self-blame, lack of interest in former interests, feeling separate from others, and feeling emotionally flat.
  • Criterion E includes alterations in arousal and reactivity that began or worsened after the trauma. These include irritability, recklessness, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, poor concentration, and poor sleep.
  • Criterion F refers to these symptoms lasting more than 1 month.
  • Criterion G notes that these symptoms must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
  • Criterion H highlights that these disturbances are not due to the effects of a substance or another medical condition. In other words, the PTSD symptoms arise independently from any physiological effects of using drugs, alcohol, or medication.

In other words, people suffering from PTSD are always in a state of “fight or flight” and experience heightened panic, anxiety, and physical symptoms of stress and fear.

The Relationship Between Addiction and PTSD

Because people suffering from PTSD are in a constant state of fight or flight, they may be more likely to attempt to self-medicate in order to dull those panic reactions and sensations. Unfortunately, these can quickly turn into addictive behaviors. Further, the use of alcohol and drugs may actually worsen symptoms of PTSD, leading to a cycle of addiction. 

Treating the trauma alone is not enough to stop addictive behaviors. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, drug and alcohol treatment centers in Tampa can help. In-person and virtual recovery meetings, as well as telehealth services are available through Phoenix House Florida. Remember, addiction is a disease and may require treatment from professionals. 


If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, speak with a specialist regarding drug addiction treatment in Tampa. To schedule a consultation with Phoenix House Florida, please request an appointment today.

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are for general educational purposes only. All content and media on the Phoenix House Florida website does not constitute professional medical advice nor is the information intended to replace the services provided by Phoenix House Florida or other qualified medical professionals. If you believe you are having a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.

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