Renaissance Ranch

The Relationship Between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction

Jun 5, 2021

Team competing in tug of war-struggle

Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD) is a disorder, not a disease — there’s a big, big difference. A disease is a dysfunction that has a preset rhythm inside the body. Meanwhile, a disorder is something external that interrupts normal functions within the body.

In layman’s terms, the disease would be like someone who pre-games and rents a box-office room for all four quarters, while a disorder would be the person who doesn’t make a courtside appearance until the game finally piques their interest. That’s what makes a disorder so wild. Not to belittle the reality of harsh disease, but a disorder is not something that a person is born with and can learn to adjust to over time. A disorder is a little more unexpected, giving its victims no prep time, which induces a whole other set of problems.

Most people don’t recognize the parallel between PTSD and addiction, but if you take a look at the science, there is a rocky relationship there that needs attention, as both hit hard later in life:

PTSD and addiction are forever in a toxic relationship, with one often onsetting the other.

The University of Adelaide hosted a study that observed the correlation between PTSD and addiction. In this study, they suggested that addiction tends to follow PTSD in an ugly, downward spiral. Think about it: PTSD is created by a traumatic experience that impacts the body and damages the brain’s healthy thought patterns. Once a person begins struggling with PTSD, they are more likely to turn to substance abuse as a way to slow the troublesome thoughts and drown the upsetting memories.

After the University of Adelaide tested over 2,000 subjects who had experienced a traumatic event that later caused clinical PTSD, they tracked the subjects’ substance abuse or lack thereof and discovered that there was indeed a direct correlation between PTSD and substance abuse.

This finding caused the University of Adelaide to suggest that medical doctors and clinical psychologists flag PTSD victims as more likely to turn to substance abuse. Taking the time to acknowledge this would enable them to provide those who suffer from PTSD with healthier resources and tools as a means of potential addiction prevention.

On the flip side, addiction can create PTSD for the substance abuser and their loved ones.

Just as traumatic experiences can lead to PTSD — and PTSD can quickly lead to a frantic search for unhealthy vices — the same can be true for the reverse. When a person turns to substances to self-medicate and finds themselves in an addicted state, it’s easy to make poor life choices. Unfortunately, these choices tend to be erratic, violent, irrational, and unhealthy for them and others.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, [and] Medicine studied the correlation between drug and alcohol abusers who turn to aggressive behavior, and their findings concluded that drugs do negatively attack the central nervous system, particularly the “aggression-specific brain mechanisms.”

This does not mean that everyone who struggles with substance abuse is a violent offender, but it does suggest that violent behavior is more likely to occur once the central nervous system has been damaged. These violent behaviors can often lead to harming oneself or others, which creates its own trigger of PTSD.

Unfortunately, there is a strong relationship between PTSD and addiction, and more often than not, it is an unhealthy one. This destructive duo not only impacts the person who is suffering but family and friends who witness the effects, as well. What makes this combination so harsh is the strong onset of both trauma and addiction. No one is born with either, but both onset together can create a catastrophe.

However, if either can recognize the threat of the other, then perhaps there is a silver lining to understanding the relationship between PTSD and addiction. Those who have suffered a traumatic experience can be aware that addiction is an easier outlet, and they can hopefully recognize the beginning stages of substance abuse before the problem grows. Likewise, individuals struggling with addiction can better understand both the physical and mental damage that substance abuse causes.

This knowledge on both sides lets medical doctors and counseling professionals recognize the best way to treat those who struggle with PTSD and/or addiction, while also allowing loved ones to better understand the physical and mental struggles the sufferer is facing.

Substance abuse can come with all sorts of other hurdles, even hurdles as extreme as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Without the right people to talk to, especially as trauma, anger, and a loss of control begin to pile high, it can be easy for relapse to seem like the easiest, quickest fix. However, here at Renaissance Ranch, we can help navigate you toward knowledgeable, compassionate professionals to talk to. Furthermore, we offer additional resources to aid in tackling both problems in a safe, healthy way that avoids a mental spiral or addiction relapse. Our friendly staff is here to offer advice and guidance as you search for the best people and resources to stay safe through the addiction recovery process. If you believe you or your loved one is struggling with PTSD and/or addiction, we are here for you. The Renaissance Ranch team can assist you through all aspects of the drug addiction recovery process. If your current safety measures aren’t working, please call us now at (801) 308-8898 to learn more about how we can help.