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Veterans seeking addiction treatment are more likely to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD) compared to the general public. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), “Almost 1 out of every 3 Veterans seeking treatment for SUD also has PTSD.” West Coast Recovery Centers provides treatment to veterans struggling with co-occurring PTSD and SUD. Our clinicians use a trauma-informed approach to reduce the risk of relapse and re-traumatization.

What Are the Connections Between Substance Abuse and Co-Occurring PTSD?

SUD and PTSD share many overlapping risk factors and symptoms. PTSD increases the risk of a person developing additional mental health issues, including substance abuse and vice versa. According to the VA, “27.9% of women and 51.9% of men with lifetime PTSD also had SUD.” In addition,” A substantial majority of Veterans with PTSD have met criteria for comorbid substance use at some point.”

Some of the ways PTSD and SUD may interact and impact a person’s mental health include:

  • Substances being used as a way to cope with psychological or physical health issues, including chronic pain
  • Alcohol and drug abuse may be used in an attempt to reduce symptoms of PTSD and co-occurring disorders
  • PTSD may cause risk-taking behaviors, including substance abuse

Although PTSD and SUD are often linked, they can also develop independently. Nevertheless, simultaneous treatment for both conditions is the best way to address co-occurring SUD and PTSD.

How Does PTSD Increase a Veteran’s Risk of Developing SUD?

Veterans may have underlying trauma, chronic pain, or other issues affecting their quality of life and ability to function. Self-medicating to cope is a common reason why individuals begin to misuse alcohol or other substances. In addition, some veterans may develop a dependency on commonly overprescribed prescription medications like painkillers. According to the previously mentioned article by the VA, “Some people use drugs or alcohol to try to deal with PTSD symptoms. For example, people might use drugs to help them sleep, relax, or manage situations they would rather avoid.”

Veterans may use alcohol or drugs to manage the following symptoms of PTSD:

  • Anxiety
  • Depressive episodes
  • Dissociative events
  • Triggers related to past trauma
  • Hyperarousal
  • Specific phobias

Alcohol or drugs may also be used to cope with specific phobias affecting a person’s daily life. For example, someone with agoraphobia may self-medicate to make it easier to accomplish personal or career goals. Self-medicating is unsafe and has the potential to cause severe illness, injury, overdose, and death. In addition, even though it may seem to help in the short term, self-medicating can cause permanent health problems.

What Are Some Common Side Effects of Substance Abuse and Co-Occurring PTSD?

The side effects of co-occurring PTSD and SUD are often more severe, persistent, and complex. Both conditions exacerbate the other and may cause a significant decrease in the quality of life for some individuals. According to Current Psychiatry Reports, “Individuals with co-occurring SUD and PTSD incur heightened risk for other psychiatric problems (e.g., depression, anxiety), suicidality, neuropsychological impairment, increased morbidity and mortality, unemployment, and social impairment.”

The physical health side effects are often worse for individuals with dual diagnoses involving PTSD and SUD. Many people experience the following:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Body aches and pains, including migraines
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety

People with PTSD and SUD frequently require more time in treatment and additional levels of care to address both conditions simultaneously. The behavioral and cognitive therapies used to treat both conditions work more effectively when they are tailored to the unique needs of each client. West Coast Recovery Centers provides individualized trauma-informed care to ensure clients receive the best care possible during treatment.

Why Is It Important to Treat Co-Occurring PTSD and Substance Abuse Simultaneously?

SUD and PTSD are complicated conditions and often have multiple – sometimes unrelated – root causes. All issues related to both conditions must be addressed simultaneously during treatment to reduce the risk of relapse. However, many forms of therapy are not designed to be that wide-reaching. Often, clinicians must use a combination of tailored treatments to ensure clients receive the support they need to heal. West Coast Recovery Centers uses various therapeutic techniques and personalized care to ensure clients feel safe and comfortable during treatment, allowing them to open up and process underlying issues affecting their mental health.

What Are the Treatment Options?

Treatment for PTSD and SUD often addresses both cognitive and behavioral issues caused by both conditions. Some of the treatment options available for dual diagnosis include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Trauma-informed therapy
  • Prescription medications to manage symptoms like anxiety
  • Experiential therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Additional psychotherapies
  • Alternative holistic therapies

West Coast Recovery Centers provides individualized care to clients struggling with dual diagnosis. Treatment ensures clients have the tools and resources to recover from the side effects of PTSD and SUD.

Many veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder have co-occurring substance use disorder. Both conditions increase the risk of developing the other. In addition, the symptoms may overlap and make it more difficult for veterans to get the treatment they need to heal. An accurate diagnosis and participation in professional treatment programs provide the best outcomes for veterans experiencing PTSD and SUD. West Coast Recovery Centers offers multiple programs for effectively treating SUD and co-occurring mental health disorders. The care team uses a trauma-informed approach to care that reduces the risk of re-traumatization for veterans experiencing PTSD. To learn more about our programs and services, contact our office today at (760) 492-6509.

West Coast Recovery Centers ( 370135CP), Valid through July 31, 2025
Jackson House Visalia (540056AP), Valid through May 15, 2025
DHCS Licensing and Certification Division