PTSD and substance use often go together. Many people turn to drugs, alcohol, or nicotine to try to cope with symptoms of PTSD. However, substances can make existing PTSD symptoms worse or even lead to Substance Use Disorder (SUD).
Alcohol and drugs can affect health, relationships, work and education, whether you have PTSD or not. But people with PTSD who turn to alcohol and drugs can make their symptoms worse.
Using drugs and alcohol to help you fall asleep can backfire. Instead of helping, drugs and alcohol change the quality of your sleep.
While alcohol might make you drowsy and help with sleep onset, you are likely to have a restless night and wake up feeling less refreshed, because of the effects on later stages of sleep.
Similarly, drugs and alcohol continue the cycle of avoidance characteristic in PTSD.
Avoiding bad memories and dreams or certain experiences by using substances to “take the edge off” can make PTSD last longer. People with PTSD cannot make as much progress in treatment if they continue to avoid what bothers them.
If you’re living with PTSD and having difficulties with substance use or even experiencing SUD, you’re not alone. The good news is, you can treat both Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and substance use difficulties at the same time.
About Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health problem that can develop following traumatic experiences (such as threatened or actual – death, serious accident or sexual violation).
This might include directly experiencing a traumatic event; seeing this happen to someone else; learning about an actual or threatened traumatic death of a close friend or relative; or repeated exposure to distressing details of an event, such as a police officer repeatedly hearing details about child sexual abuse.
Distressing memories, feeling on edge or have trouble sleeping after this type of event is normal. Initially it may be hard to resume normal daily activities without these experiences interfering. However, most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months. If however, several months later someone is still experiencing these symptoms, it is possible that they have PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD however can also have a delayed onset, and they may ebb and flow over time depending upon other life events and circumstances.