Facing a traumatic experience changes a person’s life. They develop fears and paranoia that never occurred before the traumatic experience, and it impacts their mental health and well-being. In some situations, post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, develops after the experience and it contributes to a substance use disorder or addiction.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (1) reports that almost 50 percent of women and 60 percent of men face at least one traumatic experience in their lifetime. Sometimes, that traumatic experience directly causes addiction.

What is Trauma?

The American Psychological Association (2) says that trauma refers to an emotional response after a terrible event occurs. The terrible event does not always refer to extreme situations; instead, it refers to any life event that causes a severe shock.

Traumatic events among civilians include:

  • Severe car accidents
  • Physical assaults or attacks
  • Rape
  • Child abuse
  • Domestic violence and abuse
  • Natural disasters, like an earthquake or flood
  • A fire in your home
  • Any event that causes a severe physical injury

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (1) suggests that traumatic experiences impact each individual in different ways.

Generally, people recover from a traumatic experience after a period of time. Unfortunately, 7 to 8 percent of individuals develop PTSD after a traumatic experience and face severe anxiety, depression or other symptoms, says the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (1).

Symptoms of trauma and PTSD include:

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fears
  • Paranoia
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships or strained relationships
  • Flashbacks
  • Mood swings

The symptoms associated with PTSD impact normal activities and a person’s lifestyle. In some situations, it directly causes addiction and any related mental health conditions that occur.

Trauma and Addiction

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (3) says that individuals misuse alcohol or other substances after a traumatic event to relieve PTSD and trauma symptoms. Instead of facing the symptoms and working through the problems associated with the experience, individuals attempt to self-medicate by using drugs or alcohol.

Psych Central (4) says that 24 percent of men and 33 percent of women who drink alcohol excessively report physical violence in their history. Roughly 49 percent of women and 12 percent of men who show signs of alcohol addiction were sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetime, which compares to roughly 6 percent in the general population, says Psych Central (4).

Dangers of Substance Use After a Traumatic Experience

According to Web MD (5), self-medication does not help with trauma symptoms and actually makes the situation worse over time. It alienates individuals from their loved ones and makes them shy away from their support system. Addiction raises physical and emotional health concerns that change the way that people think and behave. Some substances cause severe paranoia, hallucinations, or related responses that worsen the symptoms associated with traumatic experiences and PTSD, which causes a downward spiral into chemical dependence and addiction.

Substance use does not help PTSD symptoms. It makes the symptoms worse and causes more challenges in daily life. Ultimately, the drug use harms relationships, career, and lifestyle.

Recovering from substance use and addiction requires a personalized treatment program. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation.


  1. How Common is PTSD?, The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, November 10, 2014,,
  2. Trauma, The American Psychological Association,,
  3. Joseph Volpicelli, M.D., Ph.D., Geetha Balaraman, Julie Hahn, Heather Wallace, M.A., and Donald Bux, Ph.D., The Role of Uncontrollable Trauma in the Development of PTSD and Alcohol Addiction, The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,,
  4. David Sack, M.D., Emotional Trauma: An Often Overlooked Root of Addiction, Psych Central, May 2, 2012,,
  5. Alcohol and Substance Abuse in PTSD – Topic Overview, Web MD,