Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Alcohol and Substance Abuse in PTSD
After you've been through a traumatic event, you may be tempted to
use alcohol or drugs as a way to cope. Some people with
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) try to deal with
their symptoms this way.
Taking alcohol or drugs to deal with
stressful emotions is called self-medication. This may make you feel better for
a while, but in the long run it will do more harm than good. Alcohol and drugs
can make it harder to enjoy life, and they can keep you from taking care of
your responsibilities. Using alcohol can even make your PTSD symptoms
Taking alcohol or drugs may lead to
substance abuse. This is when alcohol or drugs cause
problems in your life. Substance abuse may hurt your relationships with friends
and family members, and it may cause problems at work. It also may lead to
serious health problems.
If you use alcohol or drugs, you may
dependent. This means that you can't quit, or you have
withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit. Withdrawal may cause you to feel sick
or shaky. Also, when you become dependent, you may have to use more alcohol or
drugs to get the same effect.
everyone with PTSD has a problem with drinking or using drugs, but having PTSD
makes it more likely that a problem will develop.footnote 1 You
may not know if drinking or drug use is a problem for you. It may happen very
slowly so that you don't notice it, or it may be part of another activity and
isn't obvious. For example, you may spend Saturdays watching football and
drinking with your friends. You may not see that the alcohol is more important to
you than the football.
Drinking or using drugs is a problem if it
causes your behavior to change or changes how you use alcohol or drugs.
Take this test or reply to the statements below to see if you have a problem with
drugs or alcohol.
My drinking or drug use has:
Your reasons to drink or use drugs and how much you use them can indicate
At times you may try to convince yourself that you don't
have a problem. This may keep you from getting the help you need. You may tell
yourself or others things like:
If any of these statements are true, you may be
developing or already have a problem with alcohol or drugs.
Admitting you need help is very hard.
It may be tough to seek help because you feel shame or guilt, or because you
have doubts about whether you can stop. Remember that many people have beaten
alcohol or drug problems, and all have started with these feelings and
If you feel you are drinking or using drugs because of
PTSD, be sure to tell the people who are helping you.
For more information, see the topics
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and
Alcohol Abuse and Dependence.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2011). PTSD and problems with alcohol use. A National Center for PTSD fact sheet. Available online: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/ptsd-alcohol-use.asp.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerJessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Current as ofNovember 20, 2015
Current as of:
November 20, 2015
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Jessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
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