PTSD Coping Self-Medicating Is a Risky Form of Self-Treatment for PTSD By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD Twitter Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. Learn about our editorial process Updated on January 22, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Dave and Les Jacobs / Getty Images People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) commonly use or abuse drugs and/or alcohol. This self-treatment with substances, known as self-medicating, may help to explain the high rates of substance use disorders among people with PTSD. PTSD and Substance Use Statistics In the United States, 6-8% of adults in the general population have PTSD.10-30% of veterans have PTSD.Among those with lifetime PTSD, approximately 46% also have a drug or alcohol use disorder.People with PTSD are up to 14 times more likely to develop a substance use disorder compared to people who don't have a PTSD diagnosis. The high rate of co-occurrence between PTSD and substance use has caused researchers to take interest in better understanding the relationship in hope of developing more effective, targeted, treatments. Substance Use as Self-Treatment Substance use disorders are more likely to follow the development of PTSD, suggesting having PTSD somehow increases a person's risk for substance use problems. One major theory about the relationship between PTSD and substance use is that a person's drugs or alcohol use is motivated by their desire to escape or numb the distressing symptoms of PTSD. This is known as self-medicating. Researchers have found specific relationships between certain PTSD symptoms and the types of substances used. For example, the severity of hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD is strongly connected with the use of substances that have a depressant or anti-anxiety effect, such as alcohol or marijuana. Why People With PTSD Use Marijuana to Cope Other Theories Regarding the Relationship Between PTSD and Substance Use It's important to note, however, that self-medication is not the only theory as to why PTSD and substance use is related (however, this theory has the most evidence to date). Other possible connections between PTSD and substance use disorders aside from self-medicating include: Using substances may increase the chance someone will experience traumatic events, which in turn could lead to the development of PTSD.Some people may have an underlying genetic vulnerability for developing both substance use disorders and PTSD. Consequences of Self-Treating PTSD With Substances If you turn to drugs or alcohol (or both) when you're dealing with PTSD, it may initially help you feel less distressed. However, in the long-run, self-medicating can cause many serious problems. Substance use is a short-term fix. Your PTSD symptoms may come back stronger, resulting in an increased desire to use substances. Additionally, if you have PTSD and a substance use disorder, you're at increased risk of experiencing a number of negative consequences, such as: Depression Relationship problems Anxiety Legal problems Medical problems Inpatient psychiatric hospitalization Suicide attempts If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. Getting Help Instead of Self-Treating PTSD People with PTSD want to alleviate the distress that results from symptoms, but substance use is not the answer. Specialized treatments for PTSD and substance use disorders have been developed and can help people cope. One popular and well-established treatment is Seeking Safety, which can people understand the relationship between PTSD and substance use. It can also provide additional skills for managing distressing PTSD symptoms, which will decrease a person's reliance on drugs and alcohol to cope. How PTSD Is Treated Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Flanagan JC, Korte KJ, Killeen TK, Back SE. Concurrent treatment of substance use and PTSD. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2016;18(8):70. doi:10.1007/s11920-016-0709-y Korte KJ, Bountress KE, Tomko RL, Killeen T, Moran-santa maria M, Back SE. Integrated treatment of PTSD and substance use disorders: the mediating role of PTSD improvement in the reduction of depression. J Clin Med. 2017;6(1). doi:10.3390/jcm6010009 Mccauley JL, Killeen T, Gros DF, Brady KT, Back SE. Posttraumatic stress disorder and co-occurring substance use disorders: advances in assessment and treatment. Clin Psychol (New York). 2012;19(3). doi:10.1111/cpsp.12006 By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for PTSD Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.