Looks at the problem of using alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Covers when alcohol or drug use becomes a problem. Includes a test to see if you have a problem with alcohol or drugs and steps for getting help.
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.
Is alcohol or drug use a problem for me?
everyone with PTSD has a problem with drinking or using drugs, but having PTSD
makes it more likely that a problem will develop.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:
Made me more aggressive or
Interfered with personal obligations, like taking care of my
family or working.
Put me in danger. For example, I have used drugs
or alcohol before driving or operating machinery.
Led to legal
Interfered with how well I do at work.
Using alcohol or drugs
Your reasons to drink or use drugs and how much you use them can indicate
My friends or family members have said something to me
about how often I drink or use drugs.
I sometimes feel guilty about
drinking or using drugs.
I drink or use drugs to cope with stress
or my problems.
I am drinking more or using more drugs than I used
I have wanted to or tried several times to cut down on how much I use alcohol or
I spend a lot of time getting alcohol or
I need to drink more or use more drugs to get the same
I am sick when I try to stop drinking or using
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:
"I just drink beer or wine."
"I don't use hard
"I'm not an alcoholic."
"I gave it up for 3
weeks last year."
"I don't drink every day."
never missed a day of work."
"I'm not as bad as my
"I can handle it."
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.
Talk to your doctor. Be honest about your use.
Your doctor can help you find counseling, group support, or another type of
Call an alcohol or drug treatment program. You
can get education and other kinds of therapy.
Talk to someone in your family or a close friend. Your loved ones can provide support
and help you find treatment.
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.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.