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Alcohol and Substance Abuse in PTSD - Topic Overview

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 worse.

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Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive mental health services, including screening tests for depression and alcohol misuse, at no cost to you. Learn more.

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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 become 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?

Not 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 calculator.gif or reply to the statements below to see if you have a problem with drugs or alcohol.

Behavior change

My drinking or drug use has:

  • Made me more aggressive or mean.
  • 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 problems.
  • Interfered with how well I do at work.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 09, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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