Alcohol and Substance Use in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Alcohol and Substance Use in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can happen after a traumatic event. This is a very upsetting event that you see or that happens to you or a loved one. A sexual assault, a car crash, a natural disaster, and war are examples of this type of event.

PTSD affects people in different ways. It can get in the way of school or work. It can also make you withdraw from friends or loved ones. Some people use alcohol or drugs to help relieve their symptoms. This can lead to problems.

If you have PTSD and use alcohol or drugs, you're more likely to get a substance use disorder. Like PTSD, a substance use disorder is a mental health condition. It affects your brain and behaviour. When you have this condition, it's very hard to control your use of substances. Substances include alcohol, drugs, and prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Symptoms of substance use disorder

The more symptoms of substance use disorder you have, the more severe it may be. Symptoms include:

  • Using larger amounts of the substance than you ever meant to.
  • Using the substance for a longer time than you ever meant to.
  • Being unable to cut down or control your use, or constantly wishing you could.
  • Spending a lot of time getting or using the substance or recovering from the effects.
  • Having strong cravings for the substance.
  • Using the substance even though it gets in the way of work or school.
  • Not doing important activities because of your substance use.
  • Using substances in situations where doing so is dangerous.
  • Using the substance even though it's causing health or relationship problems.
  • Needing more and more of the substance to get the same effect, or getting less effect from the same amount over time (tolerance).
  • Having uncomfortable symptoms when you stop using the substance or use less (withdrawal).

Caring for yourself

If you have been diagnosed with PTSD and are concerned about your use of alcohol, drugs, or other substances, there are some things you can do.

  • Learn about PTSD.

    This can help you better understand how and why it affects you. You may also learn about healthy ways to manage PTSD.

  • Learn about substance use disorder.

    You could learn about the symptoms. And it may be helpful to understand how PTSD and substance use disorder are connected.

  • Talk to your doctor about your concerns.

    You could ask your doctor about treatments that help with both PTSD and substance use disorder.

  • If you don't have a counsellor, consider finding one.

    A counsellor can help you process your experiences and learn skills to cope. Look for a counsellor who has experience helping people with PTSD and substance use disorder.

  • Seek support.

    Ask for help from people who understand what you're going through and who care about you. This could be a support group for people with PTSD and substance use disorder. It could also be close family members or friends that you trust.

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed.

    Call your doctor if you're having a problem with any medicines.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away.

  • Call Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645 (4 p.m. to midnight ET).
  • Kids or teens can call Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868.
  • Go to the Talk Suicide Canada website at or the Kids Help Phone website at for more information.


Current as of: October 20, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Jessica Hamblen PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Andrew Littlefield PhD - Psychology, Behavioral Health
Lesley Ryan MD - Family Medicine
Donald Sproule MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine