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Substance Use and Traumatic Stress

Decades of research have shown a strong link between traumatic stress exposure and substance use. We used to think that we had to wait to treat PTSD until people stopped using substances. Research now suggests that this is not the case.

Co-occurring PTSD and Substance Use Disorders We used to think that we had to wait to treat PTSD until people stopped using substances. See the Clinician Fact Sheet

  • Decades of research have shown that there is a strong link between trauma exposure and substance use disorders (SUDs).

  • Many people who have experienced trauma and who use substances have had early childhood traumatic stress exposures, such as childhood physical or sexual abuse. They also tend to have histories of repeated victimization.

  • People who have SUDs are also more likely to experience trauma, which may occur because they are less able to detect danger cues in their environment.

  • Together, this can lead to a vicious cycle whereby exposure to a traumatic event leads to (more) substance use, which in turn may increase risk of new trauma exposures, worsening substance use, and so on.

  • Some effective treatments address PTSD and SUD at the same time, and others address PTSD and SUD individually.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorder (SUD) often co-occur. This co-occurrence is associated with a worse, more costly, and more complex clinical course than either disorder alone. However, there are effective treatments—some for PTSD and SUD individually, and some for treating posttraumatic stress and substance use problems concurrently. In this research brief, read through curated articles on conceptual frameworks, assessment and intervention for co-occurring PTSD and SUD.

In this installment of the ISTSS podcast Trauma Talk, co-hosts Dr. Melissa Zielinski and Dr. Anne Wagner talk to Dr. Denise Hien, Dr. Sonya Norman, Dr. Sudie Back, and Dr. Debra Kaysen. Their conversation covers Substance Use Disorder (SUD) as a co-morbidity with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This expert panel will discuss the rates of comorbidity as well as how to proceed with treatment.

Note. This information was originally posted on the ISTSS website. For the original information, please click here.


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