The Link Between PTSD and Substance Use, PTSD Monthly Update - April 2019

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PTSD Monthly Update

In This Issue

Feature Topic

For Providers

Research at the Center

PTSD in the News

April 2019 Issue


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Feature Topic

The Link Between PTSD and Substance Use

Woman and man talking

The link between PTSD and substance use may be more common than you think. PTSD and substance use often go together. Many people turn to drugs, alcohol, or nicotine to try to cope with symptoms of PTSD. However, these substances could make existing PTSD symptoms worse or even lead to Substance Use Disorder (SUD) (PDF).

PTSD and Substance Misuse Can Make Symptoms Worse

Misusing alcohol and drugs can affect your health, your relationships, and your job or schooling, whether you have PTSD or not. But people with PTSD who turn to alcohol and drugs can make their symptoms worse.

  • Using drugs and alcohol to help you fall asleep can backfire. Instead of helping, drugs and alcohol change the quality of your sleep. You are likely to have a restless night and wake up feeling less refreshed.
  • Drugs and alcohol continue the cycle of avoidance found in PTSD. Avoiding bad memories and dreams or certain people and places can make PTSD last longer. People with PTSD cannot make as much progress in treatment if they continue to avoid what bothers them.

If you’re living with PTSD and SUD, you’re not alone. More than one in five Veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder, and almost one out of every three Veterans seeking treatment for SUD also have PTSD. The good news is, you can treat both PTSD and SUD at the same time.

How to Get Help for PTSD and SUD

Sonya Norman, PhD

Dr. Sonya Norman, Director of the PTSD Consultation Program at the National Center for PTSD and an expert on treating SUD in Veterans with PTSD says, "There are two effective ways to do this."

"One way is to get both problems treated at the same time, but in separate sessions. For example, you could work with a therapist trained in one of the evidence-based trauma-focused psychotherapies for PTSD in one session, and also attend an alcohol and drug treatment program for addiction."

"Another option is to get both treated at the same time, in the same appointment, with a therapy like COPE, or Concurrent Treatment of Substance Use Disorders Using Prolonged Exposure."

What is COPE?

COPE combines two effective treatments---Prolonged Exposure for PTSD and relapse prevention for addiction---in one package. Every session of the 12-week COPE program will address both problems.

"Veterans have options for how to treat their PTSD and substance use disorder," notes Dr. Norman, "The important thing is to get evidence-based treatment for both."

Good treatments are available, so don’t wait. Here are some options:

  • Every VA medical center has a SUD-PTSD Specialist who is trained to treat both conditions.
  • You can locate specialized PTSD programs and SUD programs near you with one of the VA's treatment locators.
  • The National Center for PTSD's free mobile app VetChange and self-help courses can also help you and your family cope with PTSD, SUD, and alcohol use.

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For Providers

Consult with PTSD Experts

PTSD Consultation Program

The PTSD Consultation Program offers free PTSD consultation to any provider who treats Veterans in any setting.

This program is open to Community Providers.

PTSD Lecture Series

  • April 17, 2019: PTSD Diagnostic Challenges, Matthew Friedman, MD, PhD

Register for Free CEUs

  • VA Providers: Register in TMS
  • Non-VA Providers: Register in TRAIN

Mark Your Calendar

Third Wednesday of the month at 2pm ET. Download a calendar reminder to save the date.


Sign up to receive monthly emails that include a registration link and instructions for joining the live lectures.

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Research at the Center

Topiramate and Prolonged Exposure for Alcohol Use Disorder and PTSD

National Center for PTSD researchers are in the midst of a 5 year project examining the combination of the medication topiramate and Prolonged Exposure therapy for treatment of men and women with alcohol use disorder and PTSD, in order to evaluate the reduction of both problematic drinking and PTSD symptoms.

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PTSD in the News

PTSD Treatment for Veterans Becomes More Accessible. Dr. Matthew Friedman, Senior Advisor, talks with WWNY TV about PTSD treatment availability. Read more.*

Be sure to forward this update to others so they can subscribe. We send one update per month to keep you informed of the latest PTSD developments.

Thank you,

The Staff of VA’s National Center for PTSD

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Produced by VA’s National Center for PTSD - Executive Division
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