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Women, PTSD & Substance Abuse

woman struggling with addiction

Women, more than men, are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Women are more susceptible to being victims of sexual assault. As opposed to men, females are more likely to condemn themselves for traumatic events.

Not all women develop PTSD after a horrifying event. Those who do usually have mental health issues like depression or anxiety, or have previously undergone a distressing event, or the incident was life threatening and/or caused injury.

According to Stephanie Covington, a highly regarded Doctorate-level licensed clinician specializing in women’s issues, trauma is not just about undergoing violence, its also about the individual’s perception of the occurrence. Poverty, race, incarceration, war or childhood abuse or neglect can lead to PTSD.

Symptoms include flashbacks of the occurrence, nightmares, a sense of alienation from the world and hyper-alertness.

Instead of defensive driving, we can call this defensive living.

This exhausting vigilance can lead to social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (constantly checking and double checking to make sure the doors are locked), and panic attacks.

These individuals feel like they are in constant danger and they must be watchful at all times. This hyper-vigilance parallels the “flight or fight” responses also found in equines and other animals.

An additional PTSD symptom is the avoidance of people, places or things that remind the individual of the traumatic circumstance.

Say, a man with long hair sexually assaulted a woman in the eighties. She experiences PTSD, and for decades after that, will panic if she sees a man who resembles her attacker. She might cope by developing addictions, including an eating disorder, sexual addiction, and/or substance abuse disorder.

Unless she gets professional help, she might spend the rest of her life caught in the throes of addiction.

There are two types of PTSD. Simple PTSD results from distress experienced by one event, such as being a first hand spectator during 9/11. Complex PTSD is the result of enduring chronic traumatic events including incest, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

So what happens next?

While men are more likely than women to develop substance abuse disorders as a result of PTSD, many women self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol to numb the intense pain. For a brief period of time, they feel a sense of euphoria.

That chemical-induced bliss is an illusion.

And it can lead to dangerous behavior.

These women, who often feel like prisoners in their own skins, transform into free and fearless entities.

And often they act out. While intoxicated, they put themselves in precarious situations that could lead to sexual assaults, and/or violence. Or they find themselves doing deadly things, like driving recklessly.

Afterwards, they feel worse than they did before. Women prone to depression will not want to get out of bed. Those who are anxious experience panic attacks or other mental health issues. And some are more numb than before.

Some women suffering from PTSD and a substance abuse disorder are hesitant to get aid. As mentioned before, women tend to blame them selves for the occurrence, and as a result they feel shame and guilt. Since many feel disconnected from other people, they feel like they are truly alone with their addiction.

Many female alcoholics and/or addicts with PTSD have self-hatred.

One thought that might go through their minds is,

Why should I get help? I don’t deserve to feel better.

Dealing with a dual diagnosis problem requires competent, clinical evidence-based treatment. Clinical methodologies including CBT, Motivational Interviewing, DBT, psychodrama, EMDR and other alternative therapies like Bio-Sound are the answer. Additionally, a strong 12-step approach will help a female addict suffering from PTSD let go of the past, and develop serenity, as a result of finding a Higher Power and working the steps. The 12-steps are not just about healing from substance abuse. The 12-steps are a blueprint for a healthier, happier life in recovery.

At Cycles of Change, we provide those services.

It’s crucial for addicts with PTSD to get the appropriate treatment.

And yes, you deserve to feel happy and healthy.

We are here for you.



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