PTSD, Addiction, and Women – What You Need To Know

In the past, you’ve probably read, heard, or seen images in the movies about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as it relates to war and male combat veterans. But decades worth of studies and recent events, such as the #metoo movement, are now changing the national conversation and face of PTSD. An interesting article in Psychology Today states, “much trauma research focuses on male combat veterans, yet women actually have double the rate of PTSD as men. And while veterans have high rates of PTSD and deserve our attention, so do women sexual assault and abuse survivors.” 

Now that more light has been shed on women and PTSD, here are some important symptoms and risk factors you need to know about the disorder, why rates of PTSD are higher in women than men and what these statistics actually means, and how women are coping with the disorder, especially when it comes to substance abuse. 

PTSD Symptoms and Risk Factors

According to the Mayo Clinic, “PTSD is a serious condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened.” It produces lasting consequence of traumatic ordeals resulting in feelings of helplessness, intense fear, or horrors such as a sexual or physical assault, war, or an accident.

Symptoms of PTSD are often grouped into four main categories including:

  • Reliving The Trauma: those with PTSD repeatedly relive the ordeal through thoughts and memories of the trauma – these may include flashbacks, nightmares, and hallucinations.
  • Increased arousal: hypervigilance, trouble falling or staying asleep, irritability, outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating and being easily startled can result from PTSD. Physical symptoms such as increased blood pressure, rapid breathing, muscle tension, diarrhea, and nausea may also accompany these symptoms.
  • Negative Moods: These can be thoughts and feelings related to memories and blame of the traumatic event.
  • Avoidance: Those with the disorder may avoid people, places, thoughts, or situations reminding the individual of the trauma. 

However, when it comes to PTSD and women, there are emerging facts that need to be further studied and discussed in more detail in order to truly understand this trend – starting with statistics.

PTSD Facts – Women Vs. Men

An updated excerpt from the European Journal of Psychotraumatology cited in the National Institutes of Health (NIH, 2017) states that the lifetime prevalence of PTSD was found to be 5-6% in men and 10-12% in women, meaning women tend to have a two to three times higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder compared to men. And according to a massive study conducted over a 25-year period and published in the American Psychological Association (2006), it was found that PTSD in women tends to last longer and that women are more at risk for chronic PTSD than men. However, the most puzzling part about this study is that even though women have a higher rate of PTSD than men, women report about one third fewer traumas than men – meaning women are at higher risk of PTSD even though they experience fewer traumatic life events than men on average. Now, the lingering questions are, why do women experience more PTSD than men? And, are the traumas (and the effects of the traumas) different?

Why Do Women Experience More PTSD Than Men?

The answer to this question seems to lie in the types of traumas women experience as compared to men as well as how women respond to the events. In terms of types of traumas, studies have found that women experience more incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, and sexual abuse whereas men experience more accidents, combat trauma, and natural disasters.

According to the same 25-year study on women and PTSD (APA, 2006), the disorder may be diagnosed more in women because of the criteria used to define it. Cognitive and emotional responses to traumatic events make a diagnosis of PTSD more likely. So even though men may experience more traumas, they don’t seem to have the same emotional responses to traumatic events.

The updated excerpt from the European Journal of Psychotraumatology in the National Institutes of Health (NIH, 2017) further explains how women and men respond differently to traumas, “women in stressful situations may use a tend-and-befriend response rather than the fight-or-flight response that is often assumed. Emotion-focused, defensive and palliative coping are more prevalent in women, while problem-focused coping is higher in men. Women seek more social support, the lack of it being the most consistent predictor of the negative outcome of trauma.”

Coping With PTSD and Addiction 

Even though a study cited in the Office On Womens’ Health found, “women are less likely than men to have problems with alcohol or drugs after combat trauma,” women with PTSD are more likely than men to: 

  • Feel depressed and anxious
  • Be easily startled
  • Experience more trouble feeling emotions or feel numb
  • Avoid places or things that remind them of the trauma

In many cases, for both men and women, post-traumatic stress disorder co-occurs with a substance use disorder or addiction. Those living with PTSD sometimes use drugs or alcohol as a way to deal with their feelings of hopelessness, fear and trauma. The hopeful news? When conditions like PTSD are appropriately diagnosed, and treated, the likelihood of addiction recovery increases. 

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders and Addiction

Do not let the stigma surrounding PTSD and addiction interfere with getting help. Both conditions must be treated simultaneously as a dual diagnosis for the best results in recovery. If you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD and a substance use disorder or addiction, get help now. PTSD and a co-occurring substance use disorder or addiction is treatable and recovery is possible.


Burning Tree West ensures clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact one of our recovery experts today at 888-530-9424.