The relationship between PTSD, drug use, and addiction is complex. It is only to fair to wonder why an individual who suffers from PTSD is at a higher risk to seek relief in drugs and alcohol. The answer lies somewhere in the chemistry of the brain.
Stress lowers the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid and increases adrenaline levels. GABA is a natural body produced sedative that can also be also be increased by using drugs that suppress the central nervous system like Marijuana, Opiates, Alcohol, and Benzodiazepines. These drugs can also increase dopamine in the brain, which is a naturally produced “feel-good” chemical.
When an individual is self-medicating, what they really are trying to do is increase GABA and dopamine in his or her body. It is an attempt to de-stress and feel happier. Unfortunately, when the drugs wear out, dopamine and GABA take a plunge, which often leaves an individual feeling even more anxious, depressed, and irritable.
This plunge leads many individuals to continue to seek out their drug of choice to get back to a more comfortable mental state. This is what begins the vicious cycle of addiction.