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Depress Anxiety. 2010 Aug;27(8):731-6. doi: 10.1002/da.20677.

The use of alcohol and drugs to self-medicate symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.



Self-medication has been proposed as an explanation for the high rates of comorbidity between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders; however, knowledge of self-medication in PTSD is scarce. We describe the prevalence and correlates of self-medication in PTSD in the general population.


Data came from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions Wave 2 (N=34,653; response rate: 70.2%), a nationally representative survey of mental illness in community-dwelling adults. Self-medication was assessed separately for alcohol and drugs. Prevalence rates were determined for self-medication among individuals with DSM-IV PTSD. Regression analyses determined associations between self-medication and a variety of correlates, including sociodemographic factors, comorbid mental disorders, suicide attempts, and quality of life.


Approximately 20% of individuals with PTSD used substances in an attempt to relieve their symptoms. Men were significantly more likely than women to engage in self-medication behavior. In adjusted models, using illicit drugs or misusing prescription medications to control PTSD symptoms was associated with a substantially higher likelihood of dysthymia and borderline personality disorder. After controlling for mental disorder comorbidity, self-medication was independently associated with higher odds of suicide attempts (adjusted odds ratio=2.46; 95% confidence interval 1.53-3.97) and lower mental health-related quality of life.


Self-medication is a common behavior among people with PTSD in the community, yet has potentially hazardous consequences. Health care practitioners should assess reasons for substance use among people with PTSD to identify a subgroup with higher psychiatric morbidity.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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