When it comes to treating addiction and substance abuse, it’s important to understand that these issues are rarely, if ever, in a vacuum. In other words, it’s very rare for a serious substance abuse problem to develop on its own – often, those who struggle with addiction are looking for a way to self-medicate and treat other, undiagnosed mental health issues.


This is especially common in cases of PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) and past trauma. Information published in America has found that nearly 50-66% of all individuals with PTSD will also battle substance abuse at some point in their lifetimes.

In addition, it’s been found in studies of the South African population that the lifetime prevalence of PTSD is about 2.3%, and the overall rate of lifetime substance use among South Africans is 13.3%. Not only that, but about 11.2% of the population suffered from at least one or more mental health disorder – particularly those who were dependent on substances like alcohol and drugs.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the link between PTSD, trauma, and substance abuse, and explain how those who are struggling with their past psychological trauma can find help and relief through rehabilitation – rather than turning to alcohol or dangerous, illicit drugs.

It’s Easy For Those Suffering From PTSD And Trauma To Turn To Substance Abuse


According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, those who are suffering from PTSD due to past traumas may try to mitigate and deal with their painful PTSD re-experiences, panic attacks and loneliness by self-medicating. Most often, this takes the form of alcohol, but a variety of both prescription and illegal drugs can also be used to help self-medicate.

The goal of this “self-medication” is typically to “blunt” and deaden the emotions and feelings caused by the traumatic event, which may help temporarily mitigate suffering, and assist the individual in “forgetting” about their trauma, even temporarily.

Part of the reason that so many people choose to self-medicate and attempt to numb their negative feelings and trauma on their own is because of the shame that is often a part of PTSD. Shame is a very common emotion after traumatic exposure.

Survivor’s Guilt, Shame, And A Failure To Get Proper Treatment

When a person is part of a shocking or devastating event – a shooting that kills other people, but leaves them alive, for example – they may feel ashamed about surviving. This survivor’s guilt is one of the most dangerous parts of PTSD. The person who went through a traumatic event may believe they didn’t “deserve” to live, and feel ashamed.

This shame can lead to an inability to seek proper mental health treatment. The person who has PTSD may see working with a psychologist or mental health professional as a sign of weakness – or they may just be so ashamed about their trauma that they do not want to discuss it with anyone.

This is not limited to people who survive a life-threatening event, either. Those who have been traumatized due to assault or sexual assault, combat situations, car accidents and more may feel similar feelings of shame or embarrassment.

The Availability Of Care And South African Attitudes Towards Mental Health


Another factor that leads to those with trauma and PTSD choosing to self-medicate is the poor overall state of mental health treatment in South Africa. The proper therapeutic treatment is often unaffordable or unavailable to individuals who are suffering from PTSD.

According to a recent study, more than 1 in 6 South Africans suffer from a mental health disorder, and only about 16% of those who suffer from a serious mental illness are receiving the appropriate therapeutic treatment. In addition, only 27% of South Africans who self-report serious mental illness ever seek treatment.

For cultural reasons, as well as financial and social reasons, many South Africans simply do not get the help they need – and some live in areas where mental health treatments may just be unavailable, or where long waiting lists make it difficult to get proper care.

Help Is Not Far Away – Rehabilitation Centres Can Help

If you are suffering from past trauma, PTSD, and substance abuse and you’re reading this article, you’re taking the right first step. Admitting your diagnosis and your need for help is the first – and hardest – part of getting the care you need.

The first step should be to get help from medical professionals and/or a rehabilitation centre. It is very difficult to treat the underlying causes of PTSD and trauma while also dealing with a substance abuse problem – so getting clean and sober should be your first goal.

Depending on the severity of your addiction and substance abuse, you may be able to go to an outpatient clinic, or be better served with a live-in, clean and sober environment. We recommend contacting a doctor for a recommendation and to understand your options for treating your trauma, mental health issues, and substance abuse.

Don’t wait, and don’t let substance abuse interfere with your ability to heal. By treating your trauma and PTSD, rehabilitation centres can help treat the root cause of your addiction – and help you break the vicious cycle of addiction. Find a rehabilitation centre near you now. Contact rehab cape town if you are looking for the very best in-patient treatment option available or our recommended list of Rehabs in the UK.