Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a highly prevalent condition in the United States and worldwide. It also has unique links to substance abuse and addiction — trauma forces people to find a coping method. Also, people who come from communities or homes where drug and alcohol abuse is common are more likely to experience traumatic events.
In this piece, we’ll discuss the prevalence of PTSD, who is most likely to experience it and other key PTSD stats.
How Common Is PTSD?
According to the U.S. Veterans Administration, there’s a good chance that anyone you walk up to on the street could have experienced trauma at one point in their lives. The VA says that an estimated 5 of 10 women and 6 of 10 men have been part of some type of traumatic experience.
Trauma may include adverse experiences during childhood, sexual or domestic abuse, living through war, bad accidents and natural disasters. It’s important to remember that experiencing trauma, which is common, or developing PTSD as a result, which is less common, is not a sign of weakness; it can happen to anyone.
Interestingly, women, who are 1% less likely to experience trauma, are, at a rate of at 10%, 6% more likely to develop PTSD than men (4%). Overall, around 7-8% of American adults have experienced PTSD at some point in their lives, and many are still living with it.
How Do PTSD Rates Compare to Rates of Other Disorders?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America , 3.5% of American adults are dealing with depression at any time. Here’s how that compares to some other common mental health disorders:
- Anxiety disorders are the most common, affecting 18.1% of the population.
- About 8.7% of Americans suffer from at least one phobia.
- Major depressive disorder (clinical depression) affects 6.7% of Americans.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects around 1% of the population.
Geographical Explanations for PTSD
There’s no link between where a person lives and their likelihood of developing PTSD, at least according to the presently available PTSD statistics. With that in mind, it pays to look at who is more likely to experience trauma, and what explanatory factors exist to help predict the groups at the highest risk.
By and large, minority groups and people with a lower socioeconomic status are more likely to develop PTSD, even if they do experience trauma at the same rate as those around them. These groups historically have less access to clinical resources than typically more advantaged white populations, and this may explain why they are more likely to develop PTSD.
Another explanation does involve location, but not as cut and dried as people may think. A lot of military veterans come back from deployment after experiencing trauma at war, which gives them a higher risk for PTSD in the first place. Some studies have suggested that soldiers who return home to more urbanized areas or communities with better access to health care — especially VA resources — are less likely to suffer than their peers who return home to more rural, remote regions.
Worldwide, PTSD rates are higher in areas with more violence, poverty and other negative social factors. People in locations with security and health care tend to experience trauma less often, and when they do, they have options for recovery.
Co-Occurring Disorders With PTSD
People with PTSD are much more likely to use and abuse addictive substances than those without the condition. This is widely known, yet there isn’t much clinical agreement about the roots of this link.
Some people say that there’s a genetic link, and people who are more likely to develop PTSD after experiencing trauma are also more likely to develop substance use disorders.
Others say that when people experience trauma, they find coping and escape methods. Those who do it in healthy ways go to counseling or a similar resource and lower their chances of developing either PTSD or an SUD. Those who do it by using substances have a higher chance of developing both.
There’s also another theory that says that people who suffer from addiction are more likely to take risks that put them or their loved ones in danger and are more likely to experience trauma as a result.
It’s likely that the true explanation for this link lands somewhere in the middle of these theories. They’re all plausible and probably describe different cases that exist, but this is a link that still needs to be studied in order to be completely understood.
PTSD Crisis – Veterans and First Responders
Knowing what we do about the lives of first responders, it’s not surprising that they experience PTSD as often as they do; here’s an example of a Sandy Hook first responder talking about how things as seemingly trivial as pizza can be a trigger. Firefighters, police officers, EMS personnel and even security staff and park rangers may have to respond to traumatic situations on a daily basis. It’s believed that due to a lack of treatment options that considers these groups’ unique needs, the problem is only getting worse.
Another crisis exists in soldiers and veterans of active duty in all military branches. Because of the nature of modern war, more and more veterans are coming home from conflicts, primarily in the Middle East, with PTSD, and this is especially true in homeless populations. Going back to the link between PTSD stats and substance abuse, about 2 in 10 veterans also have an SUD, according to the VA .
One of the main reasons why these groups especially don’t look for help, even when they recognize that they have PTSD, is the societal outlook on the disease. These are groups marked by the language of bravery and a macho culture, and so even when they need help, these occupations exist in a culture where asking for help is admitting defeat. This same pressure to stay strong doesn’t exist in civilian society, but people from all walks of life feel the stigma against mental health treatment to some degree.
Treatment for PTSD
Treatment for PTSD mainly consists of evidence-based counseling and therapy. Many people who experience a specific type of trauma feel comfortable in groups with people who’ve had the same experience. For example, many victims of sexual assault go to sexual assault support groups.
People in the military may go to support groups with other military members to talk about their experience and work through the effects. There are also prescription medications that help the symptoms of PTSD episodes, including antidepressants and antipsychotics.
It’s difficult to get a statistic on something as complicated as PTSD treatment because of the many people living with PTSD who don’t seek help.
Deaths Linked to PTSD
One thing that can be agreed on is the fact that better, more available treatment is needed for people with PTSD, especially those in at-risk populations: veterans, first responders, the homeless, the impoverished and so on.
While PTSD isn’t fatal in and of itself, some of the symptoms of the disease are mental instability, intense depression and anxiety. These can be accompanied by suicidal thoughts, and there’s reason to believe that a person suffering from PTSD are significantly more likely to take their life than those who aren’t.
The VA found that among populations of U.S. military veterans and active-duty enlisted, a suicide occurs every 65 minutes, or about 20 per day. 
Living With PTSD
Because of such widespread prevalence of trauma and inconsistent access to resources, countless individuals are living with PTSD. They may try to hide their condition from those around them — especially in first responder/military communities, so they don’t seem weak — or isolate themselves from those closest to them, which can make the condition worse.
As mentioned, people living with PTSD are highly likely to develop another serious mental or behavioral health disorder; addiction, anxiety and depression are the most common. This further increases the odds that they’ll be unable to function and are almost certainly at high risk for homelessness, poverty and other circumstances where continued exposure to more trauma is practically assured.
If you’ve experienced trauma of any kind, get help before it’s too late. If you or someone you know is showing signs of PTSD, we can help get you the treatment you need. Contact FHE Health to learn about your options.