Pharmacologic management of comorbid post-traumatic stress disorder and addictions

Am J Addict. 2015 Dec;24(8):705-12. doi: 10.1111/ajad.12306. Epub 2015 Nov 20.


Background and objectives: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders (SUD) frequently co-occur, and their combination can increase poor health outcomes as well as mortality.

Methods: Using PUBMED and the list of references from key publications, this review article covered the epidemiology, neurobiology and pharmacotherapy of PTSD with comorbid alcohol, opiate, and cannabis use disorders. These SUD represent two with and one without FDA approved pharmacotherapies.

Results: SUD is two to three times more likely among individuals with lifetime PTSD, and suicide, which is made more likely by both of these disorders, appears to be additively increased by having this comorbidity of SUD and PTSD. The shared neurobiological features of these two illnesses include amygdalar hyperactivity with hippocampal, medial prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex dysfunction. Medications for comorbid PTSD and SUD include the PTSD treatment sertraline, often used in combination with anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, and adrenergic blockers. When PTSD is comorbid with alcohol use disorder (AUD), naltrexone, acamprosate or disulfiram may be combined with PTSD treatments. Disulfiram alone may treat both PTSD and AUD. For PTSD combined with opiate use disorder methadone or buprenorphine are most commonly used with sertraline. Marijuana use has been considered by some to be a treatment for PTSD, but no FDA treatment for this addiction is approved. Pregabalin and D-cycloserine are two innovations in pharmacotherapy for PTSD and SUD.

Conclusions and scientific significance: Comorbid PTSD and SUD amplifies their lethality and treatment complexity. Although they share important neurobiology, these patients uncommonly respond to a single pharmacotherapy such as sertraline or disulfiram and more typically require medication combinations and consideration of the specific type of SUD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Diagnosis, Dual (Psychiatry)
  • Drug Therapy, Combination / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / drug therapy*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology