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Can Medication Help PTSD?

Can medication help PTSD? Women's PTSD Treatment Center

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is most often treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication.  While psychotherapy is the primary treatment option, medication is known to relieve symptoms and help treat PTSD.  Medication alone is not recommended, but in conjunction with psychotherapy, it is a great option.  

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a mental health condition that sometimes results when a person experiences a traumatizing event.  The person may have been involved in or witnessed something that was traumatic.  Symptoms may appear immediately or years later.  Someone with PTSD may have recurring memories and flashbacks, feel hopeless or numb and have trouble sleeping.  These symptoms interfere with regular life.

PTSD Symptoms Medication Helps

Depression, anxiety and difficulty sleeping are all symptoms of PTSD and can be relieved with medication.  More specifically, those that suffer from PTSD often display the following symptoms:

  • Intrusive Memories. Having intrusive and unwanted nightmares, memories of the traumatic events, flashbacks, and emotional and distressing reactions to things that remind them of the traumatic event.  

  • Avoidance. Purposefully avoiding places, people or conversations that could remind them of the traumatic event (called triggers).

  • Negative Changes to Thinking and Mood. Wrongly blaming self or others for the event, persistent feelings of fear, guilt or shame, feeling alienated and unable to experience positive emotions.

  • Changes in Reactions and Behavior. Angry, reckless, or self-destructive behavior, problems sleeping, problems concentrating, startling easily, and hypervigilance.

Medication Used to Treat PTSD

Medication used to treat PTSD falls into three categories based on common symptoms of depression, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.  

Antidepressants—Used to treat depression.

Since depression is a symptom of PTSD, medications used to treat depression may help with symptoms of PTSD. There are several types of antidepressants that may help improve symptoms, but only two are FDA approved for the treatment of PTSD.  Those two are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that increase the amount of serotonin in the brain by preventing its reabsorption by neurons. The two SSRIs approved by the FDA for treatment of PTSD are sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil).  All other medications used to treat PTSD are used off label, meaning that they do not have specific FDA approval, but have empirical and practical support for their use to treat PTSD.  SSRIs used to treat PTSD include:

  • Paroxetine (Paxil)—FDA approved for treatment of PTSD

  • Sertraline (Zoloft)—FDA approved for treatment of PTSD

  • Fluoxetine (such as Prozac)—off label

Other types of antidepressants may also be used to treat PTSD.  They include:

  • Amitriptyline and imipramine (Tofranil)

  • Mirtazapine (Remeron)

  • Venlafaxine extended release (Effexor)

  • Isocarboxazid (Marplan)

  • Phenelzine (Nardil)

In some cases mood stabilizers may be used, such as:


  • Carbamazepine (Tegretol)

  • Lithium (Lithobid or Eskalith)

  • Risperidone (Risperdal)

Prazosin—Used to reduce sleep problems and nightmares.  

Those that suffer from PTSD often have nightmares and other sleep problems.  Prazosin has been shown to help combat nightmares in those with PTSD.  


Psychotherapy is often used in conjunction with medication to treat PTSD.  There are three types of psychotherapy commonly used in its treatment. They are:

  • Cognitive. This is a type of therapy that includes talking with a therapist and discussing thinking (cognitive) patterns that are causing problems.  For example, the therapist may help identify times when negative thoughts portray a situation inaccurately, such as seeing cause for fear when there is none. Coping skills and strategies to change thinking patterns will be developed.  

  • Exposure. This type of therapy involves safe exposure to fearful situations in order to overcome the fear.  Virtual reality programs may be used.  Coping skills will be taught in order to help overcome the fear and eventually allow the person to enter settings that have previously caused distress.  

  • EMDR. This stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.  For this, exposure therapy is combined with guided eye movements to help the person process painful memories in the hopes that the reaction to these memories can be changed.

PTSD and Addiction

Without treatment, many self medicate with alcohol or drugs.  Turning to drugs and alcohol to numb painful and traumatic memories only exacerbates the problem.  Unfortunately addiction can result from using drugs and alcohol to compensate for difficulty handling the symptoms of PTSD.  Fortunately, with proper treatment, PTSD can be successfully overcome and addiction can be replaced with healthy coping mechanisms.  At Origins of Hope, we help women overcome addiction and any underlying causes.  Call today to learn how we can help you overcome addiction.

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Origins of Hope provides treatment to women for addiction, trauma, anxiety and depression. If you are suffering from any of these conditions, you are not alone. Contact us using the form below or call our 24 hour helpline (561) 304-4673, and get help today! Don't spend another day battling addiction alone. We're here to help.

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