People with posttraumatic stress disorder sometimes use negative coping behaviors to deal with problems. Although negative coping may seem to help at first, the behaviors actually cause more harm than good and can worsen PTSD symptoms over time.

The following are examples of negative coping commonly used by people with PTSD:

  • Anger/violent behavior
  • Avoidance (isolating yourself from other people, avoiding reminders of the traumatic event)
  • Dangerous or reckless behavior
  • Excessive stress/worry (inability to let your guard down, expecting danger at all times)
  • Spending too much time at work
  • Substance abuse

PTSD & Anger

Anger is an understandable response to trauma. However, uncontrolled anger can result in many problems—causing emotional distance between you and your loved ones, leading to violence and reckless behavior, and making it more difficult to recover from a traumatic event. Learning how to deal with anger is an important part of PTSD treatment.

PTSD & Avoidance

For people with PTSD, certain situations—and even people—can increase stress, cause fear and anger, and/or stir up bad memories. Although distancing yourself from others and avoiding uncomfortable situations may seem a good idea, isolating yourself can cause PTSD symptoms to build up and lead to feelings of sadness and loneliness. Social support is necessary for health recovery from posttraumatic stress disorder.

PTSD & Dangerous Behavior

Risky behavior—driving too fast, starting fights, etc.—is common in people who are struggling with PTSD. Negative coping behaviors also include starting to smoke (or smoking more than usual) and developing unhealthy eating habits. Avoiding dangerous behaviors can reduce the risk of injuring yourself or others or damaging your health.

PTSD & Excessive Stress/Worry

It’s only natural to be extra cautious and alert after experiencing a traumatic event; however, learning to deal with these feelings is an important part of recovery for people with PTSD. Being constantly on guard can affect your physical, mental, and emotional health in many ways.

PTSD & Working Too Much

People with PTSD may “throw themselves into their work.” Working hard can be beneficial—improve confidence, provide interaction with others and financial gain, increase knowledge, etc.—but it can also be a way to avoid dealing with fearful memories or uncomfortable situations.

Some people with posttraumatic stress disorder use work to avoid family members and friends. Work also becomes a negative coping behavior when it interferes with PTSD treatment and/or your ability to eat right, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.

PTSD & Substance Abuse

Alcohol and drug abuse are serious concerns for people with posttraumatic stress disorder, who may use these substance to feel better, escape everyday problems, reduce PTSD symptoms, help them sleep, etc. Drinking alcohol excessively, abusing prescription medications, or using illicit drugs can jeopardize your health, your relationships, your job, and other aspects of your life.

Talk to your health care provider if you have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Be sure to use all prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications as directed.

If you or someone you love begins using these negative coping strategies after experiencing a traumatic event, contact your health care provider or mental health professional to learn about positive ways of dealing with posttraumatic stress.

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 29 May 2014

Last Modified: 29 May 2014