Sex Differences across Retrospective Transitions in Posttraumatic Stress and Substance Use Disorders

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Objectives: Concurrent substance use disorder (SUD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occur at high rates and are typically associated with poor treatment outcomes in both sexes. However, women have a propensity to cope with increased negative affect via substance use in comparison to men; thus, it is important to elucidate the sex-specific bidirectional relationships between SUD and PTSD to improve our understanding of concurrent SUD/PTSD in men and women. Methods: Using data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC-Wave 3; n = 36,309), the present study evaluated the impact of sex on the relationship between past-year SUDs (new, remitted, ongoing), including alcohol and drug use, and retrospective transitions in new vs. absent and ongoing vs. remitted diagnoses of PTSD. Additionally, the impact of sex was explored in models examining past year PTSD (new, remitted, ongoing) and retrospective transitions in new vs. absent and ongoing vs. remitted diagnosis of SUDs. Diagnostic transitions were based on retrospective reporting. Results: Results indicated that new, remitted, and ongoing SUDs increase the likelihood of new PTSD diagnoses (OR range = 2.53–8.11; p < 0.05). Among individuals with ongoing drug use disorders (DUD), there were greater odds of ongoing PTSD (OR = 2.10, p < 0.01). When examining the relationship reciprocally, new, remitted, and ongoing PTSD increased the likelihood of new SUDs (OR range = 2.50–8.22; p < 0.05), and ongoing PTSD increased the likelihood of ongoing SUD and DUD (OR = 1.40, 1.70, respectively; p < 0.05). Sex-specific analyses revealed that the relationship between PTSD and SUDs varies between sexes, particularly among women. For instance, women with new PTSD had higher odds of SUDs, and women with ongoing PTSD were almost 2.5 times more likely to have an ongoing DUD. Women with a new PTSD diagnosis were more likely to be diagnosed with a new SUD (OR = 3.27) and an ongoing DUD (OR = 3.08). Conclusions: Results indicate a bidirectional relationship between PTSD and SUD that is in many instances larger in women. Thus, illustrating potential sex-specific differences in underlying mechanisms implicated in SUD/PTSD, warranting additional research.