PTSD and Addiction
One of the most common, yet misunderstood reasons an individual may suffer from a substance abuse problem is that they are trying to cope with traumatic life experiences. Known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, nearly 24.4 million people suffer from symptoms that occur after a distressing event has occurred. In many cases, individuals turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the symptoms driving an increasingly concerning the connection between PTSD and addiction.
Because of its prominence in the media, PTSD is most commonly associated with military veterans. Hundreds of thousands of veterans across the United States suffer from PTSD after serving in combat. However, millions of other individuals are also suffering from the disorder.
PTSD can be developed at any age. The nearly 8% of the population who suffer from the disorder have likely experienced a deeply traumatic event such as physical or sexual assault, abuse, accident, disaster, combat, or other overbearing situation.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD can develop in people who suffer a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. When an individual is involved in a traumatic experience, the body naturally responds with a ‘fight or flight’ response. People who continue to experience problems such as feeling stressed or frightened after the event may be diagnosed with PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD
Suffering from PTSD means an individual experiences one or more continuing symptoms. Symptoms can be re-experiencing, avoidance, arousal, or cognitive. In general, someone with PTSD will exhibit signs of:
- Tense feelings
- Scary thoughts
- Avoiding places
- Increased temper
- Difficulty sleeping
- Being easily startled
- Loss of interest in activities
- Avoiding thoughts or feelings
- Unable to recall specific events
- Distorted feelings of guilt or blame
Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. The support of friends or family, positive coping strategies, and self-awareness techniques are contributing reasons why some people develop the disorder and others do not.
Similarly, those who do develop PTSD may also find resolve through the same support, strategies, and techniques. Unfortunately, too many of those who suffer turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the pain. Drugs and alcohol can worsen the symptoms resulting in a destructive relationship between PTSD and addiction.
Co-occurring PTSD and Addiction
Drugs or alcohol are often used as a quick remedy to relieve the stress and pain of symptoms attributed to PTSD. However, as the substances leave the body and their effects wear off, symptoms of PTSD will worsen.
Moreover, decision-making is also impaired while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This may place a person at a high risk of becoming involved in another traumatic event such as an accident or an abusive situation. The result is a circle in which the symptoms of PTSD lead to substance abuse and substance abuse contributes to the onset of PTSD symptoms.
To further complicate matters, withdrawal from drugs or alcohol can intensify the symptoms of PTSD. Those abusing substances and suffering from PTSD have two very different disorders requiring treatment. Although individuals are facing disorders so closely intertwined with one another, each requires very specific treatment methods from facilities experienced in helping those with co-occurring disorders.
Treatment for PTSD and Addiction
According to the American Psychological Association, half of the patients admitted into an inpatient substance abuse program also suffer from PTSD. However, many of the inpatient facilities aren’t equipped with treating PTSD, leaving patients vulnerable to an early relapse.
To effectively treat individuals suffering from substance abuse and PTSD requires a simultaneous and cohesive approach. The first step often requires a focus on detoxification. Because withdrawal can intensify the symptoms of PTSD, medical detox is often recommended. Medical detox requires medical supervision and can often take a few days before the patient has become physically stable.
Once stable, the patient can begin therapy sessions. Behavioral therapies can help patients manage stress and address potential triggers. Further, behavioral therapies assist patients in improving self-esteem and increases positive thought processes. Through self-awareness and behavioral modifications, the goal is for patients to break their mental dependence on drugs or alcohol.
While substance abuse concentrates on the mental aspect of an individual’s health, treating PTSD requires an emotional focus. Individuals with PTSD receive therapy to address their fears and anxieties. Using exposure therapy, for example, trained professionals help PTSD sufferers to face the traumatic events that produced their disorder.
For both substance abuse and PTSD, ongoing medicinal treatments may also be helpful. Under the care of medical professionals, specific medications can reduce anxiety, stress, depression, and even provide a restful night’s sleep. Similarly, successful treatment of both disorders often includes individual and group therapy sessions. Coupled with education and encouragement, a dual-diagnosis treatment program will find much higher success rates than if each disorder were treated independently.
Finding Treatment for Dual Diagnosis
Recovering from PTSD and substance abuse requires the support of highly trained medical and psychological professionals. It is important to locate facilities that have a proven track record of success with those suffering from a dual-diagnosis. If you or a loved one is suffering from substance abuse, PTSD, or both, please contact your nearest medical facility or contact a SpringBoard Recovery professional today.
- American Psychiatric Association: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd#:~:text=Posttraumatic%20stress%20disorder%20(PTSD)%20is,sexual%20violence%20or%20serious%20injury.
- PTSD United: https://ptsdunited.org/ptsd-statistics-2/
- U.S. Army: https://www.army.mil/article/207488/post_traumatic_stress_what_soldiers_need_to_know
- Anxiety & Depression Association of America: https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms
- Verywell mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/self-medication-in-ptsd-2797539
- US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3466083/
- Behavioral Health Evolution: https://www.bhevolution.org/public/cooccurring_overview.page
- APA PsychNet: https://psycnet.apa.org/home
- Verywell mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-withdrawal-how-long-does-it-last-63036
- Medical News Today: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/exposure-therapy