Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction

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There is a strong correlation between post-traumatic stress disorder and drug and alcohol addiction. With most mood and mental disorders, patients who have post-traumatic stress may use substances to self-medicate in order to alleviate troubling symptoms.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

PTSD-and-addictionPost-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that causes anxiety, fear, depression, and often times disturbing flashbacks as a result of a stressful or traumatic event. People with PTSD cannot fully heal until they find internal resolution by coming to terms with the events in their past that seem to be causing the disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the most severe psychiatric disorders to grapple with in terms of symptoms and recovery. It causes anxiety, fear, depression, painful flashbacks, and memories that intrude upon their everyday lives. These memories and flashbacks come as the result of past stress or trauma, which has not found resolution in the mind. It is most common in those who have dealt with traumatic events without proper counseling or mental health care afterward.

The most common causes of post-traumatic stress disorder include:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Childhood abuse (sexual and physical)
  • Military combat
  • Physical assault or other acts of violence
  • Natural disasters
People suffering from post-traumatic stress generally live through the events themselves, but in some cases they may only bear witness to the events taking place.

Most issues that lead to post-traumatic stress are those where the victim feels helpful or out of control. For instance, most cases of sexual assault or abuse involve a perpetrator forcefully attacking their victim, or taking advantage of the victim while he or she is sleeping or otherwise unable to defend themselves.

For women, sexual abuse is among the top cause for PTSD, according to the National Center for PTSD. Combat and other war related horrors are commonly reported in men. Vietnam veterans are especially prone to PTSD, and up to 80% of those who seek help for the condition also seek help for substance abuse.

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Each person will experience post-traumatic stress a little differently, but common symptoms include:

  • Severe anxiety
  • Flashbacks of the event
  • Fear or avoidance of places or things that remind them of the event
  • Sleeplessness
  • Nightmares
  • Anger and aggressive behaviors
  • Lashing out
  • Severe mood swings
These symptoms may be present most of the time, or they may come about at random. Other times, there may be certain events that trigger the symptoms. For instance, the sound of fireworks may trigger PTSD symptoms in a combat veteran because they sound similar to gunshots or explosives.

What causes PTSD?

PTSD can be caused by any stressful or traumatic event in a person’s life. Some examples of causes of PTSD include:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Childhood abuse (physical and/or sexual)
  • Physical assault or other acts of violence
  • Military combat
  • Natural disasters

Post-Traumatic Stress and Addiction

PTSDMany people turn to alcohol or drugs to deal with their PTSD symptoms. According to a study published in Sage Journals in the realm of neuroscience, the use of illicit drugs increases with those suffering from PTSD. Abuse is even more so with those suffering from PTSD and migraine, which is very common. Substance abuse among PTSD sufferers is included as an “avoidance” behavior, because substances are generally used in order to numb or avoid symptoms of fear and anxiety or depression. Over time, alcohol and drugs can actually make symptoms worse, since they effect the central nervous system in ways that can trigger or cause depression and anxiety.

As a person becomes more dependent on drugs and alcohol to cope with day to day life, addiction is the result. Someone can become both physically as well as mentally addicted to a substance. Physical addiction occurs when withdrawals symptoms, such as nausea or vomiting, occur when the drug is discontinued. Mental addiction occurs when the person believes he needs the drug in order to cope with their condition, whether or not that is the case.

Alcoholism is the most common substance abuse problem among those with post-traumatic stress. Over half of all people who suffer from PTSD use alcohol to cope. Roughly 30% of sufferers use drugs as a coping mechanism, or some combination of the both.

In many individuals, symptoms of an addiction may not be immediately apparent because some symptoms overlap between substance abuse and PTSD. Drug and Alcohol abuse may cause:

  • Behavioral changes or angry outbursts
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal into oneself
  • Lack of care in hygiene or personal care
  • Insomnia or sleeping more than usual
  • Secretive behavior

It can be difficult to distinguish between PTSD symptoms and those related to an addiction at first. If you have a friend of family member who is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it is best to seek medical care immediately rather than wait and see what might happen. Whether a mood disorder or addiction, special care needs to be taken to get proper treatment.

How many PTSD sufferers abuse drugs and alcohol?

Over 50 percent of PTSD sufferers abuse alcohol as an attempt to self-medicate, i.e. relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression caused by their disorder. About 30 percent of PTSD sufferers use drugs to cope with the disorder.

Treatment of PTSD and Addiction

With this dual diagnosis, separate treatments are needed for each condition. Psychiatric care is required to help the person cope with the events which caused the trauma. This can be difficult to achieve, because in some cases the victim feels high levels of shame and guilt related to the event, and may be reluctant to seek help or discuss the event. He or she may not take full advantage of treatment programs offered because of this. If you or someone you know is suffering, please, seek help right away. No one has to be alone. There are many who feel this way and have sought help. They are now enjoying life and are able to speak with others who once felt as they did.

In addition, someone suffering from a dual diagnosis needs proper medical interventions because withdrawal symptoms can become deadly if not closely monitored. Treatment for drug abuse requires one to work with someone who has a lot of experience in addiction and withdrawal. Most inpatient facilities are not equipped to handle both, but an integrative approach is the type most set up for success in the treatment of such complex cases.

Sufferers require intensive counseling to help them overcome their anxiety and stress. They also need close monitoring to ensure detoxification goes well, and that they remain comfortable during the process. Additional therapies may also be required, such as cognitive behavioral therapies to change thinking patterns and learn healthy ways of coping with pain and trauma, which can be invaluable.

While diagnosing and treating PTSD with a co-occurring dependency on drugs or alcohol is a difficult situation for everyone involved, there is hope. With the right integrative strategies, you or your loved one can overcome addiction and find happiness without PTSD symptoms ruling over your life. Help is here today.

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Comments 2

  • I’m trying to beat a Meth habit and PTSD & Severe Depression. I’m on Wellbutrin & lamotrigine & clonodine. But my lows are bad and I wanna use terribly bad. Is there anything out there that can cut or reduce cravings but not make zombie like! I’m desperate to find a happy medium.

  • I am concerned about my 46 year old daughter who is presently homeless. I do know her whereabouts though. She has PTSD and is an addict but not admitting it. I am concerned about her taking her life.
    I have 2 of her children, and another daughter has one. Her X husband is getting ready to get the children and I am
    affraid that will be the last straw. She is not able to work so she has no money except to beg from family and friends.

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