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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder And Addiction

Published by Daniel Brooks Moore on

Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Those experiencing PTSD, many of whom may be veterans or survivors of a natural disaster or violent act, might turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress.

Most people who have suffered through traumatic events eventually overcome the anxiety, depression, and agitation caused by those experiences. But when PTSD develops, these symptoms don’t just go away. They might last for months or years after the event. PTSD can emerge as a result of witnessing or experiencing:

  • Military combat
  • Serious accidents and injury
  • Natural disasters
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Sexual or physical assault during childhood or as an adult
  • The death of a loved one

PTSD and drug addiction often co-occur in response to serious trauma. Getting a proper dual diagnosis is crucial to treating both conditions and getting sober.

Co-Occurring PTSD And Addiction

PTSD changes brain chemistry in much the same way substance abuse and addiction do. Often, these disorders form at the same time and feed off one another. The same trauma that caused PTSD can also trigger a substance use disorder.

Nearly three-quarters of those surviving violent or abusive trauma report alcohol use disorders.- U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

Following a traumatic experience, the brain produces fewer endorphins, one of the chemicals that help us feel happy. People with PTSD may turn to alcohol and other mood-enhancing drugs, which increase endorphin levels. Over time, they may come to rely on drugs to relieve all of their feelings of depression, anxiety, and irritability.

PTSD often causes people to feel disconnected from their friends and loved ones.

People with PTSD are more prone to violent outbursts and panic attacks, which can be difficult for family and friends to witness. Feelings of guilt over these outbursts can drive those with PTSD to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Continued use of alcohol or other drugs in this way can lead to addiction.

Categories Of PTSD Symptoms

Intrusive Memories • Repeated memories of the traumatic episode
 • Night terrors about the event
 • Vivid flashbacks of traumatic episodes
 • Extreme physical reactions to reminders of the traumatic event
Avoidance • Attempting to avoid talking or thinking about the traumatic episode
 • Trying to avoid people, places, and activities that trigger memories of the event
Drastic Changes in Thinking or Mood • Emotional numbness
 • Difficulty keeping close relationships
 • Being incapable of positive emotionsLapses in memory
 • Negative feelings about self or others
Changes in Emotional Reactions • Irritability
 • Feeling “on guard” at all times
 • Overwhelming guilt or shame
 • InsomniaTrouble concentrating
 • Self-destructive behavior (binge drinking, reckless driving)

It might be hard to recognize co-occurring addiction and PTSD. Someone suffering from PTSD might keep their drug and alcohol abuse from others because they feel ashamed. If a loved one seems to be increasingly depressed and withdrawn while exhibiting signs of intoxication, they might be struggling with a drug abuse problem.

Treating PTSD And Addiction

Prolonged alcohol and drug abuse eventually rewire the brain’s neurocircuitry. Over time, the user needs the drug to feel normal. With enough time and use, the PTSD sufferer can become addicted.

Both disorders have a complex impact on the brain. It’s crucial to treat PTSD and drug addiction simultaneously to undo this damage.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help those with PTSD cope with their painful memories. Many inpatient and outpatient drug rehabs use CBT to treat addiction, as well. Clinics specializing in PTSD and addiction can coordinate CBT treatment plans for both disorders.

Physical exercise can be an effective part of PTSD and drug addiction recovery. The endorphins released during physical activity can soothe depression and anxiety. Doctors in specialized drug rehabs can also prescribe antidepressants to manage withdrawal symptoms and anxiety during detox.

If you or a loved one is experiencing PTSD and co-occurring addiction, you may want to consider treatment. For more information on your online therapy options, view a full list of your options today. Don’t wait to receive the treatment you deserve.


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