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 the 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.
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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 an addiction.
Common Questions About Rehab
Symptoms And Effects Of PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD can change over time. Some symptoms might appear within 3 months of a traumatic episode, or it might take years until the disorder fully comes about.
PTSD impacts the parts of the brain associated with memory and emotions. A healthy brain can tell the difference between past memories and present experiences, but PTSD interferes with this process. Someone with PTSD might react to a current environment that reminds them of past trauma. The brain responds as though the person is still in the past, triggering fear, anxiety, and stress.
Suicidal thoughts are some of the most dangerous symptoms of PTSD. Abusing drugs or alcohol can intensify these thoughts.
Alcohol and drug addiction are also affected by memory. A brain affected by a substance use disorder is susceptible to triggers, or places and people associated with drug use that can lead to cravings. PTSD and addiction triggers can intertwine and intensify symptoms of both disorders.
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Categories Of PTSD Symptoms
|Drastic Changes in Thinking or Mood||
|Changes in Emotional Reactions||
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.
Featured Centers Offering Dual Diagnosis Treatment for PTSD
Boca Recovery Center – Florida
Sequoia Detox Centers
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.
Contact a treatment provider to learn more about overcoming PTSD and co-occurring addiction.
Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.
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- American Psychiatric Association. (2015). What Is PTSD? Retrieved on 22nd July 2015 from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd
- Coffey, Scott. (2012). Treatment of Co-Occurring Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved on 22nd July 2015 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3466083/
- Mayo Clinic. (2015). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - Symptoms and Causes. Retrieved on 22nd July 2015 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967
Certified Addiction Professional
David embarked on his journey into sobriety in June of 2005, which led him to his current career path as a Certified Professional Addiction Recovery Coach in private practice in Greater Nashville. David is also a public speaker and the author of two books. David is cohost of the weekly Positive Sobriety Podcast, as well as being a frequent contributor to various articles and recovery based materials. As a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), David works closely with area treatment centers, recovery orientated nonprofit organizations, as well as being a keynote speaker for various recovery-focused events.
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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.