The Correlation Between Addiction and PTSD

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Addiction and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are among one of the most common co-occurring disorders, especially in veterans. Recently the number of people suffering from both addiction and PTSD has increased and they aren’t all war vets. Individuals who suffer from mild-to-severe PTSD vary and the roots of their issues do as well.

Traumatic life experiences can leave people feeling like there’s nowhere to turn, except to drugs or alcohol. Within the group of veterans aged 18-53 alone, nearly 18.2 percent suffer from substance abuse disorder and 32.2 percent suffer from alcoholism. This does not account for individuals who aren’t veterans who also experience addiction and PTSD comorbidity.

Initial Exposure

Early exposure to traumatic experiences is known to increase the likelihood of the development of substance abuse disorders. Trauma occurs frequently, especially in children. Things like sexual and physical abuse and neglect happen too often and they have been reported in a large number of individuals who struggle with substance abuse in their adult years. As inhumane as it seems, situations like this happen to many people. Sometimes, depending on the severity of the experience, it is hard to cope without the use of drugs or alcohol.

From early ages, people abuse substances to feel content with themselves or with the event. Little do they know, trauma influences a lot of psychological behaviors that often go unnoticed until it is too late.

War Veterans struggle equally as much as those who are exposed to a traumatic event. A person can only handle so much internally. The consequences of war, as well as other life experiences, can be brutal. It is hard for war veterans to cope with the things they have endured throughout their experience.

The symptoms of PTSD occur mostly due to the unresolved issues, which trigger intense nightmares or flashbacks. People use drugs or alcohol to diminish the symptoms; however, the symptoms worsen the longer they are suppressed.

The War on Self

Suffering from addiction and PTSD entails significant pain. Both addiction and PTSD cause a tremendous amount of stress on the brain and the body. Alongside symptoms of PTSD comes the symptoms of alcoholism, addiction, or both.

It is inevitable that an individual experiencing both of these disorders will wage war on themselves, drugs, and the people around them. It is not uncommon for people with PTSD to turn to drugs or alcohol. In fact, there are several veterans alone struggling with addiction and PTSD. It is more common for military veterans to suffer from addiction and PTSD but the horizon is becoming broader due to recent findings.

Recent studies have been done regarding the comparison of gender-specific addiction and PTSD.

PTSD causes people to destroy themselves, both mentally and physically. It is a serious problem that is often undertreated. PTSD consists of acute to severe symptoms such as:

  • Nightmares
  • Behaving or feelings associated with reliving the incident (flashback)
  • Intense emotional feelings when reminded of the event
  • Intense and uncontrollable physical sensations (heart palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath, feeling faint, nausea, feeling a loss of control)
  • Avoiding any thoughts, conversation, people, activities, feelings, or places associated with the occurrence
  • Difficulty in remembering vital parts in the trauma
  • Detachment
  • Constant negativity
  • Insomnia or difficulties staying asleep
  • Easily startled
  • Anger outbursts
  • Hyper-vigilance

The most common drugs used in people with PTSD are depressants, like opioids or alcohol. This could be related to the feeling of contentment and numbness while under the influence. Also, they are central nervous system depressants—meaning they suppress the natural functions of the body.

Living with Addiction and PTSD

Coping with the intensity of addiction and PTSD can be difficult. Typically, when someone experiences a traumatic event in their life, they will self-medicate in fear of talking about the event. This can be dangerous because the impact of trauma on an individual can lead to negative thoughts, like suicide. If someone is suicidal and abusing drugs, they will be less likely to seek help for their co-occurring disorders. Also, there might be a sense of shame or guilt tied to the event. The event doesn’t necessarily have to be something an individual experienced first hand; it could be a witnessed event.

Traumatic events are classified as an instance that involves actual or threatened death, a serious injury, or a physical threat to the integrity of oneself or others. Substance abuse disorders, in conjunction with PTSD, lead to consequences such as:

  • Tolerance to a substance
  • Withdrawal symptoms develop with continued use
  • Using more than planned
  • Using longer than planned
  • Unsuccessful attempts at quitting
  • Interference with social, educational, occupational, or recreational activities
  • Continued use despite physical or mental setbacks

Living with PTSD can be crippling. Symptoms can subtly creep up and completely alter an individual’s reality for a short period of time. Although substances like opioids and alcohol can decrease the symptoms of PTSD, they are proven to worsen the symptoms over time.

How to Treat Addiction and PTSD

Treatment for addiction and PTSD comorbidity may be difficult to find, but there are plenty of centers specifically for veterans, private addiction treatment centers, addiction counselors, and mental health counselors.

Despite the route taken, any method of treatment other than self-medicating will be effective. It is imperative for those suffering from addiction and PTSD comorbidity to seek help in a secure environment with trained professionals. Every veteran searching for help for their issues is offered an appropriate course of treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers. These centers are designed to specifically target addiction and PTSD disorders in war veterans. However, they can choose to seek treatment from private centers as well as individual therapists or specialists.

Attending a dual diagnosis treatment center will only benefit someone struggling with the symptoms of addiction and PTSD. They will be under constant surveillance in safe and effective environments surrounded by other people who may be struggling with the same issues. Also, after treatment, they will be strongly urged to seek ongoing counseling and sessions to further their success in recovery. Medications can also be used to alleviate severe symptoms to help an individual cope with life without the use of illicit drugs or alcohol.

Start Your Recovery Journey Today

Recovery is not an easy process, especially for individuals suffering from co-occurring disorders. However difficult, recovery is possible. Deciding to seek treatment is a vital step in the beginning of what could be a new beginning. Addiction and PTSD treatment can begin with one phone call to a treatment center like Pathway to Hope, who specializes in treating dual diagnosis individuals.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction in conjunction with other disorders call (844) 557-8575 or contact us online today. Our trained professional staff is available 24/7 ready to assist you in finding a program tailored to your specific needs. It’s never too late to turn your life around; why wait?

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