The Correlation Between Addiction and PTSD

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?

Drinking Alcohol Can Worsen PTSD, Study Finds

Downing alcoholic drinks to drown out painful memories may end up doing just the opposite, according to new research.

In experiments involving mice, alcohol was found to strengthen emotional memories linked to fear, according to a John Hopkins University study recently published online in the Translational Psychiatry journal.

Its findings may shed light on alcohol’s effects on people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly those who attend therapy for their condition but also drink to “self-medicate” their symptoms.

Binge-Drinking Can Hurt PTSD Therapy

Scientists who conducted the experiments noted that rodents who drank water mixed with 20 percent drinking alcohol were less likely to push their fears aside when compared with mice that drank only water.

During the experiments, mice were put into cages and exposed to a combination of electric shocks and tones to model the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. The next day, some of the rodents were given just water while others were given the alcohol-water mix. Both groups had access to the liquids for two hours.

Mice were then placed in a textured box and the tones were played for them again but without the electric shocks. Researchers noted that mice that were given the alcohol-water mix were more likely to “freeze” with fear than those that drank only water.

“Mice given alcohol the day before froze over 50 percent of the time, and those given water froze less than 40 percent of the time,” when hearing the tones, said a news release about the study. “The researchers say that mice given alcohol before their memory retrieval seemed to be more prone to fear relapse.”

This particular finding may offer insight into how drinking alcohol can affect PTSD therapy efforts, lending more weight to a dual diagnosis of co-occurring disorders.

“Binge drinking or other attempts to use alcohol to self-medicate could be sabotaging any therapy efforts,” says Norman Haughey, professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said in the news release.

Drinking Common Among People With PTSD

Using alcohol to cope with PTSD is common among people with the condition, according to the National Center for PTSD, but it is a pairing that often brings trouble.

“Having both PTSD and a drinking problem can make both problems worse,” the center says on its website. “For this reason, alcohol use problems often must be part of the PTSD treatment.” It also urges finding a therapist who can treat both issues concurrently.

According to the center, about 8 percent of the population will have PTSD at some point in life. Anywhere from 11 percent to 20 percent of US veterans have PTSD in any given year. Veterans who need PTSD treatment also tend to have alcohol use problems.

PTSD, however, is not exclusive to war veterans. It happens to survivors of abuse or violent trauma, and people who have experienced accidents, illness, and disasters. People in all of these groups report drinking problems, according to the center.

Alcohol Can Increase PTSD Symptoms

People with PTSD may drink because they feel it helps them sleep better or that it numbs them to unpleasant feelings, thoughts, and memories. But alcohol use can increase PTSD-related symptoms, among them:

  • Anger, irritability
  • Depression
  • Increased paranoia
  • Ongoing physical pain

Effective treatment for PTSD involves:

  • Finding treatment that addresses both the disorder and the problematic drinking
  • Knowing how drinking affects PTSD symptoms.
  • Getting treatment that includes education, therapy and support groups that help support healthy acceptance of a drinking problem
  • Practicing healthy coping strategies for PTSD

Get Help for PTSD and Alcoholism

If you, or someone you know, have a parent, spouse, or other family member or friend who is battling alcoholism and PTSD, call (844) 557-8575 now to speak with one of our Pathway to Hope specialists. They can help you find a treatment program tailored to your specific needs today. They are standing by around the clock, waiting for your call.

Dual Diagnosis: The Root of Addiction?

Dual-diagnosis often comes with a long line of misconceptions. More often than not, drug addicts tend to have an underlying mental illness along with their addiction that, if not diagnosed and treated, further drug abuse, relapse, and/or mental torment may result no matter how much therapy and 12-step work one does in recovery.

The confusion can also lead one to feel alone, even in a room filled with recovering addicts, which is meant to ensure the opposite effect.

So, what’s the solution? Both drug abuse and the co-occurring mental illness(es) must be treated at the same time, and the relationship between mental illness and addiction must be understood as well by family and physician alike.

That being said, can a mental diagnosis aside from addiction be the underlying issue of one’s substance abuse to begin with?

What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is the term used to describe individuals with both severe mental illness and addiction. What each dual diagnosis has in common is that self-medication via substance abuse tends to be used to cope with the symptoms of said mental illness.

Some examples of mental illnesses that commonly occur with drug and alcohol addiction include, but are not limited to:

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder (Sociopathy)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Eating Disorders (i.e. Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge-Eating, etc.)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Psychosis may sometimes be drug-induced as well and may not be identified until after one is clean from using. Unfortunately, some people continue to endure a drug-induced psychosis after becoming drug-free.

Individuals with a co-occurring mental illness and addiction tend to also have abnormal levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which change drastically during drug use and abuse. Such hormones affect one’s metabolism, sleep, appetite, and stress response, causing unstable emotions, erratic energy levels, and depression.

All this can lead to irrational decisions that can cause an incredibly unmanageable life, making treatment and abstinence from drugs difficult to obtain and keep if left untreated. Suicidal thoughts tend to be a part of the equation for many mental disorders as well.

It is important to also check if one has a mental health issue when getting treated for addiction because undiagnosed individuals commonly abuse alcohol and drugs.

Is Mental Illness Still a Stigma?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), 42.5 million American adults suffered from a mental illness in 2014. Despite the high number of Americans with a mental health disorder, there is still a stigma where people without a mental illness are not empathetic toward those who do.

In fact, 25 percent of adults with mental health symptoms believed that people were caring or sympathetic toward their daily struggles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and that’s a very small number compared to the majority.

Even in the safe haven that is a 12-step program for an addict in recovery, there are still a lot of misunderstandings about the link between mental illness and addiction and those with a dual-diagnosis. Yes, these programs do have certain aspects of their literature that addresses dual-diagnoses; however, judgment against those who struggle with symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and many other mental illnesses does still occur.

It is extremely important for these individuals to not only be treated but to also do what they need to do to make their livelihood manageable despite the ill comments and treatment possibly sent their way. Whether that be medication, hypnotherapy, and/or counseling, healthy coping and management tools are vital when it comes to treating a mental illness, for if a mental illness is left untreated, the chances of relapse are incredibly high. One may also be dangerous to one’s self and possibly to others as well.

If a person’s mental health disorder is being treated during the use of drugs, treatment will not work and neither will medication.

Can This Be the Root of Addiction?

For many, individuals start abusing drugs to cope with mental conditions, whether they are aware of it or not. However, drug addiction has come to flourish for those who already had the addictive behaviors of obsession, compulsion, and self-focused fear to begin with. So which came first: the chicken or the egg?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), those who are marijuana-dependent tend to obtain anxiety, mood, depressive, or manic disorders. Drugs have also awakened mental illness with those who have schizophrenia in their family history.

It is perfectly possible that drugs can cause the kind of chemical changes that may lead to mental health issues after engaging in substance abuse behaviors. It can actually take months or even years of sobriety in order for one’s brain chemistry to get back to normal, if it ever goes back to that at all.

While 8.4 million people suffered from drug abuse and mental illness in 2012, the case is different for everyone when it comes to the question of what came first: the mental illness or addiction.

All in all, whether addiction or a mental illness came first, what’s the most important thing to do is to treat both conditions at the same time. Drug abstinence is key, and so is mental health treatment. By treating both illnesses, and through the assistance of a support group that understands, success is perfectly possible and can lead to a happy, manageable life.

Are You Struggling with a Dual Diagnosis?

It’s one thing to be struggling with an addiction problem, but it is an entirely different thing to be suffering from mental illness as well as drug abuse. As scary, intense, and painful as it all may be, a dual diagnosis is not impossible to treat!

Here at Pathway to Hope, we treat dual diagnosis with the correct care, empathy, and love necessary to create progress, happiness, and a more stable way of life. For help today, please call our 24-7 specialists at (844) 557-8575.