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?

Practicing Self-Love: A Journey Through Fear and Uncertainty

I was an addict before I even knew what addiction was. From the time I was a child, I indulged. I overindulged in almost everything I could. I would play video games through the night and watch the sunrise through the window.

Obsessing over practicing my soccer kicks until my parents dragged me inside was a daily occurrence. But perhaps one of the most damaging things I would indulge in was self-loathing. This habit of self-loathing followed me through my adolescence and into my adulthood. After I entered recovery, I was told I need to start practicing self-love.

The tragic part was that I didn’t even know where to start.

After years of honing my recovery and working on many facets of myself, self-love is still an area I struggle with. But, despite my daily battle not to beat myself down mentally, I’ve picked up some great methods for practicing self-love. While I am far from perfect, I’m on my way.

Self-love and the Addict

I am in no way unique. Many recovering addicts and alcoholics struggle on a daily basis when it comes to practicing self-love. Whether we used as a result of self-loathing or don’t like ourselves because of our addiction, the point is we aren’t practicing self-love. One of the main themes of recovery is learning to accept and love ourselves and others.  

So how exactly do we accomplish this seemingly impossible feat?

For years, I toiled away in self-loathing. Even with multiple years of recovery, I would find myself incapable of finding one good thing to say about myself. Completely at a loss, I was unsure of how to truly start to love myself. I would hear people in meetings share about finding peace with themselves. I became completely desperate for some sort of relief, wanting what they had.

Finally, at three and a half years of recovery, I decided things needed to change. I began to start implementing not only a program of recovery in my life but a program dedicated to practicing self-love as well.

5 Great Tips for Practicing Self-Love

Much like recovery, practicing self-love can seem very foreign at first. It requires a strict regimen that must be followed diligently. I decided that the only way to start was just by doing it. I began asking people I saw in the rooms that appeared happy with what they were doing. Opening myself up to the suggestions, I began doing the following things:

1. Implementing Positive Affirmations

We’ve all heard the term “positive affirmations” thrown around. Well, it turns out, they’re an especially effective tool when practicing self-love. A positive affirmation is a specific statement that can help you overcome self-sabotaging negative thoughts.

They help you visualize and believe in the things that you’re affirming to yourself. Positive affirmations help you to make positive changes to your life and career. Using positive affirmations can also reduce stress and depression.

I was constantly beating myself up mentally. Rather than continually employing that negative train of thought about myself, I began to start using positive affirmations. By redirecting negative thinking, it began to change the way I viewed myself and the world around me.

I’m a firm believer in the power of energy. Positive attracts positive and negative attracts negative. By inviting more positivity into my life, I began to start believing the good things about myself. Rather than honing in my flaws or shortcomings, I began to celebrate my strengths.

2. Cutting Out Negative People

Perhaps one of the hardest ways to practice self-love is by removing the negative people from your life. A toxic relationship is characterized by behaviors on the part of the toxic person that are emotionally and potentially physically damaging to the other person.

Toxic relationships can refer to romantic relationships, family members, or friendships. Anyone in your life who is not adding to your recovery is taking away from it.

Many times when we are subject to a toxic relationship, it negatively impacts our self-esteem. We begin to take on the negativity surrounding the other person and turn it inward.

Self-blame and self-loathing are common occurrences when it comes to dealing with toxic people. If we want to practice self-love, we need to be strong enough to walk away from the negativity, no matter how difficult this may be. It is not only empowering but one of the most effective ways to love ourselves.

When I removed the people who were hurting rather than helping, I found comfort in their absence. I began to feel better about myself for doing something so difficult. My life became better without the negativity, and all of the energy I was dispensing on the toxic relationships I could spend on loving myself.

3. Treat Yo’ Self

I am also a firm believer in treating yourself every once in awhile. Sometimes practicing self-love can be as simple as going and getting your hair done, eating at your favorite restaurant, or taking a personal day to read on the beach.

Working hard and putting others first are great attributes to possess, but sometimes you need to put yourself first. Allowing yourself to enjoy a new pair of shoes you’ve had your eye on is a great way to show yourself some love. Taking care of your own needs is necessary before you can really take care of the needs of others.

But as with all good thing, limitations should be set. Constantly indulging in using outside things to derive happiness is not healthy. Self-love needs to come from within first and foremost. Remember, the external things won’t fix the internal problems.

4. Getting Healthy

As a direct result of active addiction, my health and nutrition definitely fell to the wayside when it came to my priority list. Using drugs and alcohol takes a heavy toll on our bodies and overall physical health. Taking care of my body in recovery was a key element that I was missing.

I was still eating junk food at my leisure and negating any sort of physical exercise. This had a severe negative impact on both my physical and mental health. When you eat poorly, you feel poorly. My lack of concern for my physical health was directly correlating to my low self-esteem and self-loathing.

I decided to begin focusing on my body in a positive manner. Believe it or not, practicing self-love means taking care of yourself. I began to start watching what I was eating more closely and joined a gym. Today, I work out several days a week.

This newfound concern with my physical health has helped me on my journey towards self-love. I’ve given myself fitness goals, and it feels great to accomplish them! Not to mention the plethora of physical benefits that come from working out and eating right. The endorphins released during a workout are feel-good chemicals the body produces naturally that elevate mood.

But again, as with treating yourself, it’s important to limit yourself when it comes to working out. We are addicts in the end, and we can turn anything into an addiction, and this includes dieting and working out. It’s important to not allow it to cross the line from beneficial to harmful.

5. Seeking Outside Help

Lastly, perhaps the most important thing I’ve done when it comes to practicing self-love is that I’ve begun seeking outside help. Outside help is using other methods other than just the program of recovery when it comes to dealing with issues in your life. I have finally stopped resisting and fearing the stigma surrounding therapy.

Therapy has been an awesome addition to my program of recovery and self-love. I was always very opposed to the idea of therapy, feeling as if asking for help made me weak. The stigma surrounding therapy is just that–a stigma. It doesn’t mean you’re defective or crazy, it means you love yourself enough to start getting the help you may need for any issues you have going on in your life.

As an addict lucky enough to be blessed with a dual-diagnosis, attending therapy is crucial. My pre-existing mental health conditions are no fault of my own but need to be dealt with by a professional. It has given me a new outlook on life, and by accepting myself for who I am, it has helped me when it comes to practicing self-love.

Perfectly Imperfect

My journey from addiction to recovery has been a long and sometimes strenuous road. My journey with self-love has been just as tough. While I am in no way where I want to be, I’m on my way. If practicing self-love is something you struggle with, just know you won’t get it perfect at first.

Like anything, it requires much practice and commitment. But as long as you’re constantly working on it, you’re already succeeding. Realizing that I’m perfectly imperfect has been the most important lesson I’ve learned throughout both my recovery and my life—and I’m finally okay with that.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, contact us at Pathway To Hope. We can get you in touch with our admissions professionals who can help you get the help you need. Don’t delay, call today!

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.