Signs of PTSD and Addiction – PTSD and addiction are both mental health disorders that commonly coexist. PTSD is an extremely distressing condition that often leads affected individuals to use substances in an effort to escape the pain and suffering they encounter on a daily basis. Furthermore, the effects of substance abuse tend to exacerbate symptoms of PTSD, making it sometimes difficult to determine where PTSD ends and the addiction begins.
What is PTSD?
PTSD, or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, is a psychiatric disorder whose onset is triggered by an individual’s experience of profoundly distressing or traumatic life events, such as the following:
- Military combat or warfare
- Natural disasters
- Traffic collisions
- Sexual assault
- Physical assault
- Extreme neglect and abuse in either childhood or adulthood
Given time, many sufferers of these occurrences become normal again, but for some, the mental chaos continues or worsens, overwhelming daily life – this is PTSD.
PTSD is diagnosed according to the following four primary symptom clusters:
Re-experiencing symptoms – A person with PTSD may be triggered to ‘re-experience’ the event that produced it. For example, upon hearing a loud noise in civilian life, a combat veteran might experience a “flashback,” reliving some terrible incident in battle through a flood of horrifying memories. Moreover, a person with PTSD might become plagued by nightmares.
Arousal Symptoms – A person living with PTSD may live in a constant state of hypervigilance as if always observing for any possible threat, even when none are present. A person with PTSD may find that they are easily startled. Additionally, this general edginess can result in irritability, aggression, poor concentration, and even explosive, violent rage.
Avoidance Symptoms – While living with PTSD, individuals will often make efforts to avoid situations that could possibly trigger re-experiencing symptoms or cause them to experience something comparable to the original trauma. For example, a combat veteran might avoid watching films set in wartime or being around shooting ranges. Likewise, an individual who previously suffered a sexual assault at a bar may never go out to a bar again.
Numbing Symptoms – The individual may feel emotionally disconnected from their daily life. As such, expressing emotions toward others may become challenging, and they may take little or no pleasure from activities they enjoyed before the trauma. Also, an individual living with PTSD may become unable to recall and process traumatic memories. Finally, the individual may become hopeless, resigning his or her life to a fate of mental and emotional turmoil by numbing themselves.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is a psychological condition where a person repeatedly engages in behaviors that produce a sense of reward that is outweighed by other adverse consequences. Addictions are behaviors that cannot be sustained without eroding the stability of daily life.
Because of their effects, drugs and alcohol have a deep-rooted significance in the general public’s perception of addiction.
However, many other behaviors that don’t include the abuse of a substance can be addictive, such as gambling or sex.
PTSD and Addiction
Addiction and PTSD share a particularly insidious association that makes treating either one much more challenging. PTSD can be agonizing, and by using a myriad of drugs, sufferers can achieve an immediate rush of pleasure and stress relief. Drug-seeking behavior often manifests alongside the numbing symptoms of PTSD, making the co-occurrence of addiction and PTSD a common phenomenon.
In times of stress, adrenaline is secreted, empowering the body for either fight or flight. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) acts contrary to adrenaline by reducing activity in the central nervous system. Substances such as marijuana, benzodiazepines, opioids, and alcohol stimulate GABA’s release and have a soothing effect on the user. Many substances also boost dopamine concentrations in the brain, inspiring feelings of well-being and contentment.
Recurrent use of substances that enhance these two chemicals cripple the brain’s ability to regulate them normally. The desperate tension of PTSD sugarcoats substance abuse, making it seem like a sensible escape. Regrettably, such substances often exacerbate PTSD symptoms when the desired effects wear off, increasing the risk of addiction and making relapse more likely.
What’s more is that substance abuse impairs decision-making, increasing the likelihood that the user will suffer from accidents, crimes, trauma, or violence. In this way, addictive behaviors like substance abuse can indeed directly contribute to the development of PTSD.
Over half of individuals battling PTSD also battle co-occurrent addiction, and vice versa. Those experiencing PTSD develop addictions at a rate between two and four times greater than the unafflicted. Fortunately, because of the known prevalence of co-occurring PTSD and substance abuse, our center offers programs specially designed to treat both concurrently.
Treatment for PTSD and Addiction
When a comorbid mental illness such as PTSD is present alongside a substance abuse problem, these conditions must be addressed concurrently. Both can be treated using evidence-based approaches, such as psychiatric services, behavioral therapy, counseling, and medication.
Our center offers both resident (inpatient) and intensive outpatient programs, each including the necessary, evidence-based therapies that directly address and treat both mental health and addiction disorders. Inpatients reside in our center 24/7 for at least 30 days, while outpatients live at a private residence or sober living environment while in the transition back to society.
When treatment has been completed, former patients can benefit from our aftercare planning services and alumni activities, which ensure resources and ongoing peer support are available for the promotion of long-term, sustainable recovery.