Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD for short, is an emotionally impairing disorder that affects many people. In fact, experts believe 7 or 8 out of every 100 people suffer from the condition at some point in their lives. It can result in many symptoms that include flashbacks, anxiety, nightmares, etc., and can get in the way of daily life. This causes many people with PTSD to find drug addiction and alcoholism as an escape from reality, to numb their pain, and to take some control of their lives.
However, it’s essential to understand that this can be a dangerous combination and result in what’s called a Dual Diagnosis. This occurs when there’s a presence of an addictive disorder and a psychiatric one simultaneously. Today we will discuss PTSD and drug or alcohol addiction and how they relate to each other.
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What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD is a mental health condition that people can develop after witnessing or experiencing life-threatening events such as sexual assault, natural disasters, car accidents, combat, childhood abuse, and other violent attacks.
The flashbacks and nightmares that come with PTSD usually involve a crisis that the individual didn’t resolve in their psyche. For example, after years of sexual abuse at the hands of an older relative, a child left powerless may grow up with feelings of revenge or helplessness. Or, a soldier who was a prisoner of war and couldn’t fight the captors may replay the trauma in their head constantly as a way to work through the fear and anger left unresolved.
Both men and women can be affected by PTSD and subsequently addicted to drugs or alcohol. For women, sexual abuse is among the most common causes of PTSD and addiction. However, for men, at least according to the National Center for PTSD, the most common cause is combat. Following the Vietnam war, it’s estimated that somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of all veterans who had PTSD also suffered from substance abuse.
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Symptoms of PTSD
There is a wide range of symptoms that can occur with PTSD. Here are the most common:
- Avoidance of people, places, and things related to the trauma
- Nightmares or flashbacks
- An inability to sleep
- Angry outbursts and aggressive behavior
- Severe anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
While most of the symptoms will not always be present, they can strike at any time. Most commonly, they will occur after the individual was reminded of the traumatic event. It’s important to understand that when PTSD and addiction are present, individuals can also suffer from other serious conditions such as:
- Chronic pain
- Chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, liver disease, or diabetes
- Attention deficit disorder
PTSD’s symptoms can be divided into three categories, which are:
- Re-living the trauma
- Avoiding memories or experiences that remind the person of the trauma
- Hyper-arousal such as anxiety, anger, or extreme irritability
When someone experiences these symptoms for longer than one month, it can lead to a PTSD diagnosis. Drug abuse and alcoholism fall under avoidance symptoms because the person uses the substances to numb fear and avoid the memories. While it may seem like a good idea at the time, alcoholism and drug abuse can worsen the severity of the symptoms.
Take, for example, alcohol; it suppresses the central nervous system, which can worsen anxiety and depression while also disrupting a person’s sleep patterns. Furthermore, when an individual is under the influence of alcohol, they are more likely to take part in risk-taking behavior, such as altercations or driving under the influence. Hence, PTSD and addiction usually lead to broken homes, incarceration, unemployment, poverty, and other legal problems. In this situation, it’s important for the person to get a Dual Diagnosis because it may be the difference between a good, healthy life and the opposite.
Seeking Treatment for PTSD and Addiction
Individuals suffering from a Dual Diagnosis of PTSD and addiction must seek treatment. It’s been found that this situation involves intensive support from peers, family members, and psychiatric professionals. The only problem is that some people battling PTSD and addiction are reluctant to discuss treatment.
In fact, some of these individuals live with intense shame and guilt that was caused by the trauma. Addictive behaviors only add to this guilt, making it harder for them to want to ask for help. Even after arriving at a treatment facility, some may find it hard to stay motivated and on the road to recovery.
The truth is it’s not an easy road, and it will require a comprehensive plan that involves both addiction counselors and mental health professionals. So, if you or a loved one has PTSD coupled with drug addiction or alcoholism, call us today! Our professionals understand just how difficult it is for those living under these circumstances, and we are standing by to help create the perfect plan to get your life back on track.
Learn how EMDR can heal PTSD and drug addiction: