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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Addiction – What You Need to Know

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 12, 2019

PTSD is a serious mental health disorder that can manifest itself in a number of different ways. Many individuals with this disorder often turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to self medicate to help lessen the symptoms. This is a very dangerous practice and if you or a loved one are struggling with addiction as a result of PTSD, it is important to seek treatment immediately.

The phrase dual-diagnosis gets thrown around a lot on, often times in the context of which rehabilitation facilities offer such a service. Essentially, dual-diagnosis is the ability to diagnose and treat two issues at once when they co-occur together. This happening is often referred to as comorbidity. When people develop addictions they can also procure mental health issues or vice versa. No one is really sure if one typically occurs before the other.

The Comorbidity of PTSD and Addiction

Unfortunately, one of the main comorbidities that rehab centers see is addiction and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD can happen for a number of reasons: the fear and trauma from a car accident, physical or sexual abuse, surviving a natural disaster, going to war, or being a victim of a violent crime. These frightening events can cause a myriad of psychological problems, such as flashbacks of the event, nightmares, depression, constant fear, and outbursts of rage. PTSD is so serious that it can actually manifest into physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches.

Many people who develop PTSD don’t realize that they have a mental disorder, and because of that, it often goes untreated. Then, because the person is feeling depressed, stressed, and fearful, they are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol as an escape mechanism. Being intoxicated allows them to leave their worries behind and to slip into a more relaxed mental state. PTSD victims then begin to depend on the substance to feel better about themselves and the world around them. However, at the same time, these intoxicating substances can also cause the symptoms of PTSD to worsen, making it into a vicious cycle that is hard for the victim to escape. A recent study at Dartmouth University suggests that nearly one in three people seeking treatment for addiction also have PTSD.

And that’s where addiction comes into play. Their use of the substance turns to abuse over time. Eventually, when these people seek treatment for their addiction, they are surprised to find that their underlying cause was due to the PTSD they developed after their traumatic incident. The place we see this connection the most often is when army veterans come back from service. War is a brutal thing, and many men experience happenings that are inhumane and downright scary. However, because they were taught to be tough and fearless in the armed services, many believe that talking to a psychologist or receiving treatment is a sign of weakness and go on to deal with it themselves. Thus, they self-treat with drugs and alcohol.

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For those who do seek treatment for their PTSD, between 60 and 80% of veterans are also treated for addiction. With dual-diagnosis treatment, many rehabilitation centers have found that Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is the most effective when getting PTSD victims back on their feet. This approach is based on teaching controlled thoughts. With a therapist, patients learn how to eliminate or deal with anxiety-ridden thoughts and replace them with calming or most realistic ones. Most facilities refer to this style of treatment as the Seeking Safety method, and it is put into practice on a variety of levels depending on the severity of the trauma. Exposure therapy is also widely used. Here you are encouraged to talk about and relive the experience over and over again with your therapist until you have come to terms with it and it seems less threatening.

After treatment, support groups are widely recommended. By having a gathering of people suffering from the same trauma, whether it be women who have suffered sexual violence or soldiers coming back from serving abroad, a support group is a safe place to discuss their PTSD and addiction and feel supported by those experience the same things. Can Help You With Your Addiction and PTSD Needs

Overall, out of those who suffer from PTSD, 50% are dependent on alcohol and 30% are dependent on drugs. These numbers are much too high. People suffering from this vicious circle of substance abuse and fear need to seek treatment for both. That’s where can help. We have the knowledge and the advice to help you find the perfect rehabilitation facilities to meet your dual-diagnosis needs. All you have to do is call the number above to get your life back on track today.

National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Foundations Recovery Network - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction

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