There is hope for those searching for PTSD and addiction treatment. Though it may seem like two mountains lay ahead, the good news is that you can tackle both head on, making progress on one will help you combat the other.
Treatment for addiction and PTSD is not only an option, but an opportunity to address both issues simultaneously.
PTSD Exists on a Spectrum
Post-traumatic stress disorder has historically been linked to veterans who have been placed in extraordinary situations, most notably combat. Doctors have always known that this mental condition exists on a spectrum, often affecting some more than others. In fact, 1 in 5 veterans with PTDS also suffer from substance abuse and addition.1
But more than that, non-veterans can also experience PTSD. People who have endured a terrifying situation are also susceptible to post traumatic stress. Victims of domestic violence and victims of violent crimes are some of the most notable examples of non-veteran PTSD.
It’s common for people who suffer from PTSD to develop an addiction, resulting in a cooccurring disorder.2 Almost 60% of people suffering from trauma also battle substance abuse – making the need for PTSD and addiction treatment even more necessary.
Link Between PTSD And Addiction
PTSD is a faulty trigger of our freeze, flight, or fight response. When we are in danger, our brain activates this response which increases our awareness of our surroundings and gets us physically ready to fight or run as fast as we can. It’s akin to panic and anxiety and it’s very necessary for survival. PTSD exists when we continue to feel this response long after the traumatic events and at time when things are seemingly normal.
This response is stressful and seemingly uncontrollable. PTSD is the onset of terror coupled with a great feeling of helplessness. It’s this feeling that causes many to develop a comorbid disorder, turning to drugs to numb this pain they feel.
Symptoms of PTSD that May Lead to Substance Abuse
There are 8 symptom patterns that are outlined by the DSM-5.3
- Criterion A: Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.
- Criterion B: Characterized by intrusion symptoms including reoccurring memories, dreams, or flashbacks.
- Criterion C: Characterized by avoidance symptoms. This is demonstrated by persistent effortful avoidance of distressing trauma-related stimuli after the event (e.g., people, places, conversations, situations) Alcoholism and drug abuse fall into the category of avoidance symptoms, as the individual may use these chemicals to avoid memories or to numb fear.
- Criterion D: Characterized by negative alterations in cognition and mood. These changes in mood occur or worsen after the trauma and may include persistent and distorted negative beliefs, self- blame, lack of interest in former interests, feeling separate from others, and feeling emotionally flat.
- Criterion E: Characterized by alterations in arousal and reactivity that began or worsened after the trauma. These include irritability, recklessness, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, poor concentration, and poor sleep.
- Criterion F: These symptoms last more than 1 month.
- Criterion G: These symptoms must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
- Criterion H: These disturbances are not due to the effects of a substance or another medical condition. In other words, the PTSD symptoms arise independently from any physiological effects of using drugs, alcohol, or medication.
PTSD and addiction treatment are even more important when criterion C is met – when substance abuse is used as a means to avoid any of the feelings associated with past trauma.
How Stress Affects PTSD and Addiction
It is widely known that stress is one of the most common and powerful triggers for drug addiction and relapse.4 PTSD itself if related to stress, not only causing a false sense of it in those who suffer from the condition, but also triggered by it as a response to other stressors. Both feed into each other and can create a cycle of addiction.
Treatment for Both PTSD and Addiction
The good news is that PTSD and addiction treatment services exist. Treatment centers that offer medical treatment and counseling for addiction and treatment for PTSD will typically yield better results for patients who suffer from both.
Drug treatment centers that also treat PTSD are a means to get back on track.
: US Department of Veterans Affairs – PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans
: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health – Prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among patients with substance use disorder: it is higher than clinicians think it is
: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health – Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in the DSM-5:
: New York Academy of Sciences – Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction