PTSD and Substance Use Disorder

It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. 

Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in danger. People who have PTSD and substance use disorder need to have both disorders treated at the same time for the best results.

Not everyone who goes through a serious and traumatic event will develop signs of PTSD. There are various factors that influence whether a person might develop PTSD after witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event. For example, more women develop PTSD in response to trauma vs. men. In general, between three and four percent of adults in the United States have PTSD. The rate becomes higher when you look at groups like military veterans as well as first responders and law enforcement.

PTSD And Substance Use Disorder

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? 

PTSD is a mental health disorder that develops after exposure to a traumatic event. The traumatic event may be experienced directly, witnessed, or happen to someone close to you. 

Some examples of traumatic events are:

  • Serious accidents.
  • Military combat.
  • Natural disasters.
  • Personal assaults.
  • Abuse.

Although anyone can technically develop PTSD through traumatic scenarios, some people are more at risk. Those with repeated trauma, a history of mental illness, childhood abuse victims, and those who experience further stress after the traumatic event are more at risk to develop PTSD.

Statistics on PTSD and Drug Abuse

PTSD and substance abuse statistics show significant relationships between these conditions:

  • Around 33 percent of veterans seeking substance abuse treatment have comorbid PTSD.
  • About 50 percent of people in inpatient substance abuse treatment also have PTSD.
  • Nearly 80 percent of women seeking substance abuse treatment have lifetime histories of sexual or physical assault.
  • People who abuse opiates and cocaine report higher rates of exposure to trauma than users of other substances.
  • People with PTSD are at least two times more likely than the general population to have an alcohol use disorder.
  • 75 percent of veterans with PTSD have a co-occurring substance use disorder.
  • Most people with PTSD—about 80%—have one or more additional mental health diagnoses. They are also at risk for functional impairments, reduced quality of life, and relationship problems. 

Due to the strong link between PTSD and addiction, it is important to screen for and treat PTSD and substance use disorder together.

Symptoms of PTSD

After a traumatic event, a number of symptoms must surface for the person to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. There are four different types of PTSD symptoms:

  • Intrusion symptoms. At least 1 intrusion symptom must be present.
  • Avoidance symptoms. At least 1 avoidance symptom must be present.
  • Cognitions and mood symptoms. At least 2 negative changes in cognitions and mood must be present.
  • Arousal and reactivity symptoms. At least 2 noticeable changes must be present.

In more detail, the symptoms can be described as: 

  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Severe anxiety
  • Attitude and behavioral changes, such as easily irritated and angered.
  • Difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
  • Feeling numb and avoiding people, places, or activities.
  • Reliving the trauma, experiencing flashbacks, and having nightmares.
  • Avoiding thinking or talking about the event
  • Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind you of the event
  • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Always being on guard
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Difficulty concentrating or sleeping
  • Irritability or anger outbursts
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame

Some combination of the above symptoms must be present for at least 1 month for the person to meet the criteria for PTSD. Also, the symptoms must affect important areas of functioning, such as school, work, the ability to maintain relationships with others, or the ability to take care of oneself. Lastly, the symptoms must not be due to other factors, such as another medical condition or substance use.

What is a Dual Diagnosis?

Many people diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD) also suffer from a co-occurring mental health or behavioral disorder. This is known as a dual diagnosis. Individuals with a dual diagnosis require an integrated treatment plan that addresses both disorders as interconnected mental health issues. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 45 percent of people with addiction have a co-occurring mental health disorder.

By seeking treatment for addiction and a co-occurring behavioral or mental health disorder, you will stand the best chances of successfully attaining the fulfilling, healthy life you deserve.

Why Does SUD Hinder PTSD Treatment?

“Nearly three-quarters of those surviving violent or abusive trauma report alcohol use disorders.”

– U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

PTSD changes brain chemistry in much the same way substance abuse and addiction do. PTSD and substance use disorder (SUD) are a dangerous combination. Often, these disorders form at the same time and feed off one another. The same trauma that caused PTSD can also trigger a substance use disorder. Substance abuse hinders the treatment and recovery process for any mental health condition. PTSD can be particularly complicated by substance use because recovery from PTSD requires a person to reconnect with memories, thoughts and feelings that they have suppressed or avoided. 

Drugs can numb emotions and disrupt thinking and memory, making it difficult for people with PTSD to process trauma while actively using substances. Substance use can also worsen PTSD symptoms through the ways it disrupts sleep and can make prescription psychiatric medications less effective. One thing is certain, PTSD and substance use disorder should be treated together. 

Treating Co-Occurring Disorder | PTSD and Substance Use Disorder 

Years ago, it was common to treat PTSD, one had to first treat the substance use problems. It has also been suggested to successfully treat a substance problem, one had to treat the PTSD first. Unfortunately, these myths continue in some places. However, research has shown clearly that the best treatment addresses PTSD and SUD simultaneously.

At Harmony Ridge, we understand that patients undergoing dual diagnosis treatment require special care and attention. Having two disorders at the same time is not easy to handle, but you can put your faith in us. We offer a comprehensive approach to dual diagnosis treatment, and we know that there is no one right solution for everybody. Each program we design is tailored to our patients.

If you have co-occurring disorders, they must be treated simultaneously. An inpatient rehab program will be your best option since you’re suffering from two major health conditions. When you’re in an inpatient program, you’ll receive intense, round-the-clock care. When a dual diagnosis is treated as one, doctors will be better able to determine the causes of both your addiction and your mental illness. 

While there is no single best treatment for co-occurring PTSD and substance use disorders, research has shown that successful dual-diagnosis treatment uses an integrated approach. Individuals with co-occurring SUD and PTSD suffer a more complicated course of treatment and less favorable treatment outcomes than individuals with either disorder alone. 

Common therapeutic approaches include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Residential TreatmentPartial Hospitalization Program,  Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). Pharmacotherapy can also be helpful in reducing PTSD symptoms and preventing people who are in treatment for PTSD and substance use disorder.

PTSD and Substance Use Disorder | Where to Go For Help

When examining someone with a dual diagnosis, it isn’t always easy to tell whether the substance abuse or mental health disorder came first. However, with the right treatment and recovery plan, people with co-occurring disorders can live healthy, sober lives. They can also gain the confidence to face their mental illness head-on and use coping skills to manage it daily. 
Are you suffering from drug addiction and a mental health disorder? It’s not too late for you to seek help. Harmony Ridge Recovery Center can bring light to the dark path you’ve been on for so long. Don’t give up hope now! For more information about the symptoms of PTSD and substance use disorder contact Harmony Ridge Recovery Center today.

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