PTSD And Addiction


Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that affects a person’s mental health produced by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic incident. People encountering PTSD may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to conquer feelings of anxiety, fear, and stress.

Most of those who have suffered from or witnessed traumatic events eventually overcome their depression, anxiety, and agitation induced by those experiences. But when PTSD occurs, these symptoms don’t just go away on their own. They could last for months or years following the event. PTSD can develop as a result of experiencing witnessing:

  • Military warfare
  • Serious injury or accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Terrorism acts
  • Physical or sexual assault as a child or adult
  • The passing of a loved one

PTSD and addiction often co-occur, caused by severe trauma. Receiving a proper dual diagnosis treatment is vital for treating both conditions and getting back to a healthy, sober lifestyle.

Co-Occurring PTSD and Addiction


PTSD causes changes to brain chemistry similarly to how substance abuse and the disease of addiction do. Often, these disorders will develop simultaneously and feed off each other. The equivalent trauma that had caused the PTSD could also trigger a substance addiction.

After a traumatic experience, the brain starts producing fewer endorphins, which is the chemical that makes people feel happy. Those with PTSD might begin using alcohol and other mood-enhancing drugs to increase endorphin levels. But over time, they might become dependent on the substances they use to relieve their anxiety, irritability, and depression feelings.

Individuals suffering from PTSD and addiction are also more prone to panic attacks and violent outbursts, which can be stressful for friends and family to witness. The guilt feelings over these outbursts can drive people with PTSD to self medicate with alcohol and drugs. Continued use of these substances could lead to dependence.

Symptoms of PTSD


Each person who has PTSD will show varying symptoms based on their situation. However, there are common symptoms that a majority of people experiencing PTSD will encounter, which include:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Bad dreams
  • Difficulty concentrating and performing routine tasks
  • Being easily frightened
  • Recklessness
  • Avoiding triggers that recall the trauma
  • Exhibiting physically numb feelings
  • Unable to be affectionate

Understanding Substance Addiction


Substance addiction is a complicated condition in which a person’s substance abuse controls their brain despite the adverse outcomes. People suffering from substance addiction will prioritize alcohol and drugs and cannot function without it every day.

People can develop a substance addiction from almost any substance, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamine
  • Nicotine
  • Opioids
  • Tobacco

People suffering from substance addiction will have distorted behavior, thinking, and body functions. They will lack the capabilities to have reasonable judgment, and every day becomes focused on obtaining and using substances. It is vital to recognize this behavior in yourself or a loved one so you can enlist the help of an addiction treatment center immediately.

Symptoms of Addiction


In order to be diagnosed with substance addiction, at least some symptoms must be present. Everybody is unique, along with their symptoms. Some signs of addiction may occur for many, but not for all habits.

Listed below are some common substance addiction symptoms, which include:

  • Inconsistent with money by having large amounts of cash and then none at times
  • Significant shifts of friends, along with new social situations
  • Repeated unexplained excursions, usually with a sense of urgency
  • Drug paraphernalia like cigarette papers, pipes, small weighing scales, etc.
  • Drug stashes, generally in little plastic bags or little storage containers.
  • Higher tolerance causing them to use more of the substance to obtain the desired effect.
  • Extreme mood changes like being sad, happy, anxious, excited, etc.
  • Sleeping more or less than average, or at various times of the day or night.

Symptoms and Effects of PTSD


PTSD symptoms can change over time. Some symptoms may appear within a few months of a traumatic event; other times, it takes years until the disorder reveals itself.

PTSD affects the parts of the brain associated with emotions and memory. A healthy mind can understand the difference between the present and memories, but PTSD conflicts with this process. Those with PTSD may react to their current environment because it reminds them of previous trauma they experienced. The mind responds as though the person is still in that traumatic environment, triggering anxiety, stress, and fear.

Drug and alcohol addiction are also affected by memory. The brain of substance abusers will become susceptible to triggers, situations, and people linked with substance use, which can lead to cravings. PTSD and addiction triggers can act together and enhance the symptoms of each disorder.

How PTSD Can Lead to Addiction


The symptoms of PTSD can prompt self-medicating with drugs and alcohol when healthier coping methods aren’t available. This sort of substance abuse could lead to dependence and eventually, addiction. But there is also a chance the PTSD and addiction develop in tandem.

The same trauma that causes PTSD could also lead to developing a substance addiction, and vice versa. It is challenging to form clear lines between the cause and effect. In both cases, the individual struggles with trauma and addiction at the same time. In either case, the subject will require immediate clinical attention due to the risks of the symptoms and side effects worsening.

A few developments traced to PTSD and addiction, which can increase somebody’s distress include:

  • Aggression
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Insomnia
  • Isolation
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Poor memory
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Violence

Researchers have estimated that roughly 50% of those diagnosed with substance addiction also have PTSD. And that diagnosis is less favorable for those suffering from co-occurring disorders compared to those suffering from PTSD or addiction alone. But, with an extensive dual diagnosis treatment, the patient will increase their chances to stabilize and develop coping skills for lifelong recovery.

The Importance of Dual Diagnosis Treatment


Some people develop a substance addiction before being diagnosed with a mental health disorder, while others develop a habit after a diagnosed mental health disorder. Regardless of which happened first, it is crucial to find an addiction treatment plan that targets both disorders simultaneously rather than separately.

With dual diagnosis treatment, the best form of therapy will be conducted in a structured and safe inpatient treatment center.

Attending a residential treatment center for co-occurring disorders is an excellent choice due to the high level of care and attention patients receive. Usually, those with co-occurring disorders will arrive at the treatment center in a state of distress and poor health.

The combination of long-term substance-abuse and neglected mental state will usually require help from an addiction professional in a residential treatment environment. It is crucial to receive dual diagnosis treatment for substance addiction and mental health disorders treated simultaneously.

Enlisting the help of a treatment center that specializes in dual diagnosis treatment is essential to longterm sobriety.

Treatment Plans for PTSD and Addiction


Treatment plans for PTSD and addiction involve varying therapy methods, along with medical care and lifestyle changes. The treatment process for PTSD and addiction will include:

  • Medical detoxification: Withdrawal symptoms are challenging to manage alone, and times can become fatal. This is where medical detoxification comes in. Medical detox is the process where the body clears itself of harmful chemicals associated with substance use. To successfully treat PTSD and addiction, it is critical the patient no longer experiences withdrawal symptoms.
  • Assessment: A complete psychological and physical evaluation will ensure the treatment specialist can thoroughly and accurately create an effective treatment plan. This assessment is a way for the specialists to evaluate which stage of PTSD and addiction the patient is at and how to help them best.
  • Therapy: A customized substance addiction recovery plan is best for treating co-occurring disorders like PTSD and addiction. This is why the recovery plan must include multiple therapies and treatment methods, including group and individual therapy. 
  • Aftercare: The purpose of aftercare programs is to prevent relapse and promote lifelong sobriety. Depending on the patient, aftercare may be a lower program for PTSD and addiction, like outpatient care. In other circumstances, aftercare can require the patient to travel to the facility for therapy meetings once a week.

Residential vs. Outpatient Treatment for PTSD and Addiction


Residential Treatment

Residential treatment offers patients the highest level of care. People with PTSD and addiction receive 24-hour care and support in an inpatient treatment program. Inpatient treatment residents reside at the facility for the full term of treatment.

Residential treatment programs range from 28- to 90-day programs but, with the length depending on the patient. Residential treatment for co-occurring disorders allows patients to focus on themselves in a healthy, substance-free environment.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment doesn’t require patients to reside at the facility. Alternatively, patients travel to the facility for treatment and come home after, pending a healthy and stable environment. This is particularly ideal for people with obligations, like taking care of a loved one, or the need to attend work or school. Outpatient treatment is a less intensive therapy approach that offers the most amount of flexibility.

Get Help for PTSD and Addiction Today!


PTSD and addiction do not have to control your life anymore. PTSD and addiction are barriers that you or a loved one can overcome with the right dual-diagnosis treatment plan. Harmony Ridge Recovery Center treats co-occurring disorders by providing patients with high-quality therapy in a supportive environment.

Our team here at Harmony Ridge Recovery Center can help in developing healthy coping mechanisms that can promote recovery from PTSD and addiction. Contact us today with any questions and allow us to get you the answers you seek!

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