PTSD Co-Occurring with Drug Abuse or Alcoholism

It’s quite common for people who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD) to also suffer from addiction. The tendency is to self-medicate in order to deal with the symptoms of PTSD, which is where addiction often comes into play. Not everyone who has PTSD is aware that they have it. While some people might vividly recall certain traumatic events happening to them, there are others whose subconscious minds have blocked out these events. As a result, they experience all of the symptoms of PTSD, but without any recollection about why.

The symptoms of PTSD can persist for months, or even years, which makes for a fertile breeding ground for addiction to thrive.

The anxiety, agitation and depression that can result from PTSD can be very overwhelming, and there are many people who don’t realize how closely PTSD and addiction can be linked. The symptoms of PTSD can persist for months, or even years, which makes for a fertile breeding ground for addiction to thrive.

Perhaps you feel you may have PTSD, or maybe you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, and you also have an addiction to either drugs or alcohol. If this is the case, the best thing you can do for yourself is to get professional help. However, it’s important to remember that in order for the professional help you obtain to be effective, it’s vital to treat both your addiction and your PTSD at the same time. This is called treatment for co-occurring disorders, or dual diagnosis treatment, and studies have shown that this method is the most effective way to get help.

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What Exactly is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that is caused by the occurrence of one or more traumatic events. There are different types of PTSD that can develop, and everyone is different as far as how they respond when trauma strikes. There are those whose PTSD causes them to constantly relive the event they experienced in their minds. These individuals might have physical sensations, or they might have flashbacks that strike out of nowhere that take them back to the day of the event. At times, it can almost be like watching a movie of the event playing over and over in the mind.

PTSD can also cause avoidance behaviors within certain people. As a result, they avoid being around people as much as possible, or they may avoid various places or things that they consider to be triggers for memories of the event that occurred. Memory loss is quite common, and sometimes people will even black out parts of the experience that are too painful for them to think about.

People who suffer from PTSD will usually feel numb inside. Their ability to connect with others is tarnished because of the events they’ve been through. They may find it difficult to relax, sleep, or even just remain still for a period of time. They often lose interest in activities or hobbies they once enjoyed, and may have a hard time functioning at work or within their families.

How Does PTSD Occur?

As you might imagine, there are a multitude of different events that can cause PTSD to develop. Many people experience these or similar events and eventually find that the symptoms they cause are quite short-lived. However, there are others who deal with their symptoms for a very long time, and this is when PTSD is suspected.

Some common events that can lead to PTSD include:

  • Being a participant in military combat
  • Witnessing acts of terrorism
  • Living through a natural disaster
  • Being in a serious accident
  • Sustaining a serious injury
  • Living through the death of a loved one
  • Being a victim of a physical assault as a child or as an adulthood
  • Being a victim of a sexual assault as a child or as an adult

When these events occur, they are crises that never really get resolved in the mind. Being unable to resolve them can have devastating consequences as time goes on. For example, if a soldier who was a prisoner during a battle experiences PTSD, flashbacks can occur that bring him back to the time he spent in prison. In the same way, children who are sexually abused often grow up with feelings of helplessness that follow them into adulthood.


What Effects Does PTSD Have on the Body and Mind?

PTSD can have a profound effect on the body, and it’s not surprising that so many people choose to self-medicate when they’re suffering from this disorder. The symptoms that develop are different for everyone, and they can also change quite a bit as time goes on. For some people, their symptoms come to the surface within three months of when the event took place, whereas others might not begin to demonstrate symptoms for years.

PTSD can lead to feelings of:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts

It’s also quite typical for people who have PTSD to show signs of other conditions as well. For example, they may exhibit signs of having Attention Deficit Disorder. They may also suffer from having chronic pain throughout their bodies, or be diagnosed with a serious medical condition like diabetes, high blood pressure or liver disease.

Veterans have a very high rate of PTSD diagnoses, which is to be expected. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has found that there is a definite link between PTSD and overall physical health. According to their research, those who report having PTSD symptoms are much more likely to have physical health problems than those who do not. Even so, research is inconclusive as to whether or not PTSD causes poor health. Instead, experts believe that because the way the mind and body are not able to communicate well in those who have PTSD, the condition actually promotes poor health.

What are the Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

You may suspect that you have PTSD because of a traumatic event in your past. However, it’s possible that you’re not completely sure because you don’t know the signs you should be looking for. Some of the more common signs and symptoms of PTSD might include:

  • Having repeating memories of a traumatic event
  • Experiencing night terrors that relate to a traumatic event
  • Experiencing physical sensations that are reminders of a traumatic event in your past
  • Finding it difficult to talk about the traumatic event you’ve experienced
  • Feeling as though you’re emotionally numb
  • Finding it hard to maintain close relationships
  • Experiencing lapses in your memory 

Another sign of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may be self-destructive behavior, such as binge drinking or using drugs. 

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How are PTSD and Addiction Linked with Each Other?

Dealing with the symptoms of PTSD is very difficult and trying, on both the mind and the body. Because of the amount of stress that’s created with PTSD, those who have it will often turn to using drugs or alcohol as a way to escape. In fact, 52% of men and 28% of women who have PTSD actually meet the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence. 35% of men and 27% of women meet the criteria for drug abuse.

Research has also shown that endorphin withdrawal plays a role in the way people with PTSD will use drugs or alcohol to control their symptoms as well. Endorphins are naturally released by the brain when experiencing a traumatic event, and these endorphins have the ability to reduce pain and serve as a way to cope. When the event has passed, endorphin withdrawal sets in, which is the same type of withdrawal that is experienced when drugs or alcohol are stopped. According to Alcohol Research & Health, it’s actually quite normal for people to turn to substances as a way to replace those endorphins. As time goes by, the individual begins to feel as though he or she needs drugs or alcohol to feel normal. This is when addiction takes place.

It’s easy to see how PTSD and addiction can be linked with each other. The question is, what is the proper way to treat them?

How Can Dual Diagnosis Treatment Help with PTSD and Addiction?

At one point, dual diagnosis treatment for PTSD and addiction was not available. When someone presented with both conditions, their addiction was treated first, and then once sobriety was reached, the PTSD was treated. The problem with this method was that the reasons for the addiction were never addressed, and this only serves to perpetuate a harmful and dangerous cycle of addiction.

Dual diagnosis treatment was developed because it was apparent that the “old” way of treating co-occurring disorders was not working. Relapse rates were high under the previous method, and it was apparent that there needed to be some significant changes made. Dual diagnosis treatment works by looking at both the mental health condition and the addiction as a whole. In many cases, PTSD leads to addiction, and so it’s important to deal with the source of the addiction in order for proper recovery to occur. This is done by taking a number of different steps:

  • Making sure that every patient receives the right diagnosis for treatment
  • Creating a treatment plan that completely addresses the needs of each patient on a personal level
  • Putting counseling into place that will address both the addiction and the PTSD diagnosis
  • Integrating group therapy, which has been proven to be effective for co-occurring disorders
  • Creating a follow-up plan for continued dual diagnosis treatment in aftercare 

If you suffer from PTSD and addiction, please be assured that it is possible to learn what your triggers are, and the best ways to handle those triggers, rather than turning to substances for comfort when you encounter them. A comprehensive and integrated treatment plan can combine the best of addiction treatment and treatment for PTSD to produce therapy that will be beneficial for both conditions.

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Getting Help for PTSD and Addiction at NorthPoint Recovery

If you’re suffering from PTSD, it’s possible that you never thought about the fact that your addiction and your mental health condition could be linked with each other. Many people don’t. There are even those who keep their PTSD symptoms a secret from any professionals they come into contact with because they are afraid of being labeled as someone with a mental health condition. Whether you have a long-standing diagnosis of PTSD, or you suspect that you need to be diagnosed with it, getting the right kind of help for your co-occurring disorder is the only way you will be able to find relief.

Here at NorthPoint Recovery, we want you to know that we understand how you feel. We know the stress you’re facing, and we know how difficult it can be to reach out and ask for help. However, our approach is different than what you might find at other addiction treatment centers. It is our goal to treat the source of your addiction so that you can experience a full recovery. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you overcome your addiction with dual diagnosis treatment, please contact us today.



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