The Link Between PTSD and Addiction

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying or traumatic event after experiencing or witnessing it. Not everyone who has been diagnosed with PTSD has gone through a dangerous event. Some experiences such as the sudden death of a loved one can also cause PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD may start within a month of the traumatic event but sometimes may not show up until years later. This condition can cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships.  It can even hinder a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks. The symptoms of PTSD vary from person to person but may include:

  • Re-experiencing symptoms – Flashbacks or reliving the trauma over and over, bad dreams, or frightening thoughts.
  • Avoidance symptoms – Staying away from the place, events, or objects that remind the person of the traumatic experience or avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the event.
  • Arousal and reactivity symptoms – Being easily startled, feeling on edge or tense, having difficulty sleeping, or having angry outbursts.
  • Mood or cognitive symptoms include – Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event, negative thoughts about the world and themselves, distorted feelings of guilt or blame, or loss of interest in enjoyable things.

The Link Between PTSD and Addiction

Substance Abuse and PTSD

There is a well-documented link between substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. According to NIH:

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness. Addiction is the most severe form of a full spectrum of substance use disorders, and is a medical illness caused by repeated misuse of a substance or substances.

Addiction and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder have a very complex relationship with each other. High levels of stress, like having PTSD, can make it more likely for a person to turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to escape from the stress and symptoms of PTSD. Drugs and alcohol increase pleasure, decrease anxiety, and also provide a distraction from difficult and health to deal with emotions. Drugs increase the levels of dopamine in a person’s brain. This chemical is what causes a person to feel happy, something people with PTSD tend to lack in their life. These drugs become a coping mechanism and a method of self-medication for someone with PTSD. While alcohol and drugs may temporarily relieve someone from the PTSD symptoms, as the drugs wear off, the levels of stress and PTSD symptoms often worsen.

Treatment for PTSD and Addiction

When PTSD and addiction coincide with each other, it is very important to treat the two disorders in an integrated manner. Likely you would first address the drug dependency in the form of detox. PTSD can often time heighten the severity of withdrawal symptoms, so a medical detox is the best route.

Once a medical detox has completed, getting into a dual diagnosis treatment program is the best option. Here at Recreate Life Counseling, we have a program that specifically addresses the issues that dual diagnosis patients face. We offer a cross-disciplinary team of physicians, psychiatrists, and therapists who specialize in both addiction recovery and mental health treatment. Our programs are structured to help patients recover from addiction in a way that coincides with their mental health treatment. We offer science-based methods for bothering therapy and addiction treatment like cognitive behavioral therapy, individual and group counseling, and holistic therapy.

Addiction, as well as PTSD, isn’t an easy problem to face and it is detrimental to face these issues head-on. You do not have to face this on your own. Our admissions counselors and addiction professionals are available around the clock.

We are ready to help you or a loved one overcome the disease of addiction. Now is the time to change your life. Let us help you do it!