The Common Connection Between PTSD and Addiction

For those who are struggling with substance abuse, the underlying causes of why they are stuck in the seemingly never-ending cycle of addiction lie beneath the surface. In many instances, the abuse of drugs and alcohol is commonly a symptom of a deeper psychological issue that the addict has been struggling with for years, and maybe even a lifetime. For those who silently struggle with a mental disorder, the allure of substances as a way to cope with their inner turmoil becomes too strong to overcome.

Arguably one of the most crippling mental disorders that a person can experience is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The intense stress and anxiety that people feel with PTSD will lead many to substances, but the relief they experience is short-term and their substance abuse will continue abated if they are unable to come to terms with their trauma in a healthy and proactive manner. For those who are dealing with a mental illness issue such as PTSD as well as a substance abuse issue, they are seen as having a dual diagnosis. If a person with this diagnosis decides to seek help, the road to recovery becomes more difficult.

In order to help an individual who may is suffering from PTSD as well as substance abuse, it is important to understand what PTSD is, how PTSD and addiction are related and the importance of tailoring drug and alcohol treatment to address both issues. If you or a loved one is struggling with PTSD and addiction or any dual diagnosis, call the addiction professionals at Dream Center for Recovery today.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a severe  psychiatric disorder in which an individual experiences an overwhelming amount stress and anxiety after witnessing a traumatic event or being involved in a traumatic event. When someone experiences trauma on an intense level, it leaves people feeling powerless, vulnerable and out of control. The development of PTSD can occur if an individual is involved in a number of life-threatening events including military combat, natural disasters, physical assault, sexual assault and childhood abuse.

Because of these experiences, people will often have repeated nightmares and flashbacks which are an indicator these crises have never been fully resolved in their psyche. When these are experienced, people who are afflicted with PTSD will react in a couple of different ways. For instance, a soldier who was taken a prisoner in a battle and couldn’t fight his captors might have flashbacks as a way to work through their unresolved anger and fear. In another instance, a young child who was sexually abused might grow up feeling helpless and wanting revenge because of those unresolved feelings.

PTSD Statistics

According to statistics provided by PTSD United, It is estimated that 70 percent of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives, and 20 percent of those individuals eventually develop PTSD. It is also estimated that 22.4 million people in the United States have PTSD at any given time. Additionally, one in nine women in the United States develops PTSD making them twice as likely as men to develop the disorder.

The main reason for the development of PTSD and substance abuse differs between the sexes. According to information provided by the National Center for PTSD, sexual abuse is the most common cause of the development of PTSD and addiction in women. For men, combat situations are the most common reason for the development of this disorder in men. It has been estimated that 60 to 80 percent of Vietnam veterans in treatment for PTSD also have substance abuse issues.

In addition to nightmare and flashbacks, other common symptoms associated with PTSD include an avoidance of people and places associated with the traumatic event, sleeplessness and the display of aggressive behaviors.

man scared seeing shadows

The Link Between PTSD and Addiction

As stated in the introduction to this article, the symptoms of PTSD are extremely stressful and unpleasant for those who experience them, and it causes great distress and suffering. Because of the intense levels of stress that people with PTSD feel, they often turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to dull those feelings. At the root of the connection between PTSD and addiction is the feelings people experience when they undergo endorphin withdrawal.

When a person experiences a traumatic event in their lives, their brain releases an enormous amount of endorphins as a way to cope with the stress of the moment. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce the sensation and feelings of pain and helps create a sense of well-being. When that particular event has passed, people can experience endorphin withdrawal and can experience a variety of symptoms that mirror those experienced in those withdrawing from drugs and alcohol. These symptoms can include anxiety, depression, and the increased cravings for substances.

The Need for Specialized Dual Diagnosis Treatment

According to statistics provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), it is estimated that as many as 53 percent of drug abusers and 37 percent of alcohol abusers also suffer from at least one serious mental illness–including PTSD. For those people who are dealing with the dual diagnosis of PTSD and drug addiction, mental health counseling or drug treatment on its’ own will be inadequate in dealing with the specific issues both problems present. The only way that a person dealing with both disorders can truly get the help they need is through specialized treatment, but there are a couple of roadblocks that must be addressed.

First, those who experience PTSD and addiction live with immense guilt and shame and may be reluctant in reaching out and accepting help. Secondly, even if they do accept treatment, their motivation to utilize the resources that are available to them. That’s why it is important that people suffering from both PTSD and drug addiction undergo a comprehensive treatment program that involves not only addiction professionals but also mental health professionals as well as family and peers.

Integrated care must include the essential foundations of drug treatment programming such as medical detoxification, individual and group therapy and life skills training, but there also needs to be other more specialized focuses with dual diagnosis treatment. For example, dual diagnosis treatment should emphasize psychotherapy to teach clients how to handle the triggers that lead to substance abuse and identify thoughts and behaviors that keep them stuck in their addiction.

Dual diagnosis care also includes group counseling sessions with others who also suffer from PTSD as well an addictive disorder. Additionally, family counseling and therapy should also be featured because it helps strengthen relationships and educate family members about PTSD and substance abuse. Much like other treatment programs, those in dual diagnosis treatment will be highly encouraged to actively participate in a 12-step group or another sober support group.

Turn To Dream Center for Recovery for Effective Dual Diagnosis Treatment

For those who deal with the dual diagnosis of PTSD and addiction, finding comprehensive and specialized help is of the utmost in importance. Dream Center for Recovery provides clients a full continuum of care that addresses the physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of addiction. For effective dual diagnosis treatment that is proven to work and delivered by experienced staff who treats each client with compassion and respect, call Dream Center for Recovery toll-free today.