Mental health disorders can be very difficult. What’s even more difficult is dealing with two at the same time. PTSD is one of the most common mental health disorders to co-occur with substance abuse. It is important to remember that substance abuse treatment options are available for those struggling with PTSD and substance use disorder.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition that can occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks, nightmares, sudden emotional reactions, avoidance of certain situations and people, and constant unease. People with PTSD may also experience difficulty sleeping, irritability and anger, and difficulty concentrating. While it is normal to experience some form of distress after a traumatic event, symptoms that persist for weeks or months may be signs of PTSD.
Trauma plays a major role in PTSD. Trauma is often described as any event or situation that causes intense fear, horror, or helplessness. This could include the following:
When an individual experiences a traumatic event, their brain and body become overwhelmed with fear and stress hormones. The hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for processing memories, becomes impaired due to excess hormones. This can lead to difficulty forming new memories or recalling old ones.
The amygdala, the brain’s fear center, becomes overactive and can cause flashbacks or nightmares associated with the trauma. In addition, individuals may develop other physical responses, such as increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, or difficulty breathing.
PTSD has four main categories, including:
Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) is an anxiety disorder that develops in response to a traumatic event. It can occur shortly after a trauma and usually lasts between three days and one month. Symptoms of ASD include re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, increased arousal, negative thoughts or feelings related to the trauma, and difficulty functioning in everyday life.
People may also experience nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety attacks, depression, irritability, memory problems, and physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. These symptoms cause distress and impairment in the person’s daily activities. Treatment for ASD typically involves a combination of psychotherapy and medications to help manage the symptoms.
Uncomplicated PTSD is a type of mental health disorder that can occur in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. It is characterized by intrusive thoughts and memories, avoidance of certain stimuli associated with the trauma, increased arousal, negative alterations in mood and cognition, and physical symptoms.
These symptoms can interfere with the individual’s ability to function in their daily lives, including work, relationships, and social activities. Treatment for uncomplicated PTSD typically includes a combination of psychotherapy, medications, and lifestyle modifications.
Comorbid PTSD is when an individual experiences symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in addition to another mental health issue. Common comorbid conditions with PTSD include depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and other mood disorders. In some cases, individuals may also have physical health issues such as chronic pain or headaches related to PTSD. Treatment options may include talk therapy, medications, relaxation techniques, and/or lifestyle changes.
Complex PTSD, or C-PTSD, is a type of post-traumatic stress disorder caused by prolonged exposure to trauma over an extended period. It can occur when people experience multiple traumatic events, such as domestic violence, abuse, torture, and extreme neglect. Unlike PTSD caused by a one-time event, C-PTSD occurs from ongoing trauma over a long period.
C-PTSD symptoms are complex and can include depression, anxiety, fear, intrusive memories and flashbacks, emotional numbness, difficulty regulating emotions, social isolation or withdrawal from relationships, and difficulty trusting or connecting with other people.
People living with C-PTSD may also struggle to regulate their emotions, leading to extreme emotional outbursts or difficulty expressing their feelings. Additionally, they may experience a sense of helplessness and have difficulty establishing healthy boundaries in relationships due to the trauma they experienced.
People often turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with trauma. This type of self-medication can be very dangerous, as it can lead to further trauma and even addiction. Substance abuse is a form of self-harm that can potentially create more problems than it solves.
For many people, substance abuse is a coping mechanism for dealing with traumatic experiences. Drugs or alcohol can be used as a distraction from the pain of trauma and provide an escape from reality by altering how people perceive their surroundings. People may feel that using substances allows them to forget about their trauma, but this dangerous behavior can lead to further mental health issues.
Substance abuse can also lead to addiction, a chronic mental health condition that requires professional treatment and support. When PTSD and substance abuse combine, a person can suffer from a co-occurring disorder. Co-occurring disorders can have serious consequences when left untreated, such as financial problems, relationship issues, and legal trouble.
Co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis, is a term used to describe the presence of two or more coexisting mental health disorders in an individual. These disorders can include mental health and substance use disorders like depression and addiction, anxiety and addiction, bipolar disorder and alcohol dependence, or post-traumatic stress disorder and drug abuse.
Co-occurring disorders can complicate diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from addiction and mental health issues. Disorder symptoms can overlap, making it difficult for clinicians to assess the severity of individual illnesses. Treatment for co-occurring disorders requires a comprehensive approach that considers both psychological and biological aspects of health and behavior.
Recovering from co-occurring disorders requires patience and commitment from both the patient and their treatment team. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, many people find success in comprehensive treatment plans tailored to their individual needs. It is important for individuals to find a therapist who specializes in treating co-occurring disorders and has experience working with clients with similar symptoms and challenges.
The recovery process can be demanding, but it is possible to lead a healthy and fulfilling life after being diagnosed with co-occurring disorders. Treatment programs should include talk therapy, medication management, and other therapeutic modalities to help individuals build skills for managing their symptoms. Other important components of PTSD and substance abuse treatment may include support groups, lifestyle modifications (such as exercise and healthy eating), family therapy, and case management services.
PTSD can increase the risk of developing a substance abuse disorder or abusing substances to cope with associated symptoms. Some risk factors that can increase the chances of PTSD leading to addiction include:
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition caused by direct or indirect exposure to traumatic events, such as war, natural disasters, physical and sexual abuse, terrorist attacks, and other violence. PTSD can have serious long-term effects on an individual’s life if not treated properly. Treatment for PTSD typically includes a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Psychotherapy involves talking to a mental health professional about what happened during the traumatic event and describing how it affects your life today.
In addition, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people with PTSD challenge the negative thoughts and reactions related to their trauma and teach them new skills for coping with stress and anxiety. Medication may also be prescribed to help manage symptoms of PTSD, such as depression, insomnia, and intrusive thoughts. Finally, lifestyle changes like regular exercise, proper sleep hygiene, and relaxation can all help an individual better handle PTSD symptoms.
Addiction and PTSD are often treated simultaneously to maximize the treatment’s effectiveness. Generally, treatment for both begins with a comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional. During this evaluation, they will assess the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and overall well-being. From there, they can develop an individualized treatment plan that focuses on addressing the addiction and PTSD.
Psychotherapy is often a key component of PTSD and substance abuse treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy is particularly effective in treating both conditions, as it helps individuals recognize patterns in their thoughts and behaviors that are contributing to their distress. Other types of therapy, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), can also be beneficial.
A professional may prescribe medication to help manage PTSD symptoms like anxiety and depression. In some cases, they may also recommend medications to reduce cravings for drugs or alcohol. It is important that a health care professional monitor any prescribed medication closely, as the side effects can be dangerous.
Suffering from PTSD is not a walk in the park. Millions of people struggle with trauma daily. If you or a loved one can relate and want to find out more about PTSD and substance abuse treatment, contact us today.
Dr. Olaniyi O. Osuntokun is a Neurology & Psychiatry Specialist based in Conroe, Texas, and Lafayette, Indiana. He has extensive experience in treating Individuals with substance use disorders and addiction. He earned his medical degree from University of Ibadan College of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years.