June marks the beginning of National PTSD Awareness Month, a period dedicated to raising awareness and understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD); two mental health conditions that affect millions of people across the country.
Unfortunately, PTSD and addiction often go hand-in-hand. The former makes the latter more likely. This article explores what PTSD and C-PTSD are, how they relate to addiction, and the various treatments available.
PTSD and C-PTSD can develop after a person experiences a traumatic event. Common triggers include:
These conditions can produce various symptoms, including:
PTSD and C-PTSD can interfere with a person’s ability to function. It can impact their relationships, work, and quality of life. However, PTSD and C-PTSD are not hopeless or incurable. There are effective treatments available that can help people recover and heal from their trauma, which we discuss below.
Many people with PTSD may use alcohol or drugs to cope with pain and distress. Substance use can provide temporary relief from the unpleasant feelings and sensations associated with PTSD. However, substance use can also worsen the condition and create new problems, such as addiction, health issues, legal troubles, and social isolation.
Various studies suggest a strong link between PTSD and substance use disorders (SUDs). For example, research shows that around half of people with PTSD abuse substances. Another study found that adults with four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse or neglect, were three times more likely to have alcohol problems in adulthood. Veterans–those who’ve been in active combat and seen the horrors of the battlefield–with PTSD are also at higher risk of developing SUDs.
The relationship between PTSD and SUDs is complex, and works in both directions. PTSD can increase the risk of developing a SUD, and vice versa. For instance, people with PTSD may use substances to self-medicate their symptoms, but substance use can also impair their ability to cope with stress and trauma healthily. Substance use can also increase the likelihood of exposure to further trauma, such as violence or accidents.
Fundamentally, substances are a tool for removing the pain associated with PTSD. It acts as a temporary form of relief that helps people escape their immediate suffering.
The bad news is that this approach can cause significant problems later on. While initial substance use may feel innocuous, long-term use is almost always damaging and can worsen the symptoms over time, putting the patient in an even more challenging position.
The type of treatment a patient receives for PTSD and addiction depends on the form of the condition they have and their personal situation. It is critical to:
Unfortunately, most approaches only focus on one aspect of a person’s problems or another. That’s why it is essential to combine various treatment types for the best outcome.
CBT is classified as a psychotherapy aimed at identifying negative thoughts and beliefs contributing to their distress and substance use. It also assists with the emotional aspect of PTSD and the underlying drivers of the condition.
As such, people see this approach as a do-it-all option. Proven talk therapies can significantly impact a person’s well-being and can deal with cravings, difficult emotions, and triggers.
Another option is PE, a therapy that encourages people to confront and process their traumatic memories in a safe and supportive environment. The idea is to progressively expose people to the stimuli causing them trauma, allowing the brain to cope and process them while teaching stress-minimization strategies.
For instance, a therapist might expose a person to sounds or situations that caused PTSD while facilitating meditation or deep breathing. They might also get them to relive events and talk them through how to cope with them more positively.
Seeking Safety is a manualized treatment program combining CBT and interpersonal therapy. The purpose of this approach is to teach a combination of coping skills, self-care, and interpersonal relationship advice to people living with PTSD and C-PTSD.
Some medical professionals may also recommend medications in some situations to treat PTSD and SUD. These drugs work by changing the chemistry in the brain, reducing the drive to self-medicate or engage in harmful behaviors and thought patterns.
Various groups need PTSD and addiction treatments. However, some groups are more common than others.
Victims of sexual abuse are at a higher risk of PTSD and addiction. Sexual abuse can cause severe psychological and emotional distress, as well as feelings of shame, guilt, anger, fear, and betrayal. Victims of sexual abuse may also have difficulty trusting others, forming healthy relationships, and coping with daily life.
The risk of developing PTSD is higher for victims of repeated or prolonged sexual abuse. Such events can overwhelm their ability to process them and regulate their condition, leading to a more severe manifestation of the disease.
Victims of military trauma are also at a considerably higher risk of PTSD. That’s because they must often witness life-threatening events or extreme cruelty. These can cause a sense of intense fear, horror, or helplessness to develop, triggering PTSD symptoms.
PTSD may be more likely among military personnel because of:
If you or someone you love has PTSD or C-PTSD and addiction, reach out to Jackson House Rehab for help. Our military and other programs assist people in getting their lives back on track and reducing the suffering they experience because of their conditions.