PTSD and Substance Abuse

Over the years, numerous studies have concluded that high comorbidity rates exist between those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and those who suffer from substance abuse disorders. The rates of substance abuse disorders amongst those afflicted with lifetime PTSD ranges from 21 to 43 percent, while the rates of substance abuse amongst members of the general population (individuals who do not suffer from PTSD) ranges from 8 to 25 percent. In clinical populations (for example, amongst men and women who are in treatment for addiction), these rates are significantly higher.

Rates are higher amongst women than men, though it is suggested that childhood trauma is responsible for the majority of known PTSD cases in both sexes. In order to successfully treat those who are suffering from a dual-diagnosis disorder such as addiction and any co-occurring mental health condition, it is crucial that both disorders are treated thoroughly and concurrently. In order to further understand why it is so crucial that both conditions are treated simultaneously, let us first take a closer look at each.

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, frequently abbreviated to PTSD, is a mental health condition that may occur after one has been through a particularly traumatic event. During a traumatic event, the individual who is experiencing it will feel as if his or her life is in immediate danger, or as if the lives of others are in danger. Feelings of intense and overpowering fear and an overwhelming lack of control will typically occur, and these experiences may lead to stress-related reactions long after the event has come to an end.

Examples of traumatic events may include:

  • Childhood abuse (sexual or physical)
  • Sexual assault
  • Physical assault
  • Serious accidents (such as an injurious car accident)
  • Combat exposure
  • Terrorist attack
  • Natural disasters

Most individuals who experience significant trauma will exhibit stress-related symptoms soon after the exposure – PTSD develops when these symptoms worsen or persist for an extended period of time. The reasoning behind why some develop PTSD and others do not is unclear, though several contributing factors have been consistently noted.

One may develop PTSD depending on:

  • How intense the event was and/or how long the event lasted. (Those who undergo persistent sexual abuse throughout childhood are more likely to develop the disorder than those who were molested once at an early age, for example.)
  • Whether or not the event resulted in personal injury or the injury or death of a loved one.
  • How “in control” he or she felt during the event. (A complete lack of control or power tends to leave an individual more susceptible to developing this specific disorder.)
  • How much help and support was available immediately following the event. (Those that keep the event a secret for an extended length of time, and those who do not receive proper therapeutic treatment following the event are far more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD further down the line.)

Symptoms of PTSD

It is most common for symptoms of PTSD to appear immediately following the traumatic event, though in some cases symptoms will not appear for months or years. If the symptoms last for longer than 4 weeks, interfere with daily life, and cause significant personal distress, it is likely that the afflicted individual is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are four distinctive symptoms of PTSD:

  1. Avoiding situations that remind the individual of the traumatic event.

One suffering from this disorder will likely attempt to avoid people, places, or things that remind him or her of the event. He or she may even try desperately to avoid thinking about the event or discussing it with anyone.

  1. Reliving the traumatic event.

Re-experiencing the event most commonly takes place in the form of nightmares or intrusive bad memories. During a ‘flashback’, and individual will feel as if he or she is living through the event again, and all of the uncomfortable feelings of fear and helplessness will be aroused.

  1. Hyper-arousal.

Those who experience hyper-arousal will constantly be jittery or agitated, always on the look out for danger. They may have trouble sleeping or concentrating. To others, they may seem paranoid.

  1. Negative changes in feelings and beliefs.

The afflicted individual may constantly bear feelings of shame, guilt, or invasive fear. Self-image and the way he or she views others may be significantly altered after the traumatic experience occurs. The individual may also begin avoiding activities that he or she used to enjoy, perhaps fearful that they will trigger other related symptoms.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Abuse

Several explanations as to why PTSD and substance abuse disorders are so frequently co-occurring have been proposed. From a developmental standpoint, those who undergo significant childhood trauma may have a difficult time developing self-regulatory mechanisms, both behavioral and emotional, which will make them more susceptible to substance abuse and addiction later on in life. It has also frequently been observed that those who suffer from the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder will utilize drinking and drugging as a method of self-medication, therefore increasing the risk of chemical dependency.

The second proposed relationship suggests that those who suffer from substance abuse disorders are more prone to undergoing traumatic experiences while intoxicated, seeing as their inhibitions are compromised and they are far more likely to put themselves into precarious and dangerous situations. Lastly, substance abuse disorders may increase the likelihood of developing PTSD and related symptoms after traumatic exposure, considering the fact that psychological vulnerability is likely dramatically increased by chronic use. The last explanation deliberates a third variable, such a severe lacking of coping skills, in the development of both PTSD and an addictive disorder simultaneously.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Untreated post-traumatic stress disorder will inevitably interfere with addiction treatment, just as an unaddressed substance abuse disorder will hinder any attempted therapeutic and psychiatric healing from such a mental condition. Because the two are so closely intertwined, it is absolutely crucial that dual addiction treatment is sought. At Next Chapter Treatment, we focus heavily on the role that childhood trauma and other significantly traumatic experiences play in the development and exacerbation of chemical dependency. We employ proven therapeutic techniques along with professional psychiatric care, ensuring that each of our clients is treated comprehensively and compassionately. Our staff members have ample experience working closely alongside patients who suffer from both disorders simultaneously, and have developed a program of recovery that is wholly inclusive of all potential mental, emotional, and spiritual maladies. For more information, please contact us at 1-844-822-7524 today.