How and Why Can PTSD Lead to Addiction?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a mental illness characterized by symptoms relating to a person’s continued experience of trauma symptoms, long after the original source of the trauma has passed. The disorder has long been associated with soldiers and military veterans – originally referred to as “shell shock,” which attributed the symptoms of PTSD as the result of shock from the use of artillery shells – but PTSD is not restricted to only this one demographic.
PTSD and Addiction
What Is PTSD?
What Causes PTSD?
- Abuse – Experiencing or witnessing abuse can cause a person to develop PTSD.
- Illness or Injury – Being unable to protect one’s body from harm can impact a person’s sense of safety in profound ways and lead to PTSD.
- Violence and Natural Disasters – Floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires can all potentially cause PTSD for those who are affected by them. Feelings of helplessness associated with these events potentially exacerbate the impact of trauma.
The Relationship Between PTSD and Addiction
Some studies suggest that up to 50% of those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder have drug or alcohol use disorders. This relationship may be due to the deeply unpleasant symptoms of PTSD, such as flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, paranoia, and intense and overwhelming fear, which are often able to be subdued through the effects of drugs and alcohol, leading people to turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication.3
Signs of PTSD
Attitude and Behavioral Changes
Depression and anxiety are commonly associated with PTSD. Cognitive challenges, memory issues, and loss of interest in hobbies or activities are other common effects. These changes can make those affected by the condition appear less engaged, or vibrant than they did prior to the traumatic incident.
Difficulty Sleeping and Concentrating
Feeling Numb and Avoiding People
Reliving the Trauma
Returning to the site where a trauma occurred (or someplace similar), reading about someone experiencing a similar traumatic event, or being forced to stay in the same place as one’s abuser, can cause victims of trauma to feel as though they are reliving the trauma. Flashbacks may happen to individuals with PTSD, even without an obvious trigger or known cause.
Effects of PTSD
Distortion of Beliefs
Nightmares and Flashbacks
Lack of Interest
Causes of PTSD
Inherited Mental Health Risks
Inherited Personality Features
Hormone and Chemical Regulation
Complications with PTSD
Depression and Anxiety
Issues with Drugs or Alcohol Use
Suicidal Thoughts and Actions
Why Do People with PTSD Use Drugs?
People with PTSD are at a greater risk of developing co-occurring PTSD and drug addictions. Symptoms of PTSD, and the trauma that led to the disorder’s development, change how the brain functions. It is not uncommon for people struggling with PTSD to use drugs to dull the intensity of their symptoms. Some drugs could reduce the severity and frequency of nightmares and flashbacks caused by sleep. Others may reduce a person’s anxiety to allow them to concentrate better on important tasks. If the underlying motivations for drug use are not addressed – like a need for better quality sleep or reduced anxiety to be able to complete essential tasks – then it is unlikely that treatment will be effective.
Drug Misuse is Not a Healthy Solution
While drug use may temporarily help to minimize symptom severity, it can lead to a number of problems. Primarily, drug use to avoid PTSD does not help to address the underlying cause of symptoms, which is usually related to the formation and storage of traumatic memories. Additionally, drug use can impact a person’s personal and professional lives through the behavioral and attitude changes caused by drugs.
How Is Complex PTSD Diagnosed?
Therapy for PTSD and Addiction
Cognitive Restructuring Therapy
Group therapy sessions, led by trained mental healthcare providers, can facilitate healthy introspection, provide peer support, and allow those suffering from PTSD to enjoy the benefits of an empathetic community.
PTSD and Addiction Treatment at Concise Recovery
If you or a loved one are struggling, seeking help at a treatment program specializing in PTSD treatment is the best way to begin your journey. Without treatment, symptoms of PTSD can persist throughout a lifetime. With treatment, it is possible to treat symptoms so that they may be reduced and more effectively managed. If you are ready to start your recovery journey, contact us today to learn more about PTSD and Addiction Treatment at Concise Recovery.