The Link Between PTSD and Addiction

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Man holding his head in anguish outside on bench

For some people who struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), self-medicating with drugs or alcohol seems like the best way to cope with their physical and emotional pain. However, their mental vulnerability can lead to addiction, which will require treatment of the original diagnosis of PTSD in conjunction with treatment for the drug or alcohol addiction.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that affects approximately 7 percent of the U.S. population and is caused by witnessing or experiencing a physically or psychologically traumatic event that could have occurred at any age. PTSD can have an impact on a person months after the event or experience –warfare, assault, abuse, or witnessing of a brutal attack – has taken place. The most common cause of PTSD in women is a sexual assault, and for men, military combat.

Common symptoms of PTSD are nightmares, agitation on the anniversary of the traumatic event, flashbacks of the experience, depression, and anxiety. Individuals who have PTSD find it difficult to function on a daily basis. These individuals are continuously plagued by the trauma to the point where they will avoid situations, places, and people that trigger symptoms. These avoidances inevitably impact relationships with family, friends, and co-workers in a negative way.

PTSD and Addiction

For many individuals who have PTSD, self-medication with drugs or alcohol briefly numbs the emotional pain associated with the original trauma. However, the symptoms of PTSD often return at an even greater level. For instance, alcohol has been proven to worsen an individual’s depression and anxiety.

Once a person suffering from PTSD has become addicted to their substance of choice, they now suffer from dual diagnosis.

Treating PTSD and Addiction

Individuals who are trying to recover from a dual diagnosis of PTSD and addiction require intensive support from psychiatric professionals who specialize in treating both disorders. Not all addiction treatment centers are equipped to handle the intense psychological problems associated with PTSD.

In addition to traditional therapies, some addiction treatment centers provide offerings that will afford an individual the ability to address the underlying causes of their PTSD:

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that incorporates elements of cognitive behavioral therapy with eye movements and other forms of rhythmic stimulation. With no adverse side effects, this type of PTSD treatment can help unlock the suppressed fragments of the traumatic event in an individual’s brain. Once released, the next step of therapy will involve cognitive behavioral therapy to address each element of the original trauma.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

This is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy specifically designed to treat PTSD. Prolonged Exposure Therapy teaches an individual suffering from PTSD how to gradually approach related memories, feelings, and situations that they have been avoiding. Through breathing techniques, therapeutic activities, and talk therapy, an individual will learn how to counteract the physical sensations, how to respond to distressing situations, and how to gain control over thoughts and feelings.

Family-Based PTSD Treatment Programs

These programs are designed to help both an individual suffering from PTSD and their loved ones. Through family counseling, a therapist can help an entire family learn how to properly communicate, repair damaged relationships, and cope with difficult emotions that developed as a result of the disorder. Family-based treatment can also reduce the level of stress among family members and improve everyone’s psychological functioning. It also provides family members with the support to address concerns and fears about their loved one’s PTSD in a safe environment.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
Click here or call (888) 833-4676 to speak with one of our addiction treatment experts.