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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Addiction

November 5, 2021
All Points North Lodge

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological disorder resulting from traumatic events. PTSD takes a toll on a person's physical and mental health, and the symptoms are debilitating and interfere with everyday activities.

PTSD and addiction are very closely related mental health conditions that often correlate and create a positive feedback loop. Traumatic experiences can often lead a person down the rough path of addiction in an effort to escape. Unfortunately, addiction can cause further conflict and lead to additional traumatic events. If you suffer from PTSD and addiction, you can get recovery support and lead a healthier life.

PTSD Symptoms

PTSD is a complex psychological disorder. Some patients experience one or two symptoms, while others suffer from almost all of them. Symptoms may not immediately appear after the traumatic event – in some cases, symptoms can take years to develop. However, a PTSD diagnosis usually happens when someone experiences persistent symptoms that last for a month or longer.

There are four distinct categories of PTSD symptoms: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative thinking and mood, and emotional and physical reactions. We will go into detail about each of the categories and their effects on people with PTSD.

Signs You May Have PTSD

Intrusive Memories

The most well-known category of PTSD symptoms is likely intrusive memories. Also known as flashbacks, intrusive memories can cause significant psychological distress. The flashbacks are often uncontrollable, triggered by a reminder of the patient's trauma.

Intrusive memory symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Reliving the traumatic event
  • Persistent memories of the traumatic event
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks triggered by reminders of the traumatic event

Intrusive thoughts can push a person with PTSD to desperation, which is part of the reason people suffering from PTSD and addiction have difficulty recovering. Illicit substances can inhibit intrusive thoughts, but that effect is temporary. Someone struggling with intrusive memories may lean on substances to escape this symptom, and an addiction can develop over time.

Avoidance

Avoidance symptoms involve just what the name implies: avoiding reminders of the traumatic event and any associated triggers. Avoidance can impair everyday activities depending on a person's triggers; sometimes, everyday situations can trigger people with PTSD, leading them to avoid going out in public and socializing.

Many people with PTSD find it difficult to discuss their trauma. This is understandable since the event(s) are deeply scarring and life-changing for them. Avoidance can become a significant barrier to PTSD treatments like talk therapy, and those struggling with avoidance may have difficulty getting the help they need to get better.

Negative Thinking and Mood

People who have PTSD tend to hold negative thoughts and feelings towards the world due to the neurological changes that trauma causes. Addiction can work in a similar way, and when PTSD and addiction work together, they can cause a lot of harm.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder often accompanied by depressive symptoms. Some of the negative thinking and emotions associated with PTSD are:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Negative views about the world and others
  • Emotional numbness
  • Memory problems
  • Apathy
  • Relationship problems
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Dissociation
  • Problems with concentration

If left unmanaged, these negative emotional symptoms can lead to depression in people with PTSD. It is very difficult to lead a happy, healthy life while feeling lost and hopeless. Like depression, PTSD and addiction are closely linked, and many people with PTSD may use substances to dull their depressive symptoms.

Intense Emotional and Physical Reactions

PTSD causes a person to become overly reactive to their environment. Sudden noises, changes, or movements can trigger their trauma. Some of the changes in reactions in people with PTSD include:

  • Being easy to startle
  • Irritability
  • Aggressive reactions
  • Being easily distracted
  • Risky/self-destructive behaviors

These symptoms can create embarrassment, shame, and guilt in people with PTSD, which causes them to avoid public situations and close relationships with others. They often feel unpredictable and out of control, especially when both PTSD and addiction are present.

Additional PTSD Symptoms

While the symptoms above are among the most common symptoms of PTSD, there are a few additional signs to look for:

  • Insomnia: trouble falling and staying asleep
  • Loss of memory around the traumatic event
  • Persistent distorted blame of self or others about the cause or consequences of the traumatic events
  • Hypervigilance
  • Regularly feeling overwhelmed
  • Numbing your emotions

A professional evaluation and diagnosis will help you recognize if PTSD is an issue for you. If you are struggling with PTSD and addiction, a reputable treatment facility can offer a dual diagnosis after a psychological assessment.

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PTSD and Addiction

PTSD alters the chemistry of your brain in similar ways to drug and alcohol abuse. As a result, people with PTSD lack "feel-good" hormones, making their brains vulnerable to addiction and other mental disorders. This altered brain chemistry is extremely difficult to deal with, especially when someone is already struggling to handle the other symptoms of PTSD.

Many people who have PTSD may use drugs and alcohol to escape. The link between PTSD and addiction makes sense; substances can temporarily relieve PTSD symptoms. However, substance us is can exacerbate the symptoms of PTSD, and addiction can cause further trauma over time.

With substance use, relief from PTSD symptoms is short-lived and can result in extreme consequences leading to overdose and death. Even the less life-threatening symptoms are severe: substance use can cause lung and/or heart disease, stroke, cancer, mental health conditions, dental problems, nerve cell damage, and infections from injection equipment and unsafe sex. Of course, these are just the physical consequences – the psychological impacts can be just as devastating.

People struggling with PTSD and addiction deserve empathy and respect. Their trauma is not their fault, and neither is the brain's physiological response to that trauma.

Treatment for PTSD and Addiction

There are multiple treatments for PTSD that also help with addiction. Therapies and other treatment methods must address the root of the addiction, which for people with PTSD is trauma. Relief and recovery from PTSD and addiction symptoms are possible.

We've included some of the evidence-based healing modalities utilized at All Points North Lodge below.

Somatic Experiencing

This treatment may sound odd, but it can be effective for those with past trauma. Somatic Experiencing is based on the theory that the body holds on to physical trauma responses, which is why trauma symptoms can become physically uncontrollable.

The solution in somatic experiencing is found through physical sensations. A trained professional will go through your traumatic experiences and then offer different sensations, such as heat, cold, and other sensory stimulation. The goal is to trigger a physiological response, then explore suppressed emotions and the uncomfortable bodily sensations that accompany them.

You start small, with mild temperature changes and the like, then eventually work your way up to intense physiological reactions associated with the trauma. This is said to help you cope with the reactivity based on your trauma, as experienced in PTSD. By building a tolerance to these sensations, you can mitigate the impact of traumatic memories and events and then work towards changing your responses and behavior patterns.

EMDR

EMDR is a treatment for psychological disorders that stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR has proven to be a highly effective treatment for PTSD and addiction.

There are many theories around why EMDR works. Eye movements may have a role in reducing anxiety responses. Some experts believe the movement patterns modify the brain's encoding of trauma. There is no scientific consensus yet, but we know that EMDR can work wonders for PTSD and addiction.

Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care is an umbrella term for professional treatments based on trauma research. Today, we know some of the neurological effects of trauma, and mental health professionals can treat trauma patients based on this information.

Trauma-informed care is not indicative of one specific treatment. Instead, it is a descriptor of how professionals approach patients with mental health problems. This approach is necessary for clients with PTSD, and trauma-informed care is the foundation for our treatment approach at All Points North Lodge.

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Common Questions About PTSD and Addiction

Do you have more questions about PTSD and addiction treatment? We're here to help with answers and solutions.

How Does PTSD Affect Addiction?

Individuals who have experienced traumatic events may turn to substances to feel better. This self-medicating behavior can quickly lead to addiction. Both PTSD and addiction change brain chemistry, making it difficult to heal without professional support.

Can Substance Abuse Make PTSD Worse?

Absolutely. Substance use can increase feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, apathy, hopelessness, and low self-esteem. The social, physical, and psychological side effects of addiction are hard to manage alone. Many people struggling with addiction develop depression, anxiety, and financial problems. Having PTSD on top of it can make it even more challenging to cope.

Does Trauma Make You More Susceptible to Addiction?

The short answer: it can. Genetics, environment, and life experience all play complex roles in addiction. Traumatic events are certainly a common precursor to addiction for many people. When trauma occurs, it can make it extremely difficult to manage emotions and reactions. Substances can fill this gap in neurological function, but only for a short time. Over time, tolerance can increase the risk of dependence and further the cycle of addiction.

How Does Trauma Relate to Addiction?

Trauma occurs when overwhelmingly negative events cause a lasting impact on the victim's mental and emotional stability. A person who cannot cope with their feelings after the initial event will suffer from repeated trauma responses. Sometimes, people struggling with trauma will turn to intoxicating substances as a coping mechanism, but drugs and alcohol can only temporarily numb the mental burden of trauma and lead to addiction.

PTSD and Addiction Treatments at All Points North

At All Points North Lodge, we offer a variety of mental health services. Our team is dedicated to addressing trauma so you can move past it at your own pace. We have a team of world-class clinicians onsite that will work with you to build a custom healing protocol to help you recover from PTSD and addiction.

We recognize the delicate nature of trauma. You deserve to feel safe, supported, and autonomous. At APN Lodge, you will receive top-notch therapy to help you cope, find closure, and heal. There is always hope for recovery. If you're ready to get started with your healing journey, please reach one of our caring and compassionate representatives by phone at 855.235.9792 or via LiveChat. We'll help you find the support you need.

Reference

  • "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)." Anxiety & Depression Association of America, Anxiety & Depression Association of America, https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms.
  • NIDA. "Addiction and Health." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 13 Jul. 2020, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/addiction-health Accessed 5 Nov. 2021.
  • "Trauma." Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/trauma.

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