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Dual Diagnosis: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction

This is the third article in our series on Dual Diagnosis.

Through history, many great literature pieces have been written under the shadow of the author’s addiction or mental condition. J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of The Rings was an English Word War I veteran, who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. During the war, Tolkien was a victim of the war’s loss and suffering. Fortunately, he was brave enough to grow from the condition and deal with it by writing fiction. The Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece and a result of the author’s efforts in making personal progress by finding a way to deal with the past.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious psychological condition that affects the person’s emotions and psychological well-being. Because of the severeness of the symptoms the individual experiences, post-traumatic stress disorder interferes with his or hers daily life having them turn to drug or alcohol just to gain control over their lives. As a result, substance abuse is very common with people suffering from PTSD. It helps them numb their pain from the trauma. The person can be diagnosed with PTSD after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event.

Related: The connection between Anxiety and Addiction

post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction

Which Traumas Usually Cause PTSD?

One of the myths on this condition says that every person experiencing heavy trauma develops post-traumatic stress disorder. Luckily, that’s just a myth. For a person to be diagnosed with this condition, the trauma needs to be life-threatening (significant), and even then the person might not develop the symptoms of PTSD. There are multiple examples of people that have experienced the same situation, at the same time (for example, in a military) and some of them developed the condition and some didn’t. Meaning, developing PTSD depends on the person’s genetic predispositions and environmental factors. It’s a complex situation as a response to the trauma. There are several serious traumatic experiences that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, including:

  • Military combat – experiencing or witnessing battles during war
  • Sexual assault during childhood or adulthood
  • Severe physical assault during childhood or adulthood
  • Natural disasters
  • Witnessing or experiencing the act of terrorism
  • The death of a loved person
  • Serious accidents that cause life-threatening injuriesPTSD drugs and alcohol

1. Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder was known as an anxiety disorder because of the feelings of fear and constant anxiety that the person deals with. From recently, the disorder qualifies in the category of “Trauma and Stress-related Disorders”. The symptoms of the disease show after the occurrence of the trauma or traumatic event. So, this illness can develop at any age. It’s unknown what causes this condition and the symptoms can persist for months, even years after the event.

Learn more: The connection between Mental Conditions and Addiction

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) can be an initial response to the traumatic event and the symptoms can last for 4 weeks or less. If the symptoms extend for more than a month, the person can be diagnosed with PTSD. Studies show that an estimated 8% of Americans – that’s 24.4 million people – have PTSD at any given time.

The symptoms of ASD include:

  • Emotional unresponsiveness
  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization
  • Reduction in mental presence in the surrounding
  • Amnesia associated with the events
  • The person re-experiences the event through recurrent images, dreams, thoughts, flashbacks or when exposed to reminders.
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • All of the above has a negative meaning on the person’s life and well-being because it makes them detach from their family and lose interest in every activity they used to like.

Learn more: Tips to Help You get Through Rehab

PTSD and addictionWhen speaking of the disease’s symptoms, there are four sets of symptom clusters and two subtypes, including:

  • Criterion A: Experiencing or witnessing an actual traumatic event. The event can be a big trauma including death, serious injury, sexual violence, or a little trauma, like grief and emotional abuse. The person might not experience strong emotional response during the event.
  • Criterion B: Re-experiencing. In this phase, the person has intense symptoms that look like they’re re-experiencing the event. For example, having flashbacks and nightmares related to the event, constant memories, thoughts connected to the traumatic event and a psychological and physical reaction to reminders of the traumatic event.
  • Criterion C: Avoidance. The person avoids feelings, people or situations connected to the traumatic event.
  • Criterion D: Mood alterations. Negative mood alterations are very common with people struggling with PTSD. They can’t remember some things about the event and have constant negative thoughts about the world and themselves. In addition, they experience sadness, shame, and blame, all related to the event. So, you can notice that the person isolates, disconnects and detaches from you and other people.
  • Criterion E: Increased arousal symptoms, as the person becomes cautious from other threats. They can’t concentrate, can’t normally fall asleep and sleep, are easily scared, become irritable, angry and hyper vigilant.
  • Criteria F, G, and H: The symptoms have to last more than a month and affect the person’s functioning without being a result of substance abuse.
  • Dissociation – it’s a subtype that’s characterized by depersonalization and derealization of the person.

2. The Connection Between PTSD and Addiction

When dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, you want to escape reality instead of confronting the situation and seek help. So, you start self-medicating. That’s the point when substance abuse comes along. Experiencing the symptoms of PTSD and having to remember the traumatic event over and over again puts a lot of pressure on you. Sometimes, you think there is no other way, no other escape from those emotions and memories than with the help of drugs and alcohol. And sometimes, you just want it all gone. You want the old you, the happy you back. However, as with every other mental condition, substances like alcohol and drugs won’t help you feel better. Consequently, if you don’t look for help, the problem only deepens and the substance abuse issue becomes worse. The negative thoughts and emotions can lead to many destructive thoughts, including suicidal ones.

Therefore, it’s crucial for you or any other person you know to look for help. If you know that your loved one experienced a traumatic situation or witnessed one, and afterward shows these symptoms, it might be PTSD.addiction and post traumatic stress disorder

The relationship between PTSD and addiction is strong.

Studies show that more than 2 of 10 Veterans with PTSD also have SUD (substance use disorder). Almost 1 out of every 3 Veterans seeking treatment for SUD also has PTSD. The problem with these conditions is the popular belief that alcohol helps you relax and drugs help you sleep. However, you get the opposite effect. Drugs and alcohol influence your sleep quality. At times, you want to feel “numb” and forget about everything that happened. You want to avoid the memories and reminders of the event by consuming alcohol or drugs, without realizing that makes the situation worse. Therefore, forgetfulness might be the initial effect of the substance, but on the long run you’ll only feel miserable and trap in the disease of the addiction.

Related: How to Help Someone Who’s in Denial?

When we go through a traumatic event, our brains produce endorphins, which are natural pain and stress fighters, a body’s way of dealing with the stressful situation. After the event is over, the endorphins withdraw from the body causing the same symptoms as drug and alcohol withdrawal, including anxiety, depression, physical pain, emotional distress, and increased cravings. Consequently, when using substances, our bodies produce endorphins that replace the feelings of PTSD, but only temporary.

3. Diagnose and Treatment

If you or your loved one went through some of the described situations, or recognize some of the symptoms, you need to advise with an addiction counselor or psychiatric professional that will make an evaluation and recommend therapy. The therapy should be individual and includes the support from friends and family members.PTSD

  • Inpatient treatment. You should enter a facility that treats dual diagnosis.

Related: Inpatient vs Outpatient Rehab

  • Detox. You need to treat both conditions at the same time. So, it’s recommended to enter a facility where you can detox.
  • Individual therapy. One on one psychotherapy teaches the person how to deal with triggers and reminders that lead to substance abuse.
  • Group therapy. Counseling sessions with other patients suffering from dual diagnosis.
  • Medication therapy. 
  • 12-Step Groups participation. Helps you understand that you’re not alone.
  • Family therapy. You need family support and your family needs education on the conditions. So, rely on family as much as you can. It’s the right approach to recovery.

For more information please call our Addiction Treatment Helpline at (844) 439-4765. This is a Free and completely confidential call. We are available 24/7. In many cases, your health insurance company will cover 100% of the treatment cost. So please call now.

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