What Is the Link Between PTSD and Addiction?

PTSD and addiction are common conditions that affect millions of people in the United States and throughout the world. On their own, each of these disorders can have a detrimental impact on a person’s physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. When a person develops both PTSD and addiction, the potential for significant harm increases dramatically.

Fortunately, PTSD and addiction are treatable conditions. With appropriate professional treatment, people living with PTSD and addiction can enjoy healthier and more hopeful lives. 

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, which is commonly referred to as PTSD, is a mental health condition that can occur after one or more traumatic experiences. People can develop PTSD after directly being involved in a traumatic event, after witnessing such an event, or after learning the details of a traumatic event that happened to a loved one.

Types of experiences that can precede the onset of PTSD include automobile accidents, physical attack, sexual assault, acts of terrorism, military combat, extreme weather events, serious illnesses, and other occurrences that can cause a person to feel their life is in danger.

Some people develop PTSD after a single traumatic occurrence. Others develop PTSD after repeated exposure to trauma. PTSD can occur in people of all ages and genders. 

Signs of PTSD

As with most kinds of mental illness, the symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person depending on a variety of factors. In general, though, the following are some of the more common symptoms of PTSD:

  • Having repeated, distressing, and involuntary memories of the event 
  • Having disturbing dreams related to the traumatic event
  • Dissociating from your present environment and feeling as though you were re-experiencing the traumatic event (a phenomenon that’s often referred to as having a flashback)
  • Having difficulty sleeping and concentrating
  • Experiencing physical or emotional distress when encountering people, events, or items that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Changing your behavior to avoid reminders of the traumatic event
  • Developing negative beliefs about yourself, other people, or the world in general
  • Losing interest in events and activities that were previously important to you
  • Feeling detached from friends, loved ones, colleagues, and other people
  • Being unable to experience pleasure
  • Undergoing dramatic mood swings, including outbursts of anger or violence
  • Engaging in dangerous behaviors, including alcohol or drug abuse
  • Feeling that you are constantly in danger (a sensation known as hypervigilance)

Untreated PTSD can have a devastating impact on a person’s life, but it is a treatable condition. When a person receives the proper treatment for PTSD, they can learn to manage their symptoms, regain control of their thoughts and behaviors, and make significant progress toward an improved quality of life.

What Is the Link Between PTSD and Addiction?

Many people who develop PTSD also struggle with addiction. 

As noted in the previous section, the symptoms of PTSD can cause considerable distress. As a matter of fact, it’s not uncommon for people with PTSD to turn to substance abuse as a means of numbing themselves to their pain. 

In other cases, a person’s struggles with addiction may precede their development of PTSD. For example, if a person’s substance abuse leads to a car accident, a fight that inflicts significant harm, or the loss of an important relationship, these experiences can cause the person to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

When a person has more than one type of mental health disorder, clinicians refer to the secondary conditions as “co-occurring disorders.” When a person develops a mental health disorder such as PTSD as well as a co-occurring substance use disorder (which is the clinical term for addiction), they are described as having “dual diagnosis.”

The co-occurrence of PTSD and addiction is a common dual diagnosis. Anyone living with co-occurring PTSD and addiction needs to be treated at a center prepared to identify and address the full scope of their needs. 

Failing to effectively treat all co-occurring disorders can lead to a host of problems, including the return or worsening of symptoms. It can also lead to the onset of additional mental and physical health concerns.

Therapies for PTSD and Addiction

The good news about co-occurring PTSD and addiction is that these are both treatable conditions. In fact, when a person receives the type and level of treatment that is right for them, they can achieve improved health and pursue a more satisfying and productive future.

Depending on the specific needs of the person receiving care, effective therapies for PTSD and addiction may include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you replace self-defeating thought patterns with healthier and more productive ways of thinking.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): Dialectical behavior therapy focuses on four key areas: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): During ACT sessions you can learn how to accept the challenges you are facing and dedicate yourself to taking meaningful action to improve your quality of life.

Comprehensive treatment for PTSD and addiction may also involve medication management services. Certain prescription medications can ease some PTSD symptoms. Medication can also help people who have become addicted to alcohol and opioids.

How to Find Treatment for PTSD and Addiction

If you’re trying to find treatment for PTSD and addiction, it’s important to identify providers who can assess your needs and deliver the personalized treatment that will help you achieve your immediate and long-term objectives. After all, there is no single type of treatment that is perfect for every person living with addiction and PTSD. Instead, you need to find the type and level of care that best aligns with your needs, expectations, and preferences.

Questions to consider when trying to find treatment for PTSD and addiction include:

  • Does the provider have experience with co-occurring disorders and dual diagnosis?
  • Will your care be provided by a team of dedicated professionals?
  • Does the provider establish customized treatment plans for each client or patient?
  • Will your care include multiple forms of therapy?
  • What types of aftercare planning services does the center provide?

Representatives of reputable treatment facilities should have no problem answering these questions.

Get Treatment for PTSD and Addiction in South Florida

In the absence of proper professional care, co-occurring PTSD and addiction can make it virtually impossible for you to live a productive and satisfying life. However, when you get the care you need, you can achieve the healthy future you deserve.

Neuroscience Institute provides customized mental health treatment services in South Florida, Oklahoma, New York, and New Jersey. To learn more, contact us today.

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