Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction

What is PTSD?

When an individual experiences an event such as death, a physical threat or injury to oneself or another he or she is said to have experienced a traumatic event. Common physical causes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be ongoing distress caused by sexual abuse, violence, the threat of violence or catastrophic events.

Anxiety, recollections or flashbacks can be triggered by familiar events or feelings related to an initial trauma. To relieve the symptoms associated with such triggers, an afflicted individual may turn to using drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse is a self-destructive coping mechanism that feels necessary for instant relief from symptoms.

Symptoms of PTSD

Because of the intensity of the experience and triggers, PTSD patients can suffer from depression, anxiety, confusion or memory loss. When symptoms do not ease or disappear, patients are left exhausted. Feelings of despair, hopelessness and low self-esteem become their overwhelming reality.

Symptoms of PTSD may include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Hyper-awareness of surroundings
  • Avoidance of events that feel familiar to the traumatic event
  • Feeling of detachment
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Nightmares
  • Intense fear or horror
  • Helplessness
  • Intrusive memories and thoughts

PTSD and Substance Abuse

There is a high correlation between physical or sexual trauma and alcoholism. Some who have suffered natural disasters may also increase alcohol use due to the experience of trauma. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are extremely uncomfortable and also classified as anxiety related. Alcohol is the drug of choice for individuals who are self-medicating symptoms of PTSD; however, some addicts may also abuse benzodiazepine medications.

According the American Society of Addiction Medicine, repression and denial are defenses used by people experiencing abuse or trauma. Both of these defense mechanisms are also found in addiction behaviors and help perpetuate substance abuse. An addict’s overwhelming need to escape residual traumatic feelings contributes to ongoing substance abuse as a means to disconnect from reality. Addiction then reoffends the addict who relives the original trauma during substance abuse, either through using rituals or placing himself or herself in risky situations. Drug rehab is essential to help the addict with PTSD stop the cycle of abuse.

PTSD and Addiction Treatment

Because of the intensity of the experience and triggers, PTSD patients can suffer from depression, anxiety, confusion or memory loss. When symptoms do not ease or disappear, patients are left exhausted. Feelings of despair, hopelessness and low self-esteem become their overwhelming reality.

Drugs and alcohol can become part of the coping mechanisms individuals with PTSD use to ease their pain and torment. However, drug and alcohol addiction complicates the brain chemistry and the physical manifestation of these disorders. Treatment for only one of these co-occurring diseases will not provide a patient with a positive outcome. Treatment of PTSD with concurrent drug and alcohol addiction treatment is required. An integrated approach in a dual diagnosis treatment center, such as the one offered by Lakeview Health, is optimal.