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Drug And Alcohol Addiction and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, is a mental health disorder caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. 

Military combat, car accidents, sexual abuse, and first responder jobs are all popular causes of PTSD. 

The National Center of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder states that approximately 8 out of 100 US citizens will suffer from PTSD after traumatic experiences.

If not treated and managed early enough, PTSD can negatively impact a victim’s life and increase the risks of developing negative coping mechanisms such as drug and alcohol addiction. 

And although not everyone with PTSD will develop a substance use disorder, the risks are pretty high. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people diagnosed with PTSD are 3 times more likely to abuse drugs compared to those without. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the relationship between PTSD and substance use disorder. We’ll also look at some of the symptoms of PTSD and what you can do to help a loved one overcome both the condition and an underlying addiction. 

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More About Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

While it’s natural to struggle to adjust or even come to terms with reality after a traumatic experience, the situation usually gets better over time. 

However, for people with PTSD, the situation barely gets any better. Instead, the memories, insomnia, bad dreams, and anxiety worsen over months and even years, in the process interfering with day-to-day functioning. 

PTSD can result from a variety of traumatic experiences, as explained below. 

Combat exposure: One of the leading causes of PTSD is combat exposure. Thousands of veterans struggle to cope with traumatic experiences on the battlefield, with most ending up depressed and at increased risk of abusing substances to cope with the issues. 

Sexual assault: Most people subjected to sexual assault, whether as children or later in life, tend to develop post-traumatic stress. The situation usually worsens if the victim does not receive therapy early enough (and consistently). 

Childhood abuse: Childhood abuse usually has a lasting effect and, more often than not, leads to PTSD, especially if the abuse is repeated. 

Natural Disaster: Serious natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and even lightning might leave some people with PTSD, especially if they cause irreparable damage and loss of lives. 

Accidents: Car accidents, train malfunctions, or even airplane crash scares can lead to PTSD, especially if the victim escaped with serious injuries. 

Rescue or witnessing a death: First responders are usually at increased risk of PTSD due to the nature of incidents they witness. This explains why several rehab centers provide services for first responders and veterans. 

Several other traumatic incidents can lead to PTSD, such as robbery, fire, torture, terrorist attack, kidnapping, and many more. 

Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms vary depending on the extent of trauma and, of course, the individual. Below are some of the main symptoms associated with the mental health issue. 

Recurrent (and unwanted) memories of the trauma: One of the main signs of PTSD is recurrent memories of the trauma to the extent of causing anxiety and extreme fear. People diagnosed with PTSD often find it hard to forget the past trauma, which eventually eats into their day-to-day lives. 

Nightmares: Although not everyone experiences nightmares, most people with PTSD will have upsetting dreams a couple of times. For some people, however, the nightmares recur to the extent of causing chronic insomnia. 

Emotional distress: People struggling with PTSD often develop emotional distress whenever they remember the event. On most occasions, however, the emotional issues can be handled if a professional therapist is consulted. 

Unwillingness to discuss the event: Although most people are uncomfortable about discussing past traumatic events, people with PTSD are negatively affected to the extent of depression or anxiety. It’s also common for people diagnosed with PTSD to avoid interacting with people that remind them of a certain tragic event. 

Hopelessness: If not addressed early enough, PTSD can lead to chronic depression and feelings of hopelessness, especially if the traumatic experience was done repeatedly (like sexual or physical abuse). 

Disinterest in once-popular activities: Although this is a symptom of most mental health issues, it also affects people with PTSD. For instance, an individual who witnessed the murder of someone or an accident might become completely disinterested in outdoor activities as a result of the disorder. 

Emotional numbness: Emotional numbness usually occurs when a traumatic activity is done repeatedly. This can lead to a lack of empathy and strained social relationships if professional intervention isn’t sought. 

Difficulty enjoying activities or experiencing positive feelings: Another common sign of PTSD is a lack of enjoyment in activities. An individual might struggle to enjoy fun activities or even see the benefit of constructive relationships. 

Overwhelming shame or guilt: Overwhelming shame is also a common symptom of PTSD that primarily affects people that don’t want to open up about their respective plights. Victims often think they’ll be judged or perceived differently if they talk about their issues. 

Insomnia: As the nightmares continue to worsen, catching sleep becomes difficult for people diagnosed with PTSD. The lack of sleep can affect an individual’s work or school performance and even lead to negative coping mechanisms such as excessive drinking and drug abuse. 

Negative thoughts: Some people with PTSD have negative views about everything. Instead of seeing the good in people or situations, they believe the outcomes will be similar to the past traumatic experience. 

The Relationship Between PTSD and Drug Addiction

PTSD and substance use disorders have a direct relationship and, more often than not, feed off each other. People with post-traumatic stress disorder usually find it hard to cope with triggers or negative situations and often seek refuge in drugs as an escape. 

Moreover, both drugs and PTSD alter the brain’s chemical balance.

PTSD, for instance, is associated with the release of reduced dopamine, one of the brain’s feel-good hormones. And to improve the negative symptoms, some people resort to drugs that impact brain chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. 

Some of the drugs that can be used by people with PTSD to alter moods include prescription opioids, alcohol, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and more. 

Benzos and barbiturates are also commonly used for their numbing effects, which seem ideal for people undergoing serious episodes.  

While not everyone with PTSD will turn to drugs for solace, most get desperate to escape symptoms such as anxiety, hopelessness, and even insomnia. 

And without constant support and care from loved ones, it becomes very easy for people with PTSD to turn to drugs, especially if the symptoms are severe. 

Signs A Loved One With PTSD is Abusing Drugs

Increased Isolation

A once social individual might become increasingly isolated once they resort to drug abuse. Pay close attention to coping behaviors, especially if a loved one with PTSD no longer wishes to spend time with friends or family members that were once confidants and pillars of support. 

While hanging out with new friends is no cause for alarm, you should be worried if a loved one comes home intoxicated after spending time with new buddies. 

Behavior Changes

Although some behavior changes occur as a result of PTSD, extreme ones usually point out to new coping mechanisms. 

It could be that an individual no longer spends time at home during weekends, spends more time at the bar, has drinking friends, or is constantly broke or even lethargic and hopeless. 

If you notice extreme behavioral changes, chances are your loved one has resorted to drugs or alcohol as an escape. 

Reduced Overall Performance

Another worrying sign of addiction is if a loved one’s performance drastically reduces in school or work activities. While it’s normal for people with PTSD to experience a slight dip in performance, extreme underperformance might indicate an underlying drug issue. 

If the underperformance goes from bad to worse, then your loved one might have started abusing drugs. The best way to approach the situation is to monitor the individual and be on the lookout for any extreme behavioral changes. 

Lack of Motivation

People diagnosed with PTSD are likely to be demotivated every once in a while, especially when flooded with memories of past traumatic events. 

But if the demotivation transforms into a prolonged loss of interest in school, work, or day-to-day activities, then the individual might be addicted to drugs. 

Financial Issues 

Another common addiction red flag is financial issues despite no new responsibilities. If a loved one becomes increasingly broke or develops an uncharacteristic behavior of asking for loans and making false promises, he or she might be struggling to keep up with an addiction. 

The individual will most likely be lethargic and completely under the weather if there is no money to access the drugs. 

How to Help A Loved One Struggling with PTSD and Drug Addiction 

Although hard, overcoming addiction and an underlying mental illness like PTSD is not impossible. You just have to ensure your loved one receives support from family and, perhaps even more importantly, licensed professionals. 

Inpatient Treatment 

Enrolling your loved one in a professional rehab is the best way to treat both addiction and PTSD. Fortunately, there are several rehabs in the country that offer dual diagnosis services to patients struggling with both addiction and mental health illnesses. 

When choosing a rehab, we recommend settling for institutions that offer a wide range of treatment modalities. Flexibility in treatment is crucial when dealing with co-occurring disorders, especially since these conditions affect people differently. 

Ideally, you should opt for an inpatient facility that integrates behavioral therapies with experiential therapies to allow for holistic treatment. 

Experiential therapies like yoga, outdoor meditation, equine therapy, acupuncture, art, and music can help increase the effectiveness of treatment. 

Long-term rehab is usually highly recommended as it gives your loved one enough time to recover from the addiction and PTSD. As such, we’d advise enrolling in an inpatient rehab either within or out-of-state that suits your treatment preferences. 

Fortunately, there is no shortage of rehabs in the country, from luxury facilities to NGO-owned rehab centers that can suit fixed budgets. 

Outpatient Treatment 

Once done with inpatient treatment, it is crucial for a recovering addict to enroll in an outpatient facility to smoothen the transition and reduce the risks of relapse. 

While some people prefer starting addiction treatment in outpatient rehab, we strongly advise against the decision not unless the symptoms of addiction and PTSD are minimal. 

For chronic cases of addiction and PTSD, enrolling in inpatient rehab is the best option as the patient receives round-the-clock support from licensed experts while residing in a well-regulated environment free from all the triggers. 

Mutual Support Groups 

Recovery is a lifelong journey that doesn’t stop with discharge from rehab facilities. As such, it is vital for you (or a loved one) to continue with group therapy long after completing treatment. 

Most rehabs recommend support groups as part of their aftercare programs

Additionally, a large number of rehabs have solid alumni programs designed to create a functional network of graduates that continue to inspire, motivate and assist each other to maintain sobriety. 

Support groups are often overlooked despite their undoubted importance in the fight against addiction and relapses. 

Therefore, you should try your best to support your loved one by attending or accompanying them to open group meetings to keep them motivated.

Get Help Today

Don't go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you're facing. Get in touch with one today.

Make a Call

Get Help Today

Don’t wait until your loved one with PTSD turns to alcohol and drugs for escape. Treating or managing mental illnesses early enough is a surefire way to keep addiction at bay. 

And if you suspect that a loved one struggling with PTSD is also addicted to drugs, then it’s best to seek professional assistance as soon as possible. 

Contact a rehab center that treats co-occurring disorders today to help your loved one break the chains of addiction and overcome the otherwise overwhelming PTSD. 

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