Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Its Connection to Addiction
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses impacting Americans today. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 7.7 million Americans aged 18 and older are currently struggling with the disorder.
The onset of the disorder is based on an individual’s exposure to:
- Extreme violence
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Major natural disaster
- Loss of a loved one
It is normal for someone to go through a process of grief and acceptance after being exposed to a traumatic event. For individuals struggling with PTSD, however, this cycle of grief can persist for months or years after the event.
As the symptoms of PTSD worsen, individuals are also at a higher risk for developing a substance abuse problem. PTSD and addiction often go hand-in-hand because individuals turn to alcohol or drugs to dull their feelings and ward off the negative thoughts and memories.
Greater awareness of PTSD, its symptoms and its risk factors are needed to address the problem and support those Americans who struggle with the disorder.
Symptoms of PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD typically do not begin to appear overnight. They usually start within a month of the traumatic event in question. In many cases, however, these symptoms and feelings may not surface for years.
The delayed nature of PTSD symptoms can lead some individuals to believe that they have already moved past the traumatic event and are not in need of treatment. The reality is that a traumatic event can affect an individual for the rest of his or her life.
Even worse, if PTSD goes untreated, the individual could experience the following symptoms for decades:
- Intrusive memories: People with PTSD are likely to relive distressing memories repeatedly. They may experience flashbacks, nightmares or severe emotional distress each time they encounter reminders of the traumatic event. Even indirect references to the traumatic event may incite a series of painful flashbacks for the individual.
- Avoidance: Avoidance behavior is common in individuals with PTSD. They may try to avoid talking about the event, or they may avoid people, places, and activities that might remind them of their traumatic experience. Unfortunately, this pattern of self-imposed isolation can deteriorate relationships and make it more difficult for the individual to get help.
- Changes in mood: Major shifts in mood are common among individuals with PTSD. For instance, someone with the disorder may feel hopeless about maintaining close relationships, so they begin to neglect their loved ones. The same individual may also lose interest in activities he or she once enjoyed or express major doubts about the future, even regarding new opportunities at work or building a family. Those suffering from the disorder have also reported developing negative, indifferent attitudes about themselves and the world around them.
- Changes in reactions: Another major symptom of PTSD is a greatly increased sensitivity to physical and emotional stimuli. Combat veterans dealing with PTSD, for example, are more likely to interpret sudden stimuli as a threat based on their experience in the military. In other cases, individuals with PTSD report difficulty sleeping and concentrating due to their unpredictable emotions. This increased sensitivity may even lead to self-destructive behavior, such as turning to alcoholism as a means of numbing the excess stimulation.
Risk Factors for PTSD
The task of defining the risk factors for post-traumatic stress disorder may seem straightforward, but each individual experiences trauma in a different way. Some individuals, for example, would be less disturbed by an instance of extreme violence as they might be in response to the loss of a close friend. For other individuals, the reverse may be true.
As a result, each of these risk factors could greatly increase one’s chance of developing PTSD:
- Repeated exposure to traumatic events
- Highly stressful work environment
- Insufficient support system
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Service in the military or as a first responder
- The presence of an unrelated but co-occurring mental illness
- The presence of a substance abuse problem
PTSD and Addiction Treatment
For many victims of trauma, substances like drugs and alcohol provide a way to numb painful memories and escape the symptoms of PTSD, temporarily. Unfortunately, this approach simply introduces new wrinkles to the individual’s mental health. In fact, abusing drugs and alcohol can actually produce the opposite of the desired outcome, elevating stress hormones and worsening PTSD symptoms.
Many victims of PTSD feel trapped in a cycle of drugs, alcohol and unwanted memories. At The Treatment Center by The Recovery Village, our mission is to support all of our patients with better health and hope in recovery. We can help those struggling with PTSD and addiction to break the chains of substance abuse and manage their mental health struggles.
Call us at (866) 295-6003 to ask our admissions counselors about individualized treatment for dual diagnosis patients. We are available 24/7 to listen to your concerns and advise you on the next steps.