Understanding PTSD & Addiction
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder triggered by trauma and characterized by intrusive or disruptive thoughts about the event. PTSD is often associated with military veterans. But there are other non-combat stressors that can lead a person to develop the condition. For example, being the victim of sexual assault, living through a natural disaster, surviving a serious car accident. Or receiving a life-threatening medical diagnosis can also trigger PTSD.
It is estimated that 3.5% of all adults in the United States will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Many of these individuals will also struggle with addiction as a result of their condition. To move forward, they’ll need access to a personalized care plan that addresses their substance use disorder as well their PTSD symptoms.
PTSD Risk Factors
It’s not easy to predict who will develop PTSD. But researchers have identified certain risk factors that can make a person more vulnerable to the condition.
- Repeated trauma. When a person experiences multiple types of traumas, this heightens the risk that they will develop PTSD. Trauma that occurs during the childhood and young adult years increases vulnerability because coping skills do not fully develop until a person is an adult.
- Genetics. There is evidence to suggest that people who have parents, grandparents, or other blood relatives with PTSD have an increased risk of developing the condition.
- Other mental health conditions. PTSD is more common in people who have other mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
- Gender. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men.
- Lack of social support. People who have few close friends or family to confide in about their experiences are more likely to struggle with their mental health due to feelings of isolation.
Signs of PTSD
The symptoms of PTSD can be grouped into four general categories.
- Re-experiencing. This includes flashbacks, unwanted memories, and psychological distress when confronted with cues that you associated with the trauma. Nightmares are also common.
- Avoidance. If you have PTSD, you are likely to avoid people, places, things, and activities you associate with your trauma—even when it makes it difficult to accomplish daily tasks like going to work or interacting with friends and family.
- Increased arousal. People with PTSD often startle easily and are prone to angry outbursts. They tend to describe themselves as being “always on the lookout” for danger and unable to relax.
- Changes in mood or thinking. PTSD can make it hard to experience happiness, joy, and love while leading to feelings of guilt, shame, horror, fear, and anger. You may inappropriately blame yourself or others for your trauma and lack interest in activities that were once a source of pleasure.
While it is normal to experience these types of symptoms immediately after a trauma has occurred, they do not indicate a person has PTSD until they’ve persisted for at least 30 days. Most people with PTSD experience symptoms within three months of the triggering event. But it is possible for symptoms to occur several years after the traumatic event has passed.
How It Can Lead to Addiction
The symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating. Sufferers of PTSD often look for any way to ease their pain—and substance abuse provides a temporary escape from their trauma. Drugs and alcohol may be used to address certain symptoms. For instance, when a person drinks heavily in the evening in an attempt to avoid nightmares that interfere with their sleep.
When substances are used regularly, a person builds a tolerance. The body gradually adapts and requires a higher dosage to achieve the same effects. Over time, this can lead to dependence that results in uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when a person is unable to use it. Tolerance and dependence are warning signs of addiction. Addiction treatment is needed, when substance use becomes a person’s “go-to” coping mechanism. When their substance use is causing problems with their relationships, finances, career, and/or health.
No matter what struggles you’ve had in the past, there’s always hope for recovery. PTSD can be treated with medication and trauma-focused psychotherapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), and Prolonged Exposure (PE). Substance use disorders can be treated with detox. Followed by intensive group, individual, and family therapy that helps you build the skills necessary for day-to-day sober living.
At Waypoint Recovery Center, we’re committed to helping the men and women we serve break free from the burden of addiction. Clients at our South Carolina residential addiction treatment center have access to a full continuum of care. This includes comprehensive relapse prevention services designed to ease the transition back to independent living. Contact us today to take the first steps towards a brighter future.