Many people who struggle with alcohol or drug addiction may actually be self-medicating an underlying mental health condition, like anxiety, depression, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In fact, research shows that PTSD and addiction have a strong correlation – nearly 50% of people who have been diagnosed with PTSD may also suffer from a substance use disorder (SUD). Many addiction treatment programs offer holistic treatment for the client – treating not just the addiction but also exploring underlying reasons why people drink or use drugs. Therapy for PTSD can complement the therapy and treatment for an addiction, helping clients decrease the chances of a relapse.
The Relationship Between Addiction and PTSD
The relationship between SUD and PTSD lies in using drugs or alcohol to distract or dampen PTSD symptoms, including dulling memories or causing the individual to black out or nod out to avoid dwelling on the intrusive thoughts and painful, traumatic experiences. However, substances become less effective as the user develops a tolerance for them, which means that they require higher amounts more frequently to achieve the same numbness or forgetfulness as before. The higher the consumption of the substance, the more physically dependent the individual becomes, and the more painful the withdrawal symptoms are.
The Effect of Substance Use on PTSD Treatment
Drug or alcohol abuse can make PTSD treatment and recovery much more difficult, as the process often involves talking therapy, with the client working through the trauma that caused PTSD. The emotional dulling effect of substances and their effect on memory and expression of emotions makes it much harder for people to process trauma effectively.
One of the aspects of PTSD is an avoidance cycle, and prolonging this worsens symptoms of PTSD and its effect on everyday life. Furthermore, PTSD therapy may be coupled with medication, but drugs or alcohol can interfere with certain medications, often having dangerous side effects.
Substance Abuse Exacerbates PTSD Symptoms
In addition to making PTSD therapy much less effective, SUD intensifies some of the symptoms of PTSD. Many people may engage in risk-taking or self-destructive behaviors; drugs and alcohol often lower inhibitions, making these behaviors much more dangerous and even placing the individual in a place where they may be re-traumatized. Alcohol and benzodiazepines, in particular, cause users to dissociate, which could cause them to end up in unfamiliar settings or in a disturbing or violent situation.
Drugs and alcohol worsen depression and anxiety, which are often co-morbidly occurring conditions with PTSD. Even when the user’s level of addiction hasn’t reached the level of dependence, the negative feelings during the withdrawal periods occur with greater intensity the longer they drink or use drugs.
Treating PTSD and Substance Abuse Disorder
There is no single treatment for co-occurring PTSD and SUD because each person is different and may respond better to different kinds of therapy. The most common approaches are prolonged exposure therapy (PET), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Pharmacotherapy may also be an option when the client is physically detoxed from drugs and alcohol.
Do You Need Help with PTSD and Addiction?
If you have PTSD and worry about your alcohol or drug use, you ‘aren’t alone. Compassionate help is here for you. At Hickory Treatment Center, we focus on healing the entire person, healing the body, the mind, and the psyche. Contact us today for a confidential assessment and treatment options.