By Chris Elkins
Chris Elkins writes for DrugRehab.com — a comprehensive resource for addiction-related topics, from substances that cause addiction to treatment options for recovery. Chris Elkins is also a researcher for DrugRehab.com. He has five years of professional writing experience and has been covering health-related topics for more than one year. He has a master’s degree in strategic communication and leadership with a certificate in health communication leadership.
Addiction and PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health disorder that develops after someone has survived a traumatic experience. Most people feel nervous, anxious or scared after a traumatic ordeal, but those feelings usually subside after minutes, hours or days.
People who continue to experience those feelings even when they are not in danger may have PTSD. PTSD can occur shortly after a traumatic event or take years to develop. Patients are diagnosed with PTSD when they suffer symptoms for more than one month.
Symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories: re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, arousal and reactivity symptoms, and cognition and mood symptoms. Patients must suffer at least one re-experiencing, one avoidance, two arousal or reactivity, and two cognition or mood symptoms to be diagnosed with PTSD.
Examples of symptoms include having flashbacks, nightmares or horrific thoughts. They can occur naturally or be triggered by an event in everyday life. People with PTSD avoid certain situations out of fear or anxiety and become easily startled or have outbursts of anger.
In order to self-medicate these symptoms, people with PTSD often turn to alcohol or other drugs. An estimated one half of individuals who seek treatment for addiction suffer from symptoms that could be considered PTSD, according to a 2012 study in the journal of Current Psychiatry Reports.
Research also indicates that people who abuse drugs or alcohol are more likely develop PTSD. When people with PTSD abuse alcohol or other drugs, they’re more likely to develop an addiction.
The problem is especially prevalent among veterans of war. An estimated 20 percent of American veterans who suffer from PTSD also suffer from addiction. Alcohol and tobacco addiction are the most prevalent among veterans, who tend to binge drink to cope with troubling memories, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Although people with PTSD may feel temporary relief from symptoms of their disease when they drink or abuse drugs, long-term drug abuse can worsen the symptoms of PTSD.
Abusing drugs makes it more difficult to develop regular sleep patterns. It also amplifies feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety.
People suffering from co-occurring mental health disorders like PTSD and addiction require specialized treatment. Individual and group counseling in addition to cognitive behavioral therapy can help people recover. Doctors may prescribe medications such as antidepressants to help people overcome symptoms of PTSD.
In general, people with PTSD tend to recover within six months of treatment. However, treatment is different for everyone. People suffering from PTSD and addiction may require more extensive treatment, and it can take longer for them to recover depending on the severity of their condition.
Berenz, E. C. (2012, October). Treatment of Co-occurring Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3466083/
National Institute of Mental Health. (2016, February). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml#part_145371
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans. Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/problems/ptsd_substance_abuse_veterans.asp