When you live through something frightening, painful, or disturbing, the memories can haunt you for a long time. This often leads to abusing drugs and alcohol to numb the pain, which can result in addiction. If you’re stuck in this cycle of PTSD and addiction, then it’s important to turn to a recovery center offering trauma-informed care.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health disorder triggered by witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event. Although it’s normal for everyone who goes through a traumatic event to feel distressed by the event. PTSD is diagnosed if the distress lasts for months or years and interferes with daily life.
Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Difficulty sleeping due to insomnia or nightmares
- Flashbacks or nightmares of the traumatic event or series of events
- Agitation, irritability, hostility, or other emotional problems
- Agoraphobia and social isolation
- Heightened reactions to everyday situations, such as experiencing adrenaline rushes when startled
- Guilt or remorse over the negative situations of the past
- Severe anxiety
- Difficulty with relationships
- Feeling emotionally numb
- 50% of those who have PTSD also abuse alcohol
- Nicotine dependence is nearly twice as common in people with PTSD
- Individuals with PTSD are three times more likely to abuse drugs than people without it
When we go through a traumatic or life-threatening experience, it’s normal for our bodies to activate the “flight or fight” response. This response helps us deal with an overwhelming situation. So, this is a healthy response to protect ourselves. However, this often results in avoidance symptoms, intrusive thoughts and memories, and severe emotional and physical reactions to triggers. You may feel sad, upset, or frightened for a while, but after some time the pain goes away and life returns to normal.
When you suffer from trauma, the fight or flight response becomes seriously damaged. After the traumatic event, the body and mind don’t go back to normal. The mind goes on overload and PTSD symptoms start to develop.
Emotional Symptoms of Trauma
You might find that the trauma you experienced is impossible to get over on your own. Additionally, you may feel a range of overwhelming emotions and physical symptoms such as:
- Unexplained anger
- Digestion problems
Sometimes it’s hard to understand that these signs are actually PTSD because the trauma may have been experienced years ago. It could have occurred in your childhood and it is almost impossible to recognize what is causing your life to become unraveled.
PTSD and Addiction: A Vicious Cycle
Most people who are struggling with addiction have also experienced serious past trauma. This occurs most often because of patients self-medicating to relieve symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This includes depression, anxiety, and panic.
The disorder affects up to 7.7 million Americans each year. It’s usually associated with military veterans, but it’s also common in those who’ve been through abuse, robberies, car accidents, shootings, and other frightening scenarios. If you’re struggling with an addiction, you may have PTSD and not even know it.
The Links Between PTSD and Addiction
- Studies have shown that there are genes that increase the risk of someone developing both disorders at once.
- We are also aware that certain life events and environments make both disorders more likely.
- A person with PTSD is much more likely to develop an addiction and makes it harder to get effective treatment. Self-medicating the PTSD in the short-term makes things worse in the long-term.
- Some studies say that having an addiction makes it more likely that the individual will suffer traumatic situations. If this happens, they may develop PTSD as a result.
Treating Trauma and Addiction Together
It used to be thought that to treat PTSD, you had to first treat the substance abuse. It was also suggested that to effectively treat a substance use disorder, the PTSD needed to be treated first. Unfortunately, this thinking continues in some places. However, research shows clearly that when you have a dual diagnosis (mental and substance use disorder at the same time), the best treatment focuses on treating PTSD and addiction at the same time.
There are many evidence-based therapies and medications that effectively address both disorders such as:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a common type of talk therapy. You work with a mental health counselor (psychotherapist or therapist) one-on-one in a structured way. It helps you recognize your inaccurate and negative thinking so you can respond to situations in a more effective way.
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE): PE is a therapy method that teaches individuals to gradually approach their trauma-related memories, feelings, and situations.
By facing what you have been avoiding, you can decrease the symptoms of PTSD. You can actively learn that the memories and cues are not dangerous and don’t need to be avoided.
- Vivitrol, Antabuse, Topamax, and Paxil: These medications have proved to be parts of the successful treatment of the co-occurring disorders. As is true of practically all mental illness, psychotherapy and medication should be considered. For most people, they work better together than separately.
Treatment Programs for PTSD and Addiction
Depending on the severity of the substance abuse, you may need to go into a detox program to withdraw from the addiction. Medically supervised is the safest way to detoxify your body. Withdrawal symptoms can be extremely painful and life-threatening. It’s important to have medical personnel in case of an emergency.
Residential treatment programs are the most intense programs. You will live at the treatment facility with 24-hour medical supervision, away from the people and places that might trigger a relapse. Your days will be structured with therapy, support groups, and holistic activities.
PHPs are a lower level of care than the residential program. You will spend most of your days at the treatment facility but you will go home at the end of the day. This level of care can also be used as a step-down from the residential program. It’s important that you have support at home and a plan to stay away from people and situations that might trigger a relapse.
Outpatient Programs (OP)
People suffering from PTSD and addiction can be treated in an outpatient program. As usual, it depends on the severity of your symptoms. In an outpatient program, you will attend therapy sessions, etc. at the treatment facility during the day, but you will be able to go home in the evening. You won’t attend as many hours or days as in PHP. This treatment program could also be used as a step-down from PHP. The longer you stay in some sort of continuing treatment, the better your chance at long-term abstinence.
Sober Living Homes
To help transition back into a drug-free life, some people will find a sober living home to be the next best step. A “sober home” is a residence with people who are all in recovery from substance use disorders. It’s somewhat structured in that there are rules of the house, residents are assigned chores and sometimes required to have a job.
Time to Reach Out for Help: Seeking Healing and Renewal
It can be difficult to break free from the cycle of PTSD and addiction. You don’t want to deal with any of the above symptoms, and drugs and alcohol make you feel better. It’s very possible that you don’t even know you have PTSD. However, over time drugs and alcohol also begin causing additional problems or worsening the challenges you’re already facing due to your PTSD.
At this stage, it can be difficult to break free. To your left, you have a door that leads you further into substance abuse. To your right, there’s a road that leads to sobriety, but you’ll face drowning in frightening memories and emotions from your past. You’re stuck at a crossroads. What do you do?
Dual Diagnosis Recovery Center: Ending the Struggle with PTSD and Addiction
You shouldn’t try to heal from PTSD by yourself. Don’t ignore the problem and hope that it goes away on its own, either. Instead, empower yourself by enlisting the help of a qualified recovery team. Phoenix Rising is dedicated to helping clients gain the skills and perspectives needed for renewal.
Programs offered at Phoenix Rising include:
- Dual diagnosis treatment for clients who are dealing with both substance addiction and emotional disorders like PTSD
- Detox, a partial hospitalization program, and residential treatment
- Inpatient, outpatient, and extended care
- Trauma therapy
- Equine therapy
- Sober living
- Neuro and biofeedback
- Holistic therapy options, such as equine therapy and exercise programs
Break Out of the Cycle
It’s time you break free from the cycle of PTSD and addiction. You can heal and bring about a new era of renewal, but only if you reach out to qualified professionals for the help you need. Contact Phoenix Rising today, and begin your journey toward recovery or help a loved one. Our only job is helping you reach your goals.