Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorder are very commonly linked conditions. If you’ve suffered a traumatic event, you may replay those moments in your mind over and over again. To quiet them, you may turn to alcohol or drugs.
About 8 out of every 100 people in the U.S. will experience PTSD at some point during their lifetime, according to the National Institute on Mental Health. PTSD is not only caused by a single experience with a profound impact; it can also result from the repeated occurrence of a similar traumatic event over years.
Trauma creates a unique change in the function of the brain. When a traumatic experience occurs, the fight-or-flight response mechanism, which is designed to put all of your energy towards getting you out of danger, is turned on. Your heart starts pounding to get oxygen-rich blood to the brain and limbs. Your blood pressure rises, you become more alert, and your body releases adrenaline to give you everything you need to fight.
This is a normal and, often, healthy response to life-threatening situations. Yet, in people with PTSD, the fight-or-flight response seems to occur randomly, often in response to negative thought patterns. Months or even years after the event occurred, you may feel the same fearful response in your body and mind. It’s nearly impossible to handle PTSD on your own.
How Does Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Lead to Substance Abuse?
A person trying to self-manage the intensity of PTSD may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to “shut off” the thoughts. Drugs can decrease anxiety and provide a way to forget the emotional connection PTSD creates to a previous traumatic event. Some drugs also increase dopamine production, which is the feel-good hormone. You feel better when you use those drugs. However, the “high” doesn’t last for more than a few minutes, and over time, the brain craves more of the same substance to keep feeling good. That’s where addiction forms.
Many other factors play a role in PTSD-related addiction as well. For example, most people with PTSD face a state of chronic stress. Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol may work to manage to reduce some of that stress, helping to avoid PTSD symptoms. Yet, over time, it doesn’t work. You need to use more of the drug to get the same response. The brain becomes dependent on the drug to function, but consuming more of the drug often puts a person at a higher risk for overdose.
How Can PTSD and Addiction Be Treated?
When a person suffers from both PTSD and addiction, they will need treatment for co-occurring disorders. During this process, both the mental health issue and the physical addiction must be treated. Treating one without the other does not lead to long-term recovery. Treatment often includes:
- Detoxing from the substance, depending on how severe the addiction is
- Uncovering, talking about, and working through the traumatic events that occurred
- Developing strategies for managing negative thought patterns to combat PTSD episodes
- Building confidence in managing chronic stress
- Working through the addiction using medications, evidence-based treatment, and holistic care
Every person needs a customized treatment plan that addresses what’s happening to them and why. If you are dealing with any of the symptoms of PTSD, such as the following, seek out immediate help from our team here at DK Solutions:
- You avoid certain people, places, experiences, or things that remind you of traumatic events
- You experience flashbacks or nightmares of what happened
- Sounds or images trigger memories that are intense and very realistic
- You feel guilt or have a negative self-image
- You have outbursts of anger, fear, or other emotions that come out of nowhere
If you are using drugs or alcohol to combat these feelings, you need co-occurring disorder treatment. Proper treatment can help you to improve your physical health and reclaim your mental wellbeing.