How PTSD Fuels Drug and Alcohol Addiction
What Is PTSD?
PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it is a mental health disorder that may be caused by experiencing severe trauma. Using alcohol to combat PTSD is a losing scenario, with PTSD and alcohol addiction often leading down a destructive path.
When a person develops PTSD, symptoms become problematic, changing the brain’s chemistry and producing fewer endorphins. You may begin to feel disconnected from loved ones and friends and maybe more prone to panic attacks and violence. You may also find that you experience emotions, fear, anxiety, and stress from the past when your current environment reminds you of past trauma.
Signs and Symptoms of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder can manifest itself in many ways, depending on the individual, and these may change over time. It can take months or even years for these symptoms to show themselves.
There are different categories of PTSD symptoms. These are:
- Intrusive Memories – these can be repeated memories of trauma, night terrors or nightmares, vivid flashbacks, and extreme physical reactions when reminded of the event.
- Avoidance – you may try to avoid people, places, movies/tv shows, activities, and even conversational topics that remind you of the traumatic experiences.
- Changes in thinking or mood – you may feel emotionally numb or not feel positive emotions anymore, have negative feelings towards yourself or others, and have difficulty maintaining friendships and close relationships with others.
- Changes in emotional reactions – this may look like irritability, guilt, shame, self-destructive behavior, vigilance, insomnia, or difficulty concentrating.
It is essential to get a proper diagnosis and treatment if you believe you have PTSD, especially if you are experiencing suicidal ideation, so you may remain safe and work toward healing. Self-medication at home is not the answer, and professional intervention may be required for people with PTSD.
Co-Occurring PTSD and Addiction
PTSD and alcohol abuse or substance use issues are strongly connected, with nearly half of Americans who suffer from PTSD addicted to or misusing substances. Drugs and alcohol are often abused to increase feelings of pleasure and endorphins and help forget the traumatic incident or reduce the emotional pain related to what happened, as substances will disrupt the way the brain functions, temporarily pausing unwanted feelings and thoughts.
Mood enhancing substances, drugs that increase endorphin levels, and drugs that create false feelings of euphoria or numb emotional pain are commonly associated with people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. There are also some common legal, socially acceptable substances associated with PTSD like:
- Nicotine – not only does smoking create a high risk for many health issues like cancer and heart disease, but the nicotine rush also has been shown to worsen post-traumatic stress symptoms by stimulating hyperarousal and triggering intrusive thoughts and other symptoms.
- Alcohol – PTSD and alcohol addiction often go hand in hand, as alcohol is easy to obtain in the USA. It is socially acceptable to have a few drinks “to relax” or “take the edge off.” Due to its numbing effects and its legality, alcohol abuse is a common co-occurring issue alongside PTSD. Even though it can temporarily block thoughts and feelings, drinking alcohol use makes PTSD worse in the long run, worsens depression and irritability, disrupts sleep, triggers nightmares, and may even cause dissociative episodes in some people.
- Marijuana – because it is becoming more socially acceptable and creates a sense of calm for some, marijuana is a common substance abused by those with post-traumatic stress disorder. This drug exacerbates the dissociative properties of PTSD, causes temporary emotional blunting and avoidance, paranoia, and can trigger hypervigilance and hyperarousal.
Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on PTSD
Using drugs and alcohol does not solve PTSD. It is only a short-term bandage over a much more significant and more profound issue, and it becomes less effective over time, creating a tolerance to the substance as more is used to achieve the same effect. Masking the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder only hides it from the surface, allowing it to become deeper-rooted, causing the PTSD symptoms to worsen. This cycle can quickly lead to substance use disorder, drug addiction, or alcohol addiction.
Although using drugs does not cause PTSD, these types of substances do increase the risk of developing the condition by:
- Increasing risk-taking behaviors including fighting, behaving recklessly, etc.
- Exposing people to dangerous (traumatizing) situations
- Causing you to dissociate or blackout, ending up in situations that are unexpected, dangerous, or harmful
You may also begin to avoid processing uncomfortable feelings by numbing them by drinking or using drugs, which can block progress during treatment and trigger or worsen existing depression and anxiety. Once the drugs wear off and you sober up, your PTSD symptoms will come back stronger than ever, leading to a quickly escalating cycle of substance abuse, especially once physical addiction takes hold. You begin to experience withdrawal symptoms alongside mental health symptoms.
Treatment for PTSD and Addiction
Mental health and addiction need to be treated simultaneously, in the same place, by the same treatment providers, as they are deeply interconnected and often have the exact underlying root causes.
Abusing substances like illicit or prescription drugs or alcohol complicates PTSD and hinders recovery from mental health issues. Avoidance through substance use can make PTSD last longer. It can stop common therapeutic methodologies from working, interfere with the healing process, and even worsen the symptoms of PTSD by creating sleep issues and making prescription psychiatric medications less effective.
When you are treated for PTSD, you must reconnect with the thoughts, emotions, and other suppressed feelings or images you may have. Drugs can numb these senses, disrupting memories and causing difficulties in processing trauma. Many treatment centers will use treatments such as:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – helping patients deal with painful memories by changing patterns of thinking and behavior
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) – a specific type of CBT that deals with the unhelpful beliefs and thoughts related to the traumatic event.
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) – another type of CBT that helps the patient approach trauma-related memories, feelings, and situations gradually and deal with the emotions, physical sensations, and thoughts.
- Pharmacotherapy – proper medication such as antidepressants, alongside a therapy regimen, works well for some patients.
- Seeking Safety Programs – learning to set boundaries, manage emotions and triggers, and decrease high-risk behaviors.
- Physical Exercise Programs – naturally increasing endorphins can ease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Beat the Cycle of Trauma and Addiction at Muse Treatment Center
As mental health and addiction are strongly connected, at Muse Treatment, we provide an integrated dual diagnosis treatment program for those experiencing a substance use disorder and PTSD or other mental health conditions.
Dual diagnosis is a type of treatment plan that combines treatments for mental health issues with treatments for addiction into one program, with therapy, life-skills training, counseling, and recovery skills training like relapse prevention and learning to cope with stress in a healthy way. You will do the work to get to the underlying root of your addiction and work through your trauma at the same time. If spirituality is important to you, you may also reconnect with that part of your life through a holistic treatment plan.
At Muse Treatment’s PTSD and alcohol addiction facility, we will help you work through your addiction and your PTSD or other mental disorder. This process begins with a safe and effective medical detox program, if needed, that will ensure you remain comfortable and cared for 24 hours a day to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Therapy and counseling will also start right away, as will your dual diagnosis program, which may or may not include psychiatric medication.
Once you are ready, we will usually transition you directly into inpatient rehab for 30 to 90-days to ensure you are in a safe, supportive environment with full-time care and consistent alcohol or drug substance abuse treatment schedule. Surrounded by like-minded peers, you will quickly see that you are not alone, and healing is possible. At Muse Treatment, we use a holistic approach to treatment that will not only include medical care and evidence-based therapies like CBT but also treatments like:
• Nutrition and physical fitness counseling
• Educational programs and lectures
• Group therapy, individual therapy, and process groups
• Art therapy
• Family therapy
• Life skills/vocational skills programs
• Relapse prevention training
• Spirituality or 12-step methodologies
We will work alongside you to determine the best combination of treatments for your unique needs. Our addiction treatment experts help you choose the appropriate inpatient program length, followed by an outpatient program and aftercare to ensure you always have a solid connection to our caring sober community.
For more information on PTSD and alcohol addiction rehab or drug rehab, contact our team at (800) 426-1818 today. We can help you beat the addiction cycle, get your life back on track, and provide you with the psychological tools you will need to move forward with your life on a positive trajectory.