Many people experience traumatic events at some point in their lives, and most eventually overcome any associated agitation, anxiety, depression or other stress-related behaviors. For these people, the symptoms fade over time, but for some, reactions to trauma can linger, disrupting their lives or the lives of those who care about them. These reactions can be due to the development of a psychological disorder known as PTSD. Some people resort to substance abuse in an effort to cope with feelings of anxiety, fear and stress, which can lead to addiction. 

What Is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a psychological disorder that is generated by either experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. It was once called “shell shock” to describe the reaction that combat soldiers experienced due to the intensity of their trauma in World War I; however, not only people who have experienced war can develop PTSD. Anyone who experiences a traumatic experience can be at risk for developing PTSD.

PTSD affects parts of the brain associated with memory and emotions. A healthy brain can differentiate between memories of past and present experiences, but the brain of a person with PTSD struggles to do so. A person with PTSD might react to a present event or environment that reminds them of past trauma and the brain then responds as though the person is still in the past, a traumatic moment, triggering anxiety, stress and fear.

Some symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Intrusive flashbacks and distressing memories
  • Nightmares
  • Reliving the traumatic event in one’s head
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Having a lack of interest in doing things once enjoyed
  • Avoiding anything that reminds one of the situation
  • Getting emotionally distressed when reminded of past a traumatic event
  • Emotions like shame, guilt, anger and mood disorders, including anxiety and depression
  • Feeling detached and/or hopeless
  • Difficulty remembering things

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is described as an excessive, compulsive use of a substance that is unable to be controlled. It is associated with a physical dependence and psychological need for the drug of choice that is revealed through unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if substance use is reduced or ceased. Psychological need or dependence refers to a psychological need to use a substance in order to relieve negative feelings or emotions.

People who battle addiction often face the stigma of being pleasure-seekers or lacking self-control; however, people often resort to substance abuse as a form of self-medication, to relieve other psychological problems, such as PTSD and its intrusive thoughts and feelings. 

The Link Between PTSD and Addiction

Research has found a strong link between PTSD and addiction. Nearly 50 percent of people with PTSD also have a co-occurring substance use disorder.

The connection between PTSD and addiction is based on the use of substances to distract or dampen symptoms of PTSD. One hallmark of PTSD is the great extent that people go to in order to avoid thinking about or feeling emotions related to the traumatic event experienced. Substance use is one way people with the condition are able to temporarily block unwanted feelings.

Aside from the obvious implications on one’s health, resorting to substance use in order to cope with any condition is risky. Substances become less effective over time, causing people to need to use more of the drug to achieve the same effect as before. Painful withdrawal symptoms can occur in addition to worsening symptoms of PTSD, which can lead to use of more of the substance, leading to addiction.

Substance abuse also hinders the treatment for any mental health condition, including PTSD. Treatment for PTSD can be particularly complicated by the use of drugs because recovery from PTSD requires a person to connect with thoughts, feelings and memories that they have tried so hard to avoid or suppress. Drugs can disrupt thinking and memory while numbing emotions, making it harder for people with PTSD to healthily process their trauma when in active addiction.

Many people with PTSD and addiction have not learned how to cope with their symptoms in healthy ways – but help is available.  

How to Get Help for PTSD and Addiction

Many treatments are available for those who suffer from PTSD and addiction. Because prolonged substance use and PTSD each have a complex impact on the brain, getting help for PTSD and addiction is imperative. 

Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT) is one treatment modality that can help people with PTSD to cope with their painful memories in addition to pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy, group therapy and more. 

At Atlanta Recovery Place, we know how important your mental health is and how damaging the effects of PTSD and addiction are on a person’s well-being. If you are ready to start the journey to wellness and recovery from PTSD and substance abuse, contact our drug rehab in Georgia today. We are ready to help you heal.

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