PTSD and Addiction: Understand the Facts about Co-Occurring Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a terrible thing. Many people have heard of PTSD. However, most people still don’t know much about it. Some people might know that PTSD is associated with drug and alcohol use. But what happens when it occurs with an addiction?

The combination of a mental health issue and addiction has many names. It is most commonly called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. This situation calls for specialized care and attention. After all, everyone deserves healing. And no one should have to suffer from addiction.

This post covers the basic info you need to understand PTSD. It looks at how the treatment works for women with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and addiction together. Use this information to get help for you or someone you care about.

What is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder gets a lot of references. However, few people actually understand it. Most people think of it as something that happens to those in the military. In the past soldiers with PTSD we called “shell-shocked.” Loud noises brought back intense memories of being under fire. Some people might even try to take cover or hide.

ptsd and addiction

However, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can happen to anyone. The disorder comes after someone experiences some kind of trauma. Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD compared to men.  The trauma can be violent in nature. But it doesn’t have to be.

There are three main types of symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The first is re-experiencing trauma. People with PTSD may have vivid memories of the event. This causes them to feel like they’re in that moment again. This can cause panic attacks.

These memories can come in many forms. They include standard memories, flashbacks, and nightmares. Any form the memory comes in can be extremely disruptive. They make it hard to perform daily tasks. They can also make it hard to hold a job.

The second main symptom for PTSD is emotional numbness. People avoid places and situations that remind them of trauma. However, trauma can happen nearly anywhere. This can seriously impair someone’s life. Someone might avoid common situations and places like cars or the grocery store. As a result, they can have a hard time functioning day-to-day.

The final main symptom is increased arousal and sensitivity. This includes things like having a hard time sleeping. Someone might be jumpy. They can also be easily agitated.

It’s not hard to see how these symptoms can make life difficult. They interrupt everyday life. They also create terrible feelings. Given this, it’s hardly surprising that some people with the disorder turn to drugs and alcohol.

What Causes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

The cause of PTSD is both simple and incredibly complex. It is simple because the basic cause is trauma. However, it’s complex because there’s no limit to what kind of trauma can cause it. For example, the disorder can come from:

  • Being directly involved in traumatic events
  • Seeing a traumatic event in person
  • Finding out about a traumatic event that happened to a loved one
  • Repeat exposure to traumatic events that happen to others – such as first responders or those in military service

As you can see, that’s a long list of possible causes. Moreover, everyone reacts to things differently. Some people respond better to trauma than others. Additionally, some people may have a bad reaction to some types of trauma but not other types.

Women are more likely to deal with sexual and violent trauma. This is an added dimension. It requires an approach that recognizes the sensitive nature of these events.

As a result, there’s no single cause of PTSD. While women are diagnosed twice as often as men, it can happen to anyone. Also, it doesn’t matter what other people think of the traumatic event. All that matters is that the event is traumatic to the person who develops the disorder.

How is PTSD Treated?

There are several options for treating PTSD. However, they fit broadly into two categories. These are therapy and medication. Most people respond best to a combination of the two options.

When it comes to therapy, the most common option is a specific type of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT. This treatment is effective for the short and long-term. It’s widely used. CBT is also used for other mental health issues. These include addiction, anxiety, depression, and more.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy usually happens over 12-16 weeks. It focuses on recognizing patterns of thinking and behavior. Once someone recognizes those patterns they can start changing them. The main method CBT uses for PTSD is exposure therapy.

Exposure therapy works by helping people face their fears in a safe place. There are several ways to do this. Some therapists use writing, others use mental imagery, pictures, or visits to places. The goal is to gradually expose the person to trauma. This helps them become less sensitive to it.

CBT is a very broad category of therapy. There are some specific types of Cognitive Behavior Therapy for PTSD. Understanding these different options will help you pick the one that’s best for you.

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy – This type of therapy focuses on how a person views themselves, others, and the world after a traumatic event. It works to understand why the trauma occurred. It also helps you understand the impact it had on your beliefs.
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy – This option is more focused on helping people stop avoiding traumatic reminders. This is important because avoiding situations prevents recovery.
  • Stress Inoculation Training – SIT teaches people coping skills to deal with the stress and anxiety that come with PTSD. It aims to help people react differently to what they feel. SIT includes breathing techniques, muscle relaxation, and similar approaches.

Therapy is useful, but it is often combined with medication. There are two main types of medication for PTSD. These are antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.

The main antidepressants used for PTSD are known as SSRIs. That stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Basically, these medications control the amount of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is a chemical the brain naturally produces. It plays an important role in regulating mood and stress.

SSRIs are considered “first-line” medications for many mental health issues. They’re widely used for things like depression, anxiety, and similar issues. Doctors recommend these drugs for a few reasons.

First, SSRIs are generally effective. Most people see excellent results when they take these medications. Additionally, they aren’t addictive. That makes them appealing to patients and doctors. They also don’t have many side effects. Finally, there are several options for SSRIs. That means it’s likely that one of them will get the results you’re looking for.

Some examples of SSRIs are:

  • Prozac
  • Lexapro
  • Paxil
  • Zoloft
  • Celexa
  • Luvox

However, there are some risks with SSRIs. While they’ve been thoroughly researched, we still don’t know why they work. Also, some people respond badly to specific drugs. This can result in things like insomnia and headaches. In extreme cases people may have suicidal thoughts.

It’s important to note that the number of people who get the most serious side effects is very low. In most studies 2% of the group gets them. This is compared to 1% of people who get them with a placebo.

The other type of medication used to treat PTSD is anti-anxiety medications. Most of these drugs are known as benzodiazepines. These medications are usually prescribed in small doses. Moreover, they aren’t intended for long-term use. Most doctors recommend that they be used only in emergencies. For example, taking one to stop a panic attack.

There are a couple of reasons these drugs aren’t used more. The first is that they are addictive. Some of them, like Xanax, are increasingly popular street drugs. Also, these drugs have more serious side effects. The side effects can happen during withdrawal or while on the drugs.

Some common types of anti-anxiety medications include:

These drugs do have some benefits. First, they work very quickly. That’s one of the reasons they’re so addictive. Additionally, they’re very effective. They have a strong sedative effect. However, this makes it dangerous to take them and operate machinery or drive a car. That’s why it’s important to always follow your doctor’s instructions for any medication.

Understanding Dual Diagnosis

Now that you know about the causes and treatments of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it’s time to cover PTSD and addiction together. This is known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. These terms basically mean that there are two mental health issues.

A dual diagnosis requires more specialized care. It’s important to address both mental health issues. Dealing with one and not the other can lead to relapses. It can also cause PTSD symptoms to return.

In many cases people with PTSD start using after the traumatic event. However, that’s not always the case. Sometime the pursuit of drugs and alcohol can lead to traumatic events. But that doesn’t mean that a person doesn’t deserve care and attention. Everyone deserves healing, no matter where their trauma came from.

PTSD and Addiction Together

While Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and addiction are usually related, they don’t have to be. The issues can exist independently of each other. 27.9% of women with lifetime PTSD also have a substance use disorder. The PTSD and addiction statistics show that nearly half of all people with the disorder develop a substance abuse issue.

Many people turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with a traumatic event. That’s one of the reasons why addiction happens so often with PTSD. However, substances only provide temporary relief. They actually end up making the issue worse.

It’s also worth noting that there’s no relationship between PTSD and the type of substance. Some people turn to uppers, like cocaine and amphetamines. Others look to alcohol. Still others resort to opioids and benzos. Co-occurring addiction can take any form a regular addiction can.

People with co-occurring PTSD and substance abuse face more challenges. They are more likely to experience violence. They’re also more likely to commit violent acts. Also, people with a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse dual diagnosis are more likely to have legal problems. Finally, they’re also at a greater risk for suicide.

In addition to these big things, there are other things that go wrong. People with both issues are more likely to have social and interpersonal problems. They also have a higher rate of failing to fulfill major role obligations. That can cost someone their job. It can also set a bad example for children and peers.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction

While there are lots of problems for people with PTSD and addiction, there are treatment options. However, it’s important to make sure you get the best treatment possible. After all, the consequences are just too big to settle.

The most common type of treatment plan involves a combination of therapy and medication. The good news is that many of these medications and therapies are the same that people get for PTSD. However, it’s important to approach both issues. Otherwise therapy and treatment won’t be as effective.

Studies find that exposure therapy is highly effective for people with both issues. One of the most effective options is called in vivo exposure. This method involves the person and therapist working together. They come up with a list of situations that are safe but also feared. They then work through those situations. This helps the person lower their anxiety.

The other type of exposure therapy that’s widely used is imaginal. This involves a person telling the therapist their most troubling trauma. They talk about it in the past tense. The person does this for 45-60 minutes without stopping. These sessions are taped. The person listens to the tapes daily.

The Value of Gender-Specific Treatment

It’s important for women to get the right kind of treatment. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD. The condition also affects women and men differently. Also, women have different reactions to addiction.

Gender-specific treatment creates one of the best opportunities for success. This is true for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as addiction.

A comprehensive review of studies found that women in gender-specific programs had a significant decrease in alcohol misuse. It also found that people in gender-specific programs are more likely to stick to their program. This also increases the odds of a successful recovery.

Also, women have unique challenges to recovering. Sexual and physical trauma is a much more common source of PTSD for women. This demands specialized care and attention. Gender-specific treatment allows doctors to focus on helping people overcome these unique challenges.

Additionally, women have special challenges when it comes to addiction. For instance, women are less likely than men to have an addiction. However, it escalates more rapidly when they do.

Women also have physical differences. Women’s bodies process drugs and alcohol at different rates than men’s bodies. There are also other physical differences. For example, women who are breast-feeding, pregnant, or that may become pregnant have more to consider.

Gender specific treatment programs can take these things into account. The result is a program that’s tailored to your needs. This means you’re more likely to recover. You’re also less likely to relapse.

Don’t let PTSD and addiction join forces to ruin your life. Everyone deserves care, attention, and healing. The combination of therapy, medication, and gender-specific treatment programs creates the best situation for that healing. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse have ruined many lives. Use this information to get yourself or a loved one the help you need, and avoid becoming a statistic.