PTSD and substance abuse are often overlapping disorders that will only exacerbate one another. Let’s take a closer look at this overlap.
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) reports that 9.5 million adults in the US experienced substance use disorder with a co-occurring mental health disorder in 2019.
Those diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are three times more likely to be involved with alcohol or drug abuse.
With PTSD affecting 8 in every 100 adults in the United States according to the National Center for PTSD, so many people grappling with substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder, it pays to educate yourself about the issues a dual diagnosis can trigger and the behavioral health problems associated.
PTSD and Substance Abuse
If you have either alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder and you are suffering from a mental health condition at the same time, this is known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.
- Major depressive disorder
- GAD (generalized anxiety disorder)
- Panic disorder
- Bipolar disorder
If you are suffering from a co-occurring PTSD disorder, you may be addicted to any of the following substances:
- Prescription painkillers
Sometimes the substance use disorder develops first, but sometimes the mental health condition predates the SUD.
In the case of PTSD co-occurring with substance use disorder, the traumatic event typically triggers the substance use. Once you start abusing substances to self-medicate the symptoms of PTSD, they are liable to deteriorate rather than improving.
Now, regardless of the specifics of your co-occurring disorder, the right dual diagnosis treatment program will help you tackle both issues simultaneously. The majority of programs delivered at PTSD treatment centers are outpatient programs.
PTSD and Drug Addiction
PTSD, the abbreviated term for post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition with symptoms triggered by exposure to a traumatic event.
While it’s common for anyone witnessing or experiencing trauma to later experience distress, when the symptoms start interfering with daily living, or if these symptoms persist for months, you’ll be diagnosed with PTSD.
You can expect to encounter any of the following adverse symptoms:
- Avoidance of the event
- Extreme anxiety
- Thinking negatively
- Feeling hopeless
- Relationship problems
- Emotional numbness
- Trouble focusing
- State of heightened alert
- Memory issues
- Self-destructive behaviors
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Outbursts of anger
Both PTSD and substance abuse are widespread in the United States, then. Although damaging in isolation, when they co-occur in a dual diagnosis, this complicates treatment.
The most recent data we have from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH 2019) shows that over 20 million American adults have an addiction to drink or drugs, and around 8 million suffer from PTSD.
Beyond this, there is also a significant amount of crossover. Of all those seeking treatment for SUD, roughly half also present with PTSD symptoms. Of those diagnosed with PTSD, almost half present with an active substance abuse disorder.
Even worse? With so many cases of both PTSD and substance use disorder unreported, the true number is likely larger.
PTSD and Alcohol Abuse
If you abuse drink or drugs chronically and long-term, this abuse causes changes to the structure and neurocircuitry in your brain. This is why many people in active addiction need the substance in question simply to feel normal.
PTSD impacts the brain in a similarly complex manner.
Now, when you’re suffering from a dual diagnosis of alcohol use disorder and PTSD, treating these issues simultaneously is vital. Treating this comorbidity is achieved through dual diagnosis treatment programs like the one we offer here at The District Recovery Community.
You can expect to engage with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) sessions, ideal for treating both PTSD and alcohol use disorder. DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) can also be useful for treating mental health conditions like PTSD. When you engage with dual diagnosis treatment, you’ll ensure that psychotherapy sessions are smoothly coordinated, taking into account both of these nuanced conditions.
Physical exercise therapy is routinely recommended for treating the symptoms of PTSD. As you exercise, your body will be flooded with endorphins like dopamine, capable of lifting your mood and tamping down the symptoms of anxiety.
In some cases, antidepressants are used to help manage withdrawal symptoms and anxiety, both common by-products of detoxing and withdrawing from sustained alcohol abuse.
Can Alcohol Trigger PTSD?
Although drinking alcohol can offer temporary respite to someone suffering from PTSD, alcohol withdrawal can worsen these symptoms.
If you fall into the habit of binge-drinking to self-medicate your PTSD symptoms, the only way you can stave off the adverse reaction following the slump after a binge is to drink more alcohol. Perpetuating this vicious cycle further inflames the symptoms while offering diminishing relief. In this way, alcohol abuse can certainly trigger PTSD once diagnosed.
PTSD and Alcohol Abuse Statistics
- Victims of PTSD are more likely to subsequently develop alcohol use disorder to self-medicate against distressing and unmanageable symptoms. Some research suggests up to 40% of those with PTSD in the USA also have alcohol use disorder
- According to studies, men witness more traumatic events than women, and they also consume more alcohol than women. Despite this, women are twice as likely to develop PTSD and alcohol use disorder as a result
- Women are more likely than men to experience rape and sexual abuse. Resultantly, it’s not uncommon for women to turn to alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs to self-medicate
- Studies of Vietnam veterans show that 68% of vets seeking help for PTSD also presented with alcohol use disorder. The same data shows that 1 in 3 veterans currently engaged with substance abuse treatment also suffer from PTSD
PTSD and Addiction Treatment
Both PTSD and addiction impact the brain in complex ways. Treating the two disorders simultaneously is proven effective.
We’ll illustrate how we achieve this at The District Recovery Community.
The District’s Dual Diagnosis Treatment
As we mentioned above, it’s not always clear whether the substance use disorder or the mental health condition comes first with a co-occurring disorder.
That said, it’s typically undiagnosed PTSD that triggers substance abuse as self-medication. This is a poor strategy that does nothing to address the underlying cause, while also inflaming the symptoms of each condition.
Sometimes, the sustained use of substances can lead to mental health conditions – marijuana triggering latent schizophrenia, for instance.
With so many variables and with both conditions feeding into each other, a precise diagnosis is key if you want to effectively treat a dual diagnosis of substance use disorder and PTSD.
Since all cases are different, we account for that at TDRC by personalizing our dual diagnosis treatment programs.
You’ll need to first detox from drink or drugs so your body is substance-free. We can help you here at The District Recovery Community with medical detox if required.
As soon as you are substance-free, you’ll be ready to engage with treatment proper, either in an inpatient or outpatient setting, depending on the scope and severity of your addiction and PTSD.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) makes use of FDA-approved medications to help reduce the symptoms of withdrawal while also minimizing the intensity of cravings.
MAT is delivered in combination with the following therapies:
- CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)
- DBT (dialectical behavior therapy)
- Exposure therapy
- Family therapy
If you feel you or your loved one have a dual diagnosis, don’t panic and don’t lose heart. Here at The District Recovery Community, we’ll help you treat both issues head-on and simultaneously. Our addiction experts and clinicians can assist you in fighting this addiction and help with the treatment of PTSD.
Soon you’ll be able to leave drink or drugs behind and symptoms of PTSD. Call our friendly admissions team to learn more about treatment options.