Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an emotionally debilitating mental illness that is characterized by extreme anxiety, intrusive memories and troubling flashbacks that interfere with daily functioning. Many individuals with PTSD use drugs or alcohol to try and numb their pain. The combination of this mental illness and substance abuse creates a complicated co-occurring disorder that requires dual diagnosis treatment.
Causes And Symptoms Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder can experience high levels of stress or anxiety after seeing or being involved in a traumatic event. Any event that causes the individual to feel powerless can contribute to the onset of PTSD.
That said, the most common causes tend to fall into one of these categories:
- Childhood abuse
- Physical assault
- Sexual assault
- Military combat
- Natural disasters
The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include:
- Severe anxiety
- Aggressive behavior
- Angry outbursts
The Overwhelming Link Between PTSD And Substance Abuse
It’s estimated that one in three people seeking treatment for substance abuse also struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. The symptoms of PTSD can be extremely persistent and incapacitating and can lead individuals to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. This is why researchers have found very high percentages of alcohol and drug dependence in people with this mental health condition. Research shows that over half of PTSD sufferers are dependent on alcohol, and over 30 percent are dependent on drugs.
Not only is self-medication common among those with PTSD, but also, there are changes in the brain that make these individuals more likely to become addicted.
When a person experiences a traumatic event, their brain produces endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain responsible for decreased pain. When the event is over, the chemicals go back to normal, and this creates a withdrawal sensation, so to speak. Some of the symptoms that people experience include anxiety, depression and emotional distress. To replace these feelings, the person often turns to drugs and alcohol.
Whether a person with PTSD uses substances to cope, self-medicate or replace a “high”, the cycle between mental illness and addiction is a vicious one.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment Offers Hope
While researchers have acknowledged the strong link between substance abuse and mental illnesses like PTSD, it hasn’t been until more recently that treatment has addressed both disorders. Years ago, a person with both a mental health disorder and a drug or alcohol addiction would receive treatment for the addiction and nothing else. Yet by not treating the underlying mental illness, many people relapsed.
Today, more treatment centers are offering comprehensive recovery services for PTSD and addiction. The key is finding recovery programs that offer dual diagnosis treatment. Treatment facilities like Maryland Recovery are well-equipped to diagnose and treat both the mental illness and the substance abuse. When receiving integrated treatment in a safe, sober environment, the individual has a much greater chance for success.
Components Of Effective Dual Diagnosis Treatment
A well-rounded dual diagnosis treatment program should include the following:
- Individual counseling
- Group counseling
- Couples counseling or family therapy
- Membership in a 12-step program
- Medication therapy
- Alternative therapies, such as yoga
The link between post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse is becoming better understood thanks to new research and integrated treatment programs.
When searching for a treatment facility for you or a loved one with PTSD and addiction, look for those that have the proper resources to accurately diagnose and treat a dual diagnosis. It’s crucial that the underlying reasons for the addiction – post-traumatic stress disorder, in this case – is effectively treated so that it does not interfere with a healthy recovery. When individuals receive this personalized care, the risk for relapse is significantly reduced.
Maryland Recovery is a dual diagnosis treatment center that can help you or a loved one suffering from PTSD and addiction. We have medical doctors and staff that will address both the mental illness and the substance abuse with a comprehensive, yet individualized treatment plan. Call us today to start your journey, we will be with you every step of the way.
Dr. Bhalavat is Board Certified in General Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, and provides inpatient evaluation and consultation services at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital, Maryland Recovery Partners, and Citizens Care & Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Bhalavat’s background includes treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and dementia.