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Experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event can lead to significant emotional and psychological distress. When substances come into the picture, a person may start relying on them for temporary relief. This self-medication approach can lead to an unhealthy cycle of dependence and addiction, which can exacerbate the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

By learning more about how these conditions connect, you can take the first steps toward a healthier future. Addiction professionals can develop a trauma-informed treatment program to help you recover from both trauma and addiction.

Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD is a condition characterized by persistent distress from witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event. While people who have experienced a traumatic event can eventually overcome distressful feelings and reactions caused by these experiences, when PTSD develops, the symptoms will not go away without professional help. PTSD symptoms can last months or years after the traumatic event.

Examples of situations where PTSD can develop might include witnessing or experiencing the death of a loved one, military combat, natural disasters, serious accidents and injury, or sexual or physical abuse as a child or adult.

PTSD, stress, and drug addiction often co-occur as a result of serious trauma. Individuals who experience PTSD may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate uncomfortable and unwanted feelings. Getting a professional dual diagnosis is critical to treating both conditions and achieving a substance-free lifestyle.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD symptoms fall into the following categories:

  • Intrusive memories: This is characterized by intense, unwanted, and recurrent memories of the traumatic event. A person may relive the traumatic event through flashbacks or nightmares and experience severe distress when confronted with triggers.
  • Avoidance: This involves avoiding thinking or talking about the traumatic event. Individuals with PTSD may avoid places, activities, or people that remind them of the trauma.
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood: People with PTSD often have negative thoughts about themselves, other people, or the world. They may have trouble maintaining close relationships and feel detached from family and friends. It’s also common to feel emotionally numb, have lapses in memory, and lose interest in activities you once enjoyed.
  • Arousal symptoms: This includes being easily startled, always on guard for danger, self-destructive behavior, and trouble concentrating or sleeping. Other symptoms include irritability, outbursts, and overwhelming guilt and shame.

How Can PTSD Lead to Substance Use?

Substance use disorder (SUD) and trauma are strongly connected, with research showing that 46.4% of people with PTSD meet the criteria for some type of addiction.

Following a traumatic experience, the brain produces fewer endorphins, a feel-good chemical. People with PTSD may turn to alcohol and drugs that increase endorphin levels and temporarily block unwanted feelings. However, substances become less effective over time, which can lead to people taking more of them to achieve the initial effects.

Studies show that drug cravings increase when a person with both PTSD and SUD encounters a trigger or something that reminds them of their trauma. Adding to the complexity of this relationship, withdrawal from substances can closely mimic some symptoms of PTSD, such as sleep disturbance, difficulty concentrating, feelings of detachment, and irritability — contributing to the cycle of self-medication that causes addiction.

Signs of Trauma-Related Substance Use Disorder

If you notice an increased use of substances following a traumatic event, your substance use might be related to the trauma. If you find yourself taking substances to cope with trauma triggers or memories or take the substance following these triggers, this could indicate your substance use is related to trauma.

Common behaviors and changes associated with substance use disorder include:

  • Taking a substance in larger amounts or over more time than initially intended.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to eliminate, reduce or control the use of the substance.
  • Having trouble fulfilling everyday tasks and obligations due to substance use symptoms.
  • Continually taking substances despite negative consequences.
  • Reckless and risk-taking behavior, such as driving while under the influence.
  • Avoiding social, occupational, or recreational activities to take substances.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not taking the substance.

Treatment for PTSD and Addiction

Both PTSD and addiction are complex conditions that must be treated simultaneously for a successful outcome. Prolonged substance misuse and PTSD can immensely impact the brain, and professional treatment can help undo the damage. A co-occurring addiction and trauma-informed program can help you target underlying traumas linked to your addiction.

Here are a few components of an effective treatment program:

Detox and Withdrawal Management

Specific substances cause withdrawal symptoms that can be dangerous or even life-threatening. For that reason, you should consult with medical professionals to assess your symptoms and determine the proper level of care. Withdrawal management might include the use of medications to help reduce uncomfortable symptoms.

Trauma-Informed Residential Care

A residential addiction treatment program involves staying at a treatment center for 24/7 support and supervision. This promotes increased safety by providing a substance-free environment to focus solely on recovery. You’ll work with medical and mental health professionals to identify your trauma, heal from the effects of addiction, and maintain long-term recovery.

Evidence-Based Addiction Treatment

Evidence-based programs include therapy and medications proven effective in treating addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions. Therapies can include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

In therapy, you’ll explore underlying triggers and develop healthy coping skills to work through them without substances. Additionally, you can participate in 12-step groups, where you’ll talk to and learn from like-minded individuals to maintain recovery from addiction and PTSD.

Holistic Addiction Treatment

Holistic treatments can also support your overall PTSD and addiction recovery. These approaches take a whole-body recovery effort, offering activities that benefit physical and mental health. Sana at Stowe offers the following holistic treatments:

  • Fitness
  • Gardening
  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Nutritional guidance

For example, nutritional guidance can help you heal from the physical effects of SUD, while exercise promotes the release of endorphins that boost mood. At the same time, yoga and acupuncture are holistic treatments that can help you reduce stress, depression, and other symptoms of PTSD.

Get Trauma and Addiction Recovery Support at Sana at Stowe

If you believe you or someone you know is experiencing PTSD and addiction, a trauma-informed addiction program can help. At Sana, our medical professionals can help you address your symptoms and start the path to recovery. In residential addiction treatment, your program will focus on healing from trauma while learning how to not rely on substances in a safe, supportive environment.

You might also benefit from our withdrawal management services, evidence-based addiction treatment, or holistic addiction treatment. We’ll work with you to determine a program that best suits your needs. Contact us to find out how our addiction treatment programs can help you recover.

Sana is Here to Help

Sana is here for you and your loved ones. Sana at Stowe provides high-quality treatment for those struggling with substance abuse, alcohol addiction, trauma, and PTSD. Our compassionate and professional staff is dedicated to giving our patients the recovery experience they deserve in a safe and healing environment. To learn more or to get started on your journey to recovery today, give us a call or visit our contact form.

Click here to call us: 866-575-9958