Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur after any major traumatic event. It’s common in soldiers who have been in war zones and also occurs in the wake of sexual or physical assault, repeated bullying, natural disasters or catastrophic accidents, or when a person’s life is threatened such as in a robbery. These are only a few examples; any source of major stress has the potential to cause this mental disorder. PTSD and addiction are common co-occurring disorders, as many individuals suffering from trauma use drugs or alcohol to self-treat and alleviate pain. Dual diagnosis treatment programs help people with co-existing mental and substance abuse disorders through the use of traditional and alternative treatment modalities and mental health counseling.
PTSD is characterized by intrusive memories or flashbacks of the traumatic event that are beyond the individual’s ability to control. They may also have nightmares, or have uncontrollable outbursts of emotion or anger at triggers that remind them of the event.
Unlike many mental health conditions, PTSD can be very difficult for an individual to self-diagnose. The symptoms usually do not occur until at least three months after the trauma that causes the condition, and they sometimes do not manifest for years, making it difficult to directly connect the trauma to the condition.
Those who suffer from PTSD are often aware that something is wrong with them, but not aware that they have a medical condition. They may begin using substances to self-medicate for the symptoms of PTSD. While this provides temporary relief, the condition does not go away, and constant substance use can eventually develop into physical dependency and addiction.
According to the National Center for PTSD, those who have been sexually assaulted or in military combat have higher incidences of substance abuse and dependency. About 50 percent are estimated to abuse alcohol because of the condition, and about 30 percent abuse drugs. About one in six military veterans who return from a combat zone report symptoms of PTSD.
PTSD with a concurrent substance abuse problem is considered a “dual diagnosis”, or a condition where an underlying mental health condition is fueling the substance abuse. Specialized PTSD treatment thus has a strong focus on mental health counseling, particularly one-on-one discussion with a therapist.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients to recognize negative patterns of thought and learn how to change them. Exposure therapy teaches patients to deal with their fears by gently exposing them to them in a safe environment — virtual reality is now more commonly being used for this purpose. And eye movement techniques can be taught that actually re-train the brain in processing disturbing thoughts.
PTSD and addiction treatment can also include the use of non-addictive antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and safe sleep drugs to treat insomnia.
A certified addiction treatment facility that provides long-term care is by far the best way to fight the grueling battle against both PTSD and addiction. With proper medical care and support, it is entirely possible to once again live a normal life and break the cycle of addiction for good.
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