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The Link Between PTSD and Drug Addiction – Dual Diagnosis - Plum Creek Recovery Ranch

The Link Between PTSD and Drug Addiction – Dual Diagnosis

People who have been exposed to traumatic events often experience long-term distress that becomes disabling. This is also known as post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Sometimes people use drugs or alcohol to manage their symptoms related to PTSD, which can lead to substance use disorders and addiction.

In behavioral health, this condition is considered a dual diagnosis. This is best treated with an individualized treatment plan. To learn more, we need to better understand PTSD and how addiction can become a result of this condition.

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post traumatic stress disorder is a serious condition in which a person has a difficult time recovering mentally after witnessing a traumatic event. Many veterans, first responders, healthcare professionals, abuse survivors, and even those who have experienced major natural disasters can show signs of PTSD.

Post traumatic stress disorder can also remain in the subconscious until a current situation triggers a past memory which results in intense emotional and physical symptoms. Becoming extremely distressed, a person experiencing PTSD can respond as if they were actually reliving the traumatic incident.

A PTSD episode can make a person feel out of control, rendering them with feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, anxiousness, and depression. Unfortunately, substance abuse is common among those experiencing PTSD. Drugs or alcohol are used to self-medicate and cope with difficult experiences.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

As you might have guessed, PTSD, like many mental health conditions, can manifest itself differently in each person. These are some common signs of PTSD.

  • Re-experiencing symptoms  – experiencing recurring memories of the traumatic event
  • Avoidance symptoms – efforts to actively avoid the people and places associated with past trauma
  • Arousal and reactivity symptoms – being continuously on edge and stressed
  • Cognition and mood symptoms – adverse effects on a person’s thinking and mood

According to our sister hospital, Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute, the symptoms listed are all common responses to traumatic events. That being said, having one or more of these symptoms does not mean a person has PTSD. To receive a PTSD diagnosis from a healthcare professional, a person must have one symptom from both the re-experiencing and avoidance symptom categories. Additionally, a person must exhibit two symptoms from both the arousal-and-reactivity and cognition-and-mood symptom categories.

How Common is PTSD in Veterans? 

PTSD affects about 7-8% of the population in the United States. It can be found in any age group and industry, but it’s most prevalent in military veterans and first responders. The frequency that this group show signs and symptoms of PTSD is somewhere between 12-20%, depending on when, where, and how they served. It is especially prevalent in combat veterans. Keep in mind, that many don’t experience symptoms for years after a traumatic event or series of events.

The heightened frequency of the conditions related to PTSD for veterans is linked to the intensity of the trauma that those serving in the military experience as compared to those in civilian life. Another cause of military-related PTSD is linked to military sexual trauma (MST). This is related to sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurred during one’s military service.

Resources for Veterans with PTSD

The US Department of Veterans Affairs and other groups are particularly focused on PTSD treatment with the rise in suicide completion rates for veterans. Here are a few resources to consider.

  • Peer groups – Support groups can provide a safe environment where veterans can discuss daily challenges and recurring problems with others who had similar experiences. These groups can provide a great sense of connection.
  • Mindfulness – Mindfulness is one of the most successful daily practices when you can train your mind to be present in the moment.
  • Lifestyle changes – Finding ways to change your environment, habits, and relationships can help you move away from triggers that can make you feel anxious and depressed.
  • Professional treatment – Seek out a doctor or mental health professional who can assist you with a treatment plan, especially if you have a dual diagnosis of PTSD and addiction.  

Signs of PTSD in Healthcare Workers

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a shift in our efforts to support healthcare workers in order to better recognize the effects of the trauma they experience on a daily basis. Although PTSD is no stranger to those who work in the healthcare field, it has been exacerbated in the last few years.

Signs of healthcare workers with PTSD are often overlooked. This mostly occurs because healthcare workers are more likely to care for their patients first and put themselves second. Friends, family, and co-workers can assist them in identifying the signs of PTSD and help them find treatment. 

Most common signs of PTSD in healthcare workers:

  • Substance abuse
  • Burnout
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Changes in emotional arousal
  • Emotional numbness and suicide

How Are Trauma and Addiction Related?

Research shows us that almost half (46.6%) of those with PTSD have a co-occurring condition of substance use disorder. According to Deena McMahon, a clinical therapist, those who experienced childhood trauma are more likely to continue to experience those effects into adulthood. This puts them at risk of making poor choices like abusing drugs and alcohol.

Trauma and addiction are so closely linked that it becomes a dangerous cycle. Trauma increases the risk of developing a substance use disorder and substance abuse increases the likelihood of engaging in high-risk behaviors that can lead to trauma. McMahon states that those who are seeking comfort from a life of shame, dread, fear, stress and anxiety are more likely to turn to the temporary effects of drugs and alcohol, unhealthy sexual behavior, gambling, or even compulsive shopping. These activities turn into addictions and may seem to provide temporary relief but can also leave a person more vulnerable.

Treatment of Co-Occurring PTSD and Substance Use Disorder

At Plum Creek Creek Recovery Ranch, we create individualized treatment plans for all our residents, which is why we’re effective in helping those with co-occurring disorders like drug addiction and PTSD. We strive to meet you where you are and support you throughout your recovery journey. Here is an overview of our services.

  • Inpatient residential treatment: We’re a residential facility located just outside of Austin in Lockhart, Texas. There you can receive individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, medical assisted therapy in a gender-based, safe, and supportive environment.
  • Outpatient treatment: Designed to work in conjunction with other programs as part of your after-care treatment. These sessions allow the patient to resume work, home life, school, or family interactions while still being connected to a treatment plan and the support of Plum Creek Recovery Ranch.
  • 12-Step programs: We’ll connect you with 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous which allow you to heal in a group setting. These groups are designed for members to hear stories of experiences of substance use and sobriety that can be relatable. They also can connect you with a sponsor.
  • Support groups: As part of aftercare, we’ll direct you toward other support groups in your area that are covering a variety of topics related to your co-occurring mental health disorders.
  • Veterans programs: There are many programs that are offered by the Veterans Administration (VA) which focus on behavioral and mental health for those who participated in military service.   

Get the Support You Deserve

You’re not alone. Finding treatment options for co-occurring conditions like PTSD and drug addiction can be overwhelming. If you or a loved one is struggling, call Plum Creek Recovery Ranch today for a free assessment with one of our caring, compassionate admissions counselors. We’re just a phone call away.

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