PTSD and Substance Abuse

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an emotional disorder characterized by flashbacks, anxiety and traumatic memories which interfere with daily life. Drugs and alcohol are commonly abused by individuals with PTSD as a coping mechanism for the mental anxiety of dealing with past stressful events. Chronic substance abuse creates a complicated dual diagnosis (co-occurring substance use and mental health condition). Learn more about PTSD, substance abuse and how to seek treatment for the condition.


What PTSD Means

A person with PTSD will experience enormous stress or anxiety after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event or series of events. Physical and psychological trauma can leave a person feeling powerless and out of control to deal with symptoms. Some of the most common causes may include:

  • Military combat
  • Violent assault
  • Natural disasters
  • Sexual assault
  • Childhood abuse

Nightmares and flashbacks which occur in a person with PTSD have crises which are never resolved in a person’s life. A child who feels powerless against abuse may grow up to feel the effects of PTSD as will a person who experiences military combat or other traumatic events. Women who experience sexual abuse commonly experience PTSD and addiction concurrently. Symptoms exhibited are individual but range from anxiety to aggressive behavior and emotional outbursts on a whim.


Three Types of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD can be divided into three general categories. People who experience symptoms may for at least a short period of time be diagnosed with PTSD. Alcoholism and drug abuse fall into the category of avoidance symptoms as the individual will use chemicals to numb pain and fear.


Re-experiencing traumatic event

An individual will relieve the experience over and over again in the mind which causes stress, anxiety and further harm to the body. This may lead to drug and alcohol use to deal with symptoms and may also lead to depression.


Avoiding experiences which evoke memories

A person who avoids experiences which evoke memories may not cope well without the use of drugs or alcohol. The individual will need substances to deal with difficult memories.


Symptoms of hyperarousal, irritability or anger

When drugs or alcohol are used to manage symptoms, the central nervous system cannot cope with the stress. Risk-taking behavior may take place while under the influence and may lead to symptoms of angry outbursts and irritability with others.

PTSD and substance abuse can lead to legal problems, incarceration, poverty and chronic unemployment or homelessness. The proper treatment for individuals with PTSD, alcohol and drug use is to make a dual diagnosis and build a supportive recovery program around the multiple issues a person has to better support a healthy lifestyle going forward.

Dual Diagnoses are challenging but Hired Power understands the need for people to receive individualized assessments and treatments according to their specific needs. If you are struggling with post-traumatic stress and/or substance use disorder, there is hope. Call us to see how we can help you get better.