Dual Diagnosis: How PTSD Can Encourage Addiction


Post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, has gained sweeping attention across the nation—especially as many returning veterans have struggled with the mental health issue. The increased awareness surrounding this topic has allowed many medical professionals to explore new methods of treatment and examine the many varied signs and symptoms that can be associated with the condition.

While PTSD is prompted by am exposure to a traumatic event—such as sexual abuse, violence or natural disasters—the characteristics of the condition is not “one-size-fits-all.” For instance, some who experience PTSD may experience intense feelings of depression and aggression—sometimes leading to suicidal behaviors. PTSD sufferers can also experience disruptive flashbacks of the traumatic event, triggering intense responses in the individual; this experience can lead many to develop social anxiety, feelings of claustrophobia and other mental health obstacles.

When PTSD Meets Addiction

In the past, we have explored the many ways that mental health issues—such as depression and stress—can be a major stimulus for drug and alcohol abuse. Typically, if an individual turns to substances to subdue poor mental health symptoms, the abuse can turn into a pattern of addiction.

Since the facets of PTSD are so diverse and penetrating, the risk of addiction is high in those who are not seeking proper treatment. Some of the reasons this can occur include:

  • Using Drugs to Treat Pain From Physical Injury

In cases where PTSD is caused by an event that involved violence and physical harm—particularly in veterans injured during war—it is common for patients to receive treatment for their injury while simultaneously experiencing PTSD. In many cases, doctors will prescribe painkillers to individuals who are overcoming chronic pain. While these drugs may be legal and help relieve the pain, the addictive nature of the drugs should not be ignored.

In some circumstances, those who are using painkillers after a traumatic event will find that the medications are not only physically addictive, but also help suppress negative emotions associated with the condition. If opioid medication addiction is prolonged, individuals not only put their body at risk, but also are unable to seek comprehensive treatment for PTSD.

  • Easing Social Anxieties with Drugs and Alcohol

As noted above, sufferers of PTSD can feel detached from the rest of society—as the general public is unaware of the unique, traumatic experience they had gone through. As a result, individuals will often feel uncomfortable socializing, being in public spaces or even interacting with coworkers and family. This pattern can create a sense of alienation that not only motivates greater depression, but also leaves PTSD sufferers searching for a way to handle social experiences in a “normal” fashion.

Unfortunately, in order to approach these social situations, individuals will self-medicate with drugs and alcohol as a way to feel more balanced among others. Although these substances may offer temporary relief, the abuse can result in debilitating addiction and prevent individuals from overcoming the true anxieties that are attached to the mental health condition.

  • Numbing Flashbacks and Other Symptoms

Substance abuse is commonly associated with the user’s desire to numb a particular feeling or stressor. In individuals with PTSD, this habit is frequently apparent as it may help sufferers avoid flashbacks, nightmares and other moments where they “relive” the traumatic event. For instance, those who have trouble sleeping may turn to alcohol or addictive sleep medications to escape the risk of experiencing the trauma all over again.

Why PTSD and Addiction Should Be Treated Simultaneously

While PTSD still holds many mysteries for those in the mental health profession, it is clear that attempting to treat the condition without paying attention to addiction struggles can only harm the patient’s health.

One article from DualDiagnosis.org explains why only treating half of the problem can be dangerous and states, “The use of alcohol to numb PTSD symptoms leads to a vicious cycle. Drinking alcohol worsens the fear and anxiety of PTSD, which leads to a release of endorphins.”

Since the circumstances for every PTSD sufferer also experiencing addiction are different, it is important for patients to have access to flexible treatment options—including those that that may include dual diagnosis modalities. Chapters Capistrano has proven an exceptional resource for those searching for a comfortable recovery center that offers flexible treatment and lengths of stay. Our dual diagnosis program is designed to assist those suffering from co-existing mental health issues so that they can recover in whole health and wellness.

If you or a loved one has PTSD struggles compounded by substance abuse, please reach out to our trusted staff today for more information on how to begin recovery at 888-690-4900.

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