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How Does PTSD Affect Addiction?

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Trauma and addiction are intimately linked. Recovery can be a very complex, emotional, and difficult journey for those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a substance use disorder (SUD). 

Recovery is always possible. Addressing how trauma and addiction have impacted one’s life and how they impact each other is crucial for developing a truly effective and transformative recovery plan. 

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by sudden, unexpected, and or disastrous events. Post-traumatic stress disorder can be especially prevalent in high-stress professional fields, with police officers, EMTs, firefighters, and other first responders on the front lines of traumatic events. Military personnel is also exposed to many traumatic and tragic situations that can impact an individual long after the event transpired. 

PTSD is not just limited to these professions, and anyone can experience a harrowing traumatic event. Many different kinds of traumatic events can transform how one thinks and feels about themselves and the world around them.  

These traumatic events can affect an individual in many ways, with symptoms of PTSD impacting how one navigates daily life. Some of these symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Persistent fear or paranoia
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Intrusive thoughts/memories
  • Avoidance
  • Guilt

These symptoms make it challenging to manage one’s daily routine, with exhaustion and anxiety compromising one’s ability to connect to others, maintain personal or romantic relationships, or tend to responsibilities such as holding down a job. With the persistent and intense effects of PTSD, it is common to seek any kind of respite from anxiety, panic, and stress. Those with PTSD may look for relief, including addictive substances, to quell their symptoms as fast as possible without considering future ramifications. 

The Role of Addictive Substances

Drugs and alcohol are fast-acting substances that fundamentally alter a person’s mind and attitude. Their mood changes and they forget about the stresses that PTSD presents as they self-medicate to null these negative feelings. Addictive substances carry a heavy toll on one’s body and already tricky emotional state, all while helping an individual continue to avoid their sources of stress instead of learning to confront or overcome them. 

This pattern can result in an even more volatile emotional state as one’s attempts at self-medication are unregulated or monitored. This can create a slippery slope for those navigating the most intense symptoms and stresses in their lives. 

The use of addictive substances can also become a cyclic behavior and can even develop into a substance use disorder or addiction if unaddressed. As one continues to rely on drugs or alcohol to avoid their own emotions, one may be causing further damage to their mind. As one continues to engage with addictive substances, their tolerance may continue to grow. 

Individuals’ reliance on addictive substances can increase, causing them to need more of the substance to achieve the desired effect. In turn, an individual eschews other coping strategies and resources to continue facilitating the use of these substances. 

Addictive substances do little to actually process the sources of one’s daily stress and struggles. Instead, they can facilitate an even more fragile or complex emotional state. Addiction has its own impacts on the mind. It can introduce even more feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt, panic, and shame that compound with the difficulties already present due to PTSD. 

Addressing Addiction and PTSD

Those suffering from PTSD and addiction will need to simultaneously address both sides of these struggles to create a truly effective recovery plan. Managing one’s symptoms of PTSD without acknowledging the impact of addictive substances can allow addiction to continue developing and hinder one’s recovery efforts as a whole. 

Likewise, addressing addiction without confronting the underlying PTSD can leave an individual ill-prepared to cope with PTSD’s still destructive effects. Sadly, relapse is all too common in those without alternative coping strategies. Overcoming addiction and PTSD in tandem is a complex affair, but it is also necessary to truly embrace a new lifestyle and sobriety. 

Attempting to detox and overcome PTSD without professional help can prove to be exceptionally difficult. The use of a dedicated safe space and trained professionals is necessary to cope with each individual’s unique emotional changes, withdrawal symptoms, and various needs in general. An individual’s traumatic past must be explored while understanding the role that addiction has played in facilitating feelings of fear, anxiety, and depression in the journey towards a healthier future. Doing so can help individuals to grow into the best versions of themselves and even create healthier, more fulfilling lives for themselves.

Commonly, those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will look to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to alleviate the most intense or destructive feelings that PTSD presents. However, they can actually lead to further detriments, and we at Pacific Sands Recovery Center are prepared to help you understand and overcome the unique effects of addiction and PTSD in tandem to create a healthy, sober future. Whether you are just beginning your journey towards a healthier future with our detox program, learning your best coping strategies for addiction and PTSD in residential care, or continuing to build upon your tried and proven skills in ongoing outpatient therapy, your time with us will be personalized to fit your needs. Our small, intimate atmosphere allows us to create an environment that is right for you, with the safety and community needed to succeed. For more information, call (714) 492-1119.

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