PTSD and Substance Use Disorder: How We Help You Recover

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that can develop if you have experienced traumatic events such as natural disasters, sexual abuse or military combat. These traumatic experiences often lead to substance use disorders (SUD) as a way of trying to cope with traumatic memories and negative emotions.

Co-occurring PTSD and SUD require integrated, concurrent treatment approaches to address the complex nature of these comorbid disorders. Effective treatment options include cognitive behavioural therapy and exposure-based therapies. At CATCH Recovery we recognise that it’s crucial to address both PTSD and SUD to improve your overall mental health and quality of life.

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • flashbacks

  • nightmares

  • intrusive memories

  • avoidance of triggering situations

  • hyperarousal

  • negative changes in mood and cognition

These symptoms may negatively impact your quality of life and relationships.

Substance Use and Co-occurring PTSD

Co-occurring PTSD and Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a common occurrence in individuals who have experienced traumatic events. Substance use is sometimes used to self-medicate in order to cope with the symptoms of PTSD. If you have resolved to self-medicating, please note that this often causes negative side-effects which add to the psychological and physiological trauma you are already experiencing.

Concurrent treatment for both disorders can lead to positive substance use outcomes and improved mental health. It is important you seek professional help for these co-occurring disorders as they are often very complex and require specialised treatment. We work with licensed, certified dual diagnosis specialists who are able to address your PTSD and SUD diagnoses and identify the triggers for both conditions while simultaneously resolving the underlying causes for them.

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PTSD and Alcohol

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorder often co-occur and can worsen symptoms of both conditions. Traumatic experiences such as combat, sexual assault or natural disasters can cause PTSD, while alcohol use can intensify negative emotions and traumatic memories.

Behavioural interventions and concurrent treatment for both disorders have shown positive results.

PTSD and Smoking

Smoking is often used as a coping mechanism for those struggling with PTSD, as it can temporarily ease anxiety and distress. However, smoking can make the symptoms of PTSD worse over time and increase the risk of health problems. Quitting smoking may benefit you if you are suffering from co-occurring PTSD and nicotine addiction by reducing symptoms and improving overall physical health.

Please reach out to an addiction specialist before attempting to stop alone as it may cause serious psychological confusion and trigger emotional trauma.

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PTSD and Marijuana

Many people who struggle with PTSD use marijuana to manage their symptoms. However, there is little scientific evidence that supports the use of marijuana to treat PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana use may worsen symptoms and increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder.

Self-medicating with cannabis can mask underlying mental health or physical issues, hindering proper diagnosis and treatment. Cannabis use can also lead to dependence and addiction, disrupting brain chemistry, and causing difficulties in controlling use as well as withdrawal symptoms. Relying on self-medication may delay or prevent you from seeking appropriate medical care from professionals who can accurately diagnose and prescribe suitable treatments for dual diagnosis.

Additionally, self-medication lacks professional guidance, making it challenging to determine dosage and potential interactions with other medications. Consulting healthcare professionals ensures comprehensive assessments, accurate diagnoses, and evidence-based treatment plans for a safe and effective management of health conditions.

Statistics on PTSD and Drug Abuse

  • According to a study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, individuals with PTSD are approximately three times more likely to develop a substance use disorder compared to those without PTSD.
  • The British Journal of Psychiatry published a study that reported higher rates of substance use and dependence among individuals with PTSD, particularly among those who experienced childhood trauma.
  • According to a 2008 study, the more strictly PTSD is diagnosed (by interviewer and questionnaire) the more clearly are associations with characteristics of SUD.
  • According to the British charity PTSD UK, almost 40% of the British population with a substance misuse disorder (including alcohol) also have a PTSD diagnosis.

Military and Veterans with PTSD

Military personnel and veterans are at a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the trauma they experience during their service.

The psychological and emotional distress associated with PTSD can lead to seeking relief through self-medication with substances such as alcohol, opioids, or stimulants. The numbing effects of these substances may temporarily alleviate the distressing symptoms of PTSD; however, this coping mechanism can quickly spiral into a cycle of addiction, further exacerbating the challenges faced by people who have suffered battle-induced trauma.

We recognise the intricate relationship between PTSD and addiction and provide comprehensive, tailored interventions that address both conditions simultaneously. By addressing the underlying trauma and providing appropriate therapeutic interventions, it is possible to mitigate the risk of addiction and support veterans in their journey towards recovery and improved well-being.

Support groups for military personnel and veterans can also provide a safe environment for sharing experiences and coping mechanisms.

Counselling for PTSD and Addiction

If you are suffering from both PTSD and a SUD and require counselling, CATCH Recovery can help. We have experienced therapists who can offer you cognitive, dialectical and trauma therapies in both individual and group settings, as part of our treatment services on offer. Please contact us for a free screening and let’s discuss your personalised therapy programme today.

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