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Many who develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) use substances to cope with their symptoms. Unfortunately, this often leads to the development of substance use disorder (SUD) and requires treatment for both conditions. As is, addiction treatment is most effective when it is individualized to each client. Individualized care ensures that SUD and PTSD or any additional subsequent mental health conditions can be treated accordingly. 

Meanwhile, understanding the connection between SUD and PTSD can better prepare individuals for seeking proper treatment. These connections may include the various symptoms people may experience, treatment options, and, more specifically, how dual diagnosis treatment can help people achieve lasting recovery from SUD and PTSD. 

Continue reading to learn more about the connection between SUD and PTSD and what it could mean for your recovery journey. Additionally, we encourage you to seek treatment. West Coast Recovery Centers is a nationally accredited rehabilitation center in Southern California, and we can help you determine your recovery path today! 

What Is PTSD?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes PTSD as a “disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” Any individual can develop PTSD through a number of traumatic or threatening experiences, ranging from military combat to natural disasters and more.

Humans experience a natural or physiological response to fear and distress. When an individual feels threatened, the physical or psychological stimulus disrupts homeostasis, resulting in a stress response. There is an entire biological understanding of how we respond to distressing situations. However, there is a more significant concern for those struggling with PTSD. 

Individuals with PTSD are at a higher risk of developing additional mental health conditions, becoming violent, or misusing substances. However, this depends on the person, just as the risk of developing PTSD is dependent on each individual. 

The question is, why do some people develop PTSD and others do not? What is it about certain traumatic events that cause people to develop PTSD? Before we can understand the connection between PTSD and SUD, we should comprehend how trauma and PTSD are connected. 

The Connection Between Trauma and PTSD

In short, we all experience trauma throughout our lives. While many of us will struggle to cope with it, eventually, most people will discover a way to manage. Unfortunately, not everyone can do this, however. According to the NIMH, there are risk factors that may increase the likelihood of someone experiencing PTSD, some of which include: 

  • Early exposure to trauma during childhood 
  • Lack of social support after a trauma occurs 
  • Having a family history of mental illness 
  • Experiencing intense or extreme fear and horror 
  • Dealing with additional stress after a trauma, such as the loss of a loved ones 

Signs and Symptoms

Along with keeping these risk factors, there are some signs and symptoms of PTSD that individuals can be mindful of. These symptoms, as indicated by the NIMH, are divided into four categories, including: 

  • Re-experiencing symptoms: 
    • Experiencing flashbacks and reliving traumatic events 
    • Recurring memories or dreams related to a traumatic event 
    • Distressing thoughts 
    • Exhibiting physical stress signs 
  • Avoidance symptoms: 
    • Avoiding thoughts, feelings, places, people, objects, or events connected to or are reminds of a traumatic event 
  • Arousal and reactivity symptoms: 
    • Easily startled 
    • Trouble sleeping 
    • Difficulty concentrating 
    • Engaging in risk or destructive behavior 
    • Feeling on edge, tense, irritable, or experiencing angry outbursts
  • Cognition and mood symptoms: 
    • Trouble remembering details of a traumatic event 
    • Experiencing negative thoughts 
    • Blaming yourself or others 
    • Loss of interest in hobbies and enjoyable activities
    • Social isolation and withdrawal from friends and family 

The NIMH also states that to be diagnosed with PTSD, individuals must experience symptoms for at least one month. Specifically, at least one re-experiencing and avoidance symptom, at least two arousal and reactivity symptoms, and two cognition and mood symptoms. 

The first step to managing symptoms such as these is recognizing them and seeking proper help. Not seeking treatment can lead to worsened symptoms or the development of other mental health problems. So then, where does substance use come into the picture? 

SUD and PTSD: How Are They Connected?

The most significant connection between SUD and PTSD is that individuals may use substances to manage their PTSD symptoms. Millions of individuals with mental health conditions will self-medicate with drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with symptoms. However, this is counterproductive, as self-medication can quickly lead to dependency, which requires additional treatment. 

If untreated, trauma, PTSD, and SUD will wreak havoc on an individual’s life. They can cause sleep disorders and mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression. It may even lead to more dangerous substance use. Individuals with PTSD and SUD sometimes fall into a vicious cycle where symptoms of each condition are exacerbated by each other, making treatment and recovery even more challenging. Nevertheless, recovery is possible. 

Treating SUD and PTSD Together

With trauma-informed care and dual diagnosis treatment, individuals can feel comforted and supported as they achieve healing and sobriety from SUD and PTSD. There are also many self-care practices that individuals can implement to heal from PTSD, such as setting goals and improving their physical health. West Coast Recovery Centers utilizes many clinical modalities and holistic practices to meet clients’ unique rehabilitation needs. Consider working with us as you embark on your journey toward healing from SUD and PTSD today. 

Trauma, substance use, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are all connected. Individuals who experience severe trauma early on in life experience an increased risk of developing substance use disorder (SUD). Similarly, traumatic events can lead to PTSD, and individuals often try to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. This causes a vicious cycle where the symptoms of SUD and PTSD exacerbate each other and make treatment and recovery more challenging. Understanding these connections and recognizing the signs and symptoms of SUD and PTSD can better prepare you for seeking treatment for both. Consider seeking treatment and call West Coast Recovery Centers at (760) 492-6509 to learn about how our programs can help you today.