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Understanding the Connection Between PTSD and Addiction

Trauma and stress have important connections with addiction. Traumatic experiences can lead to PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, when not addressed properly. PTSD can arise from things that happen to you, things you witness, or things that happen to a loved one.

It’s not uncommon for people who experience a traumatic event to struggle with nightmares, irritability, depression, flashbacks, insomnia, and similar symptoms for several weeks or months after the incident. But when those symptoms continue for longer than six months, and they are severe enough to interfere with daily function and overall well-being, they can become a mental health disorder: PTSD. 

The Connection Between PTSD and Addiction

Studies have found that those who seek treatment for PTSD are up to 14 times more likely to also have addiction. The biggest reason for the connection between PTSD and addiction is that people attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol in order to avoid or stifle their PTSD symptoms.

Veterans and military personnel are more likely to have PTSD. Emotional stress, physically demanding work requirements, deployments, and combat increase the risk of developing PTSD among this particular group. 

Trauma, PTSD, and Alcoholism

Within a few minutes of a traumatic event, the brain has an increased level of endorphins. These endorphins remain high throughout the traumatic event in order to numb the physical or emotional pain for survival. However, after the traumatic event is over, these endorphin levels tend to decrease and result in a withdrawal that can contribute to high emotional distress, anxiety, or depression. The diminished endorphins can also contribute to symptoms of PTSD. 

Following a traumatic event, many people report that they turn to alcohol to get rid of symptoms like irritability, depression, and anxiety. Alcohol temporarily relieves such symptoms because it compensates for the diminished endorphin activity that follows traumatic situations. For this reason, alcohol use can become common after trauma in order to avoid the emotional distress of that endorphin loss, but this can quickly lead to a dependency on alcohol, which further exacerbates symptoms of PTSD and leads to a stronger connection between PTSD and addiction.

In one cross-sectional study, diagnostic measures found that 25 percent of people with PTSD are more likely to struggle with alcoholism. 

Nightmares and Flashbacks: Self-Medicating Symptoms

PTSD comes with symptoms like:

  • Vivid memories and flashbacks
  • Negative thinking
  • Mood changes
  • Avoidance symptoms
  • Hyperarousal/hypervigilance 

One of the more common symptoms of PTSD is intrusive memories that come in the form of nightmares or flashbacks. Studies have found that people living with PTSD are more likely to resort to substance abuse in order to dampen those nightmares or flashbacks as a form of self-medication.

Getting Treatment for PTSD and Addiction

Dual diagnosis treatment in Austin, Texas, at Ava Recovery can help with PTSD and addiction. If you or someone close to you is struggling with both conditions, our evidence-based interventions can utilize treatment techniques such as medication, trauma-informed care, and holistic practices to set you on the path toward processing the underlying trauma contributing to PTSD and tackling addiction.

Clients at our Austin drug rehab can enjoy specialized inpatient or outpatient dual diagnosis programs that empower clients to have the best outcome. Part of our treatment includes:

  • Master clinicians and licensed therapists providing services
  • Care teams who specialize in dual diagnosis treatment for PTSD and addiction
  • 12-step programs 
  • On-site medical personnel
  • One-to-one staff-to-client ratios
  • Medication-assisted therapy when necessary

Those who struggle with PTSD are at a higher risk of turning to drugs or alcohol, especially if they have struggled with biological or neurobiological factors that make them more susceptible to addiction. The right kind of dual diagnosis treatment can provide the services and skills necessary to overcome both.

Reach out to our team to learn more about Ava Recovery’s dual diagnosis programs and trauma treatment in Austin, Texas.

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