A lifelong psychiatric illness, known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can develop following exposure to a sudden and life-altering event. It is estimated that military veterans comprise approximately twenty percent of the population inflicted with PTSD.
Once considered self-induced, people paid little attention to PTSD. They paid even less attention to the link between substance abuse and trauma. However, PTSD is now acknowledged as a serious mental illness with the potential for devastating psychological and physiological effects, including addiction. Those dealing with PTSD symptoms must get proper medical care to learn how to manage both the disorder and the co-occurring addiction.
Post-trauma—meaning after or following trauma—can manifest long after an event has passed. Traditionally, this presented problems for whoever was facing the issue; the widely held view was that once something is over, you get over it.
Of course, the other issue is the overall lack of knowledge and understanding regarding the unseen effects of trauma on the brain. Visible injuries observed in military personnel returning from wars, for example, could be seen and treated by medical professionals. However, people who appeared to be intact and without bodily injuries were expected to be thankful and return to everyday living.
We now understand the levels of complexity behind emotional and psychological wounds. Some examples of PTSD include:
- Military personnel dealing with moral pain after participating in maneuvers that caused them to question their moral values.
- Survivors of major incidents, such as a plane crash, who deal with survivor’s guilt.
- People having conflicted feelings toward an abusive family member. This is especially true of adult survivors who were sexually abused as children.
All these complex emotions and stressors further complicate the trauma of the incident itself.
You might recognize PTSD symptoms as:
- Flashbacks plus aggressiveness
- Paranoia, and numbness
In terms of drug addiction, symptoms of PTSD include:
- Cravings for certain substances, particularly opiates.
The National Institute of Mental Health notes symptoms of PTSD also include:
- Trouble sleeping
Additionally, studies have revealed that approximately half of the patients treated for PTSD also have a co-occurring substance abuse problem.
Self-medicating refers to the self-prescribing of a substance such as alcohol or an opiate to mask the discomfort of, in this case, emotional pain. Other than the lack of medical supervision, the problem with this self-directed approach is the absence of guidance or quality control over the substance taken, which can lead to an overdose, long term physical health issues, and death.
An equally important issue is the lack of support therapy to help a person deal with the trauma itself. As with any co-occurring addiction disorder, the underlying reason behind the addiction must, following detox, be dealt with.
When we realize we have symptoms associated with PTSD, meeting this challenge with professional, targeted help can help us develop ways to manage the symptoms and succeed in long-term recovery.
PTSD is now acknowledged as a serious mental illness with the potential for devastating psychological and physiological effects, including addiction. Those dealing with PTSD symptoms must get the proper medical care they need to learn how to manage both the disorder and the co-occurring addiction. Those of us dealing with PTSD often self-medicate, masking the discomfort of emotional pain. Surrounded by the sublime landscape of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, the Detox Center of Colorado offers a solution-based transitional residence program aimed at accountability and recovery. Against a backdrop of clean, mountain air, we support your substance abuse or mental health recovery with a range of treatment and aftercare options. Call the Detox Center of Colorado at (303) 952-5035.