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PTSD and Addiction

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction frequently occur at the same time. They can happen regardless of age, race, gender, or economic status. People who deal with both PTSD and addiction find themselves in a precarious and potentially dangerous situation, which makes seeking professional help of the utmost importance.

Why Does PTSD Happen to People? 

PTSD is a psychological disturbance brought on by exposure to a traumatic event or series of events. A person may be a direct victim of the traumatic event or witness it occurring. Approximately 7 out of 100 people develop PTSD during their lifetimes. Each year, some 8 million adults are living with PTSD.

Events that can trigger the development of PTSD include:

  • Physical assault
  • Sexual assault and rape
  • Childhood abuse and neglect
  • Witnessing or being involved in a military event
  • Being involved in an accident
  • Being threatened with violence or a weapon
  • Witnessing a violent crime
  • Natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes
  • The death of a loved one

Symptoms that can be experienced with PTSD include:

  • Startling easily
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Nightmares
  • Numbness
  • Flashbacks
  • Memory difficulties
  • Bouts of aggressiveness or violence
  • Difficulty forming bonds with others
  • Feeling triggered around anniversary dates of traumatizing events

Those people who experienced triggering events that resulted in PTSD earlier in their lives may not understand that they have a legitimate psychological condition. For example, someone who experienced an abusive or neglectful childhood may feel that’s all in the past. If family members encourage the person to just “get over it”, they may feel they don’t have a right to their difficulty in moving past what happened to them. 

PTSD Among Special Populations

PTSD not only happens as part of one’s personal life but can come about as part of their job. Many first responders, including police, firefighters, paramedics, and others who respond to emergency situations involving the public develop PTSD. Witnessing situations such as violence, abuse victims, uprisings in a community, and weather-related crises can push a responder into developing PTSD.

Military members often find themselves at risk for developing PTSD. The National Institutes of Health states that veterans experience an increased risk of suffering from an addiction to alcohol or drugs while simultaneously having PTSD. 

Studies done involving military personnel who served in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) show that 21% of these veterans developed a substance abuse disorder. Another 15-20% developed PTSD. Military data detailing a correlation between its veterans developing both PTSD and addiction dates back as far as the Vietnam era. Vietnam vets experienced PTSD and addiction at a rate of 41%. 

When PTSD and Addiction Happen Together

The National Institutes of Health also reports that nearly half of people who have PTSD also have a substance use disorder. The most common addiction involves alcohol. 

The combination of PTSD and addiction often results in a needed clinical treatment program that is both more costly and complex than if only one condition is present. People dealing with both issues often have more health problems, poorer social skills, an increased risk of violence, and a higher rate of suicide.

Individuals struggling with these co-occurring conditions may not understand how one can feed into the other. Dealing with PTSD often proves stressful and debilitating. Sufferers may not have any healthy coping skills to put in place to help deal with it. This adds to the temptation to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs.

At the same time, constantly abusing alcohol and drugs tends to cover up the reality of living with PTSD, which can cause a delay in seeking treatment for it. A person who receives a full diagnosis that includes the fact that they have a substance use disorder and PTSD can use that to begin to seek help for both conditions. 

Physicians and therapeutic professionals can assess a person and determine how addiction and PTSD affect their lives. The clinician can then advise their patient on devising a treatment plan.

Treatment for PTSD and Addiction

PTSD does not resolve itself on its own. This condition requires professional treatment that may involve outpatient therapy, residential treatment, or other options. About half of all people who experience an addiction to alcohol or drugs also have at least one mental health diagnosis, too.

Because of the commonality of these co-occurring conditions, many treatment facilities treat both addiction and mental health disorders. Patients often find that as they learn how to manage mental health conditions such as PTSD, it makes coping with their addiction more manageable, as well. 

Addiction Treatment in California

Suffering from addiction and PTSD can leave a person feeling alone. Riviera Recovery provides professional treatment for young adults who need help managing both conditions. Our sober living housing provides a safe, homelike environment with multiple options for treatment. We offer opportunities for outpatient, inpatient, and holistic therapies to help complement your experience of staying with us. We are a pet-friendly facility that can help you learn to return home in a healthy, new headspace.

If you are ready to address your addiction to drugs or alcohol, Riviera Recovery is here to help you. Reach out to us and find out how to get started today.