Have you ever heard of PTSD but weren’t sure what it meant? PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder and it is a mental health condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. This event could be something like a natural disaster, a car accident, a hostage situation, or physical/sexual assault.
PTSD can cause a variety of symptoms, including flashbacks or intrusive memories of the traumatic event, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, irritability, anger outbursts, hypervigilance (a constant feeling of being on edge), and problems with cognition. It is estimated that nearly 8 million adults in the United States have PTSD, which can significantly impact daily activities and relationships.
PTSD and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder
People with PTSD often have a hard time returning to their everyday lives and may feel detached or estranged from family and friends. They may turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate and numb their feelings.
This can lead to developing a substance use disorder (SUD). Substance use disorder is defined as a problematic pattern of using alcohol or drugs that leads to clinically significant impairment or distress.
Nearly 50 percent of people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder also have a substance use problem. Research also shows that people with PTSD are 14 times more likely to develop a substance use problem at some point in their lives than those without PTSD.
For many people, PTSD and substance use can become a vicious cycle. The symptoms of PTSD can make it difficult to cope with everyday stress, which may lead to substance abuse as a way of self-medicating.
But once these substances wear off, they are followed by a withdrawal period that intensifies anxiety and stress. This brings up the need to “self-medicate” again, creating a vicious cycle leading to addiction.
Effects of Substance Use in PTSD Patients
Substance use can have several harmful effects on people with PTSD, including:
Interference with PTSD Treatment
If you have PTSD and SUD, it’s essential to seek treatment for the two conditions. Unfortunately, substance abuse can make it difficult to effectively treat PTSD.
This is because substance use can interfere with the brain’s ability to process and store memories, making it more challenging to work through the trauma in therapy.
Additionally, people with substance use problems are more likely to drop out of treatment prematurely, further hindering their progress in recovery.
Aggravating PTSD Symptoms
Substance use can also aggravate the symptoms of PTSD, making them more challenging to manage. For example, alcohol abuse has been linked to increased intrusive thoughts and nightmares. It can also lead to poorer sleep quality and reduced quality of life.
Increases Risk for Retraumatization
People with PTSD and substance use disorders are also at a higher risk for retraumatization. This is because they may be more likely to put themselves in situations where they are exposed to danger or harm.
For example, someone with PTSD who abuses alcohol may be more likely to visit bars or clubs, where they could be exposed to violence. Retraumatization can further complicate the treatment of PTSD and increase the risk for relapse.
Increased Risk for Depression
Individually, PTSD and substance use disorders are some of the leading causes of depression. When both conditions occur together, the likelihood of developing depression increases catastrophically.
Treating PTSD and Substance Use
An integrative treatment approach with ketamine is a comprehensive approach to treating both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse. This approach addresses the psychological and emotional consequences of trauma, as well as providing the necessary skills and tools to overcome substance use and maintain sobriety.
It is essential to seek help from a qualified professional if you or someone you know is struggling with either PTSD or substance abuse. Seeking help is a brave and important step towards recovery, and early treatment can significantly improve the chances of a successful outcome. There is no shame in seeking help, and it is always better to address these issues as soon as possible.