Substance Abuse & PTSD

PTSD and Substance Abuse
Most people associate the term “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD) with military service. But the condition can develop following virtually any trauma that is shocking, scary or dangerous – not just in the aftermath of battle. Survivors and witnesses of assault, traffic accidents, natural and manmade disasters, and family trauma often struggle with the condition. Unfortunately, a common side effect is substance abuse. In fact, Time Magazine reports that “50-66 percent of those who suffer from PTSD also battle simultaneous addiction.”

Symptoms of PTSDWoman with PTSD

Symptoms include vividly reliving events, going to extremes to avoid associated stimuli, and struggling with cognition, mood management, sleep, concentration, irritation, and anger. And although not every person who suffers a traumatic event develops the condition, those who do frequently turn to self-medication out of panic and desperation. Drugs and alcohol increase pleasure, reduce anxiety, and distract from the stress-at-hand. But that relief is fleeting. In fact, drug withdrawal symptoms exacerbate PTSD symptoms. When this occurs, users with the disorder find it extremely difficult to stop using. In fact, drug and/or alcohol abuse can actually trigger PTSD symptoms to last longer than they otherwise would.

PTSD Non-Military Substance AbuseTherapists and doctors use the following criterion to diagnose PTSD:

  1. The patient must have been exposed to or threatened with death. Or, they must have had an injury, or experienced actual or threatened sexual violence. To diagnose the disorder, the clinician must confirm the patient experienced at least one of the following either first-hand, as a witness, learning the event happened to a close family member or friend, or be regularly exposed to other people’s trauma (potentially in a professional capacity).

    Frustrated kid son puts fingers in ears while parents arguing

    Trauma can occur for anyone at any age. PTSD is not limited to people who have served in the military.

  2. The patient must have experienced the trauma over and over through at least one of the following: flashbacks, nightmares, thoughts they cannot control, emotional distress and/or physical symptoms when thinking about the event.
  3. The patient must be actively trying to avoid reminders about the trauma. This may include refusing to talk about the experience and/or avoiding anything that reminds them of the trauma.

    Bury your head in the sand or turn a blind eye.

    Are you actively trying to avoid reminders of trauma?

  4. Their symptoms must have started or grew worse after the traumatic event. At least two of these things must be part of their experience:

Often irritable or angry

Constantly feel on guard, or you’re easily startled

Engage in risky or dangerous behavior

Difficulty with sleep.

Struggle to stay focused.

  1. They meet the above criteria for more than one month.
  2. Their condition impacts work or otherwise impairs their ability to keep up with daily life.
  3. Symptoms cannot be explained by use of medication, illegal drugs, or another illness

MFI: More than Just Substance Abuse Treatment

Wide cropped image of the outline of a businessman stopping the domino

Intervention may be needed if someone self-medicates. 

When PTSD impairs someone’s ability to function, intervention is necessary. The same is true for substance abuse disorder. MFI treats mental health issues as well as addiction. So, if you or someone you know has PTSD, let them know that MFI Recovery Center offers treatment whether or not substance abuse is part of the equation.

About MFI

Road sign to addiction and hopeThroughout 10 facilities in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, we employ the Matrix Model, creating a personalized treatment program for each client. Various modalities can include behavior modification, 12-Step program introduction, cognitive behavioral therapy, and family systems techniques, including the family in group therapy. Treatment options include outpatient and inpatient detox, medication management (if appropriate), group therapy, individual therapy, relapse prevention education, and ongoing support after treatment. To find out more, call (866) 218-4697, or for non-admission related information, contact us at (951) 683-6596.

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