PTSD & Addiction Treatment

If you are suffering from PTSD, your addiction treatment programme will need to reflect this. At the Providence Project, we have experience with dual diagnosis treatment and can help you.


PTSD is a serious mental health disorder with various negative symptoms that can vary in severity and, in many cases, disrupt a person’s daily life. Unfortunately, drug abuse is a common re-occurring condition due to a person’s desire to alleviate their suffering and cope with PTSD symptoms.

In many cases, a dual diagnosis of both PTSD and addiction is a very serious situation which requires immediate professional intervention. Although outpatient programmes and online therapy can offer some relief, the highest chance for successful recovery will come if a person enrols in an inpatient rehabilitation programme that employs a holistic and comprehensive approach to healing the body and mind while addressing both conditions instead of individual symptoms.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

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PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, is a mental health condition that stems from a traumatising and horrible event that the mind cannot accept and cope with. Even though many people experience various kinds of trauma, most can eventually overcome the trauma, redefine their narrative around the event, and move on. PTSD happens if a person cannot move on past a traumatic event, and the side effects on their mental health persist or get worse over time, likely to a point where it interferes with their daily life. The symptoms can start as early as a month after the event and usually include intrusive memories of the event, negative thoughts and feelings, avoidance of mentioning the event, and a stressful response to the body and mind when trauma is mentioned.


Symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder:

  • Intrusive memories that feel overwhelming and highly stressful
  • Flashbacks where the person vividly relives the traumatic event
  • Vague dreams or nightmares where the trauma is experienced again
  • Inability to process the event that happened and a strong desire for avoidance
  • The emergence of a negative pattern of thought and emotions
  • Intense negative feelings about yourself and a lack of confidence
  • Isolation from friends, family and loved ones, as well as other support networks
  • Anxiety and heightened sensitivity to stress
  • Loss of interest and passion for activities and hobbies you previously enjoyed
  • Apathy and emotional numbness
  • Mood swings, bursts of anger and uncontrollable irritability
  • Sleep disruptions and insomnia
  • Indulging in dangerous behaviour like drinking too much

Support for Families

PTSD v C-PTSD

C-PTSD, also known as complex posttraumatic stress disorder, is a mental health condition where a person has all the symptoms of PTSD and other mental disorders. A person with C-PTSD may suffer from intrusive thoughts, overwhelming flashbacks and chronic stress, but they may also feel frustrated and angry at themselves and the world, feel an intense sense of despair and hopelessness, and experience depersonalisation or derealisation where they struggle to associate with their previous self and others.

Complex PTSD is a serious mental health disorder that could be caused by one or multiple traumatic events which happened repeatedly or have been felt intensely, even if experienced only once. Such traumatic events include sexual abuse, child abuse, violence against the person, kidnapping, torture, slavery, traumatic events during combat, or being abandoned and left alone as a child.

Co-Occurring PTSD and Addiction

Unfortunately, PTSD and substance use disorder are often interconnected. People who have been diagnosed with PTSD are three times more likely to turn toward substance abuse of alcohol or hard drugs. One of the most common co-occurring conditions is alcohol abuse, but those with a PTSD diagnosis also struggle with weed, and other hard drugs like crystal meth, cocaine and others.

A person with intense and painful PTSD symptoms may turn toward a substance as a coping mechanism. Many hard drugs or even normalised substances like alcohol produce a feeling of euphoria, joy and happiness, and for a short while, give the consumer confidence, high energy levels and motivation. The short-lived relief that substances offer is often mistaken as an opportunity to remove symptoms of PTSD.

Unfortunately, substances can only numb or temporarily replace negative emotions and cannot resolve the damage done by traumatic experiences. The longer substances like alcohol are used to reduce PTSD symptoms, the higher the likelihood of the body developing tolerance and physical dependence on the drug. As a result, the substance becomes less effective as a coping mechanism, pushing a person toward addiction by requiring higher and more frequent doses.

Treating Dual Diagnosis

When treated in a residential facility, such as the Providence Project, we will examine a person’s mental health, assessing their general well-being, the severity of the addiction and other important factors. If given a dual diagnosis, the person suffers from two independent conditions that each have their own individual symptoms and challenges that must be overcome. Still, they may also negatively interact and reinforce one another.

For example, addiction and PTSD may come hand in hand because PTSD symptoms push a person toward addiction, but substance abuse actively makes symptoms of the mental health disorder worse.

Admissions for a loved one Admissions for yourself

The Three Stages of Rehabilitation

There are 3 stages of rehabilitation upon admission; Detox, rehab & aftercare. They are valid for all kinds of addiction treatment, but will happen differently if you are also suffering from PTSD>

STEP 1

Admissions

STEP 2

Detox (if required)

STEP 3

Rehab

STEP 4

Aftercare


Help for Military Veterans with PTSD and Addictions

Are you a war veteran? We know that this often comes at the cost of mental health. There is a well-established connection between military service, especially abroad and active combat, and the increased risk of developing PTSD.

The intense stress upon which the body and mind are placed during service, observing the traumatising sight of war horrors, and seeing fellow members struggle or die are all deeply unsettling experiences. PTSD also happens to veterans who’ve been victims of sexual assault, sexual abuse, or harassment. Such heinous acts don’t discriminate, no matter a veteran’s service rank or gender. The US’s Veteran Affairs reports that 1 in 5 female veterans report cases of sexual trauma, with the number being a conservative estimate because not many people come out.

Once they come back from service, many veterans experience a severe deterioration in their mental health and start to develop PTSD symptoms. If they don’t turn toward professional therapeutic support, then substances like alcohol, which are easily accessible, often become an unfortunate coping mechanism. The way in which such substances interact with a person’s brain chemistry offers some short-lived relief but doesn’t address the underlying psychological issues and will most likely exacerbate PTSD symptoms down the line.

Addiction as a Mental Health Condition Correlated to PTSD

Your emotional stability, current mood and how you generally feel are determined by the production of neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and other vital brain chemicals like serotonin and various endorphins. PTSD is a mental health disorder which can significantly hurt your brain chemistry, scarring your central nervous system and causing a disturbance in the production of many essential neurotransmitters, brain chemicals and hormones.

Addiction, such as alcohol abuse, often co-occurs with PTSD because many substances can influence brain chemistry. For example, the euphoric feeling that many people chase when using stimulants, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines comes with the sudden flooding of dopamine and norepinephrine in the system.

Unfortunately, the rise in neurotransmitter production is short-lived, and once the inevitable “crash” happens, the person experiences a severe depletion of those important brain chemicals, which worsens their mental health and pushes them deeper into addiction. With time a physical and psychological dependence is developed, and the person finds themselves needing the substance to cope with PTSD or to generally feel “normal”.

Symptoms of PTSD are persistent and can get worse over time, especially if a person’s mental health deteriorates and they are continuously exposed to high levels of stress and anxiety. Addiction causes a host of negative side effects that negatively affect a person’s physical and mental health, like mood swings, lack of energy and motivation, and symptoms of depression and anxiety, which all can put additional strain on the victim and exacerbate PTSD symptoms.

PTSD Medication during Rehabilitation for Addiction

Treatment for addiction requires complete abstinence from the source of addiction through a comprehensive detox process, which happens with medical supervision and guidance. However, being in a residential rehabilitation programme doesn’t mean you stop taking any medication at all times.

In the beginning, the withdrawal symptoms that a person is likely to experience may worsen their mental health and exacerbate PTSD symptoms. For that reason, if our medical professionals and addiction counsellors find it necessary, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and other anti-depressant medications will be given to reduce the severity of symptoms. The exact type of medication, doses, and frequency will be assessed so that the prescribed medication alleviates suffering but doesn’t intervene with recovery from drug addiction.

Treating PTSD and Addiction

Treating PTSD and substance use disorders is tricky and complicated because both conditions feed off one another while simultaneously having independent symptoms that must be carefully addressed. Treatment options require a holistic approach, which examines the complex relationship between those mental health disorders and offers evidence-based solutions that address the whole picture instead of individual issues.

Treatment at an inpatient residential clinic is strongly preferable to online or outpatient programmes because of the safe and supervised environment, which it offers, as well as the opportunity for a person to fully dedicate themselves to recovery.

Inpatient treatment of co-occurring disorders allows for detox in an environment controlled by medical professionals who are ready to respond to any complaint and emergency while also offering a wide set of therapeutic tools, which a person can work with to address the underlying psychological causes of addiction, learn effective coping mechanisms to cravings and better understand their emotions and thoughts.

CBT

Although trauma causes direct psychological harm to a person, there are a lot of symptoms, like self-doubt, thoughts of inadequacy and self-harm, and social isolation, which stem from a repetitive pattern of negative thoughts and harmful narratives. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a science-based approach to therapy which seeks to make the person aware of re-occurring “automatic negative thoughts”, help them untangle and dismantle negative rhetoric, and redefine the narratives they use to describe themselves.

Physical Exercise

Humans are designed to move, and physical activity like weightlifting, yoga, and various sports can have surprising benefits to a person’s mental health. PTSD and cases of severe drug abuse are often defined by demotivation, emotional numbness, and apathy toward the world, partly due to hormonal imbalances and insufficient production of essential brain chemicals and neurotransmitters.

Physical exercise is a natural and scientifically proven way to improve hormone balance, encourage the production of endorphins and serotonin, and ramp up a person’s dopamine levels. It’s also an excellent way to release pent-up negative emotions like anger and frustration and to get immersed in an activity that distracts from intrusive thoughts. All those benefits can have a significant positive impact on a person’s mental health.

Individual Therapy

One essential component of residential rehabilitation is one-on-one sessions with a qualified addiction counsellor. Working to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD requires a careful approach that recognises the trauma, helps the person acknowledge the symptoms and effects it has had on their life and gives them effective coping strategies. Since the patient is dealing with a dual diagnosis, individual therapy will also help them better understand the underlying psychological reasons behind addiction and learn time-tested strategies to manage cravings and triggers.

The Trauma Recovery Model

Support your loved ones to help them recover from PTSD and addiction

Many effective therapeutic practices that help alleviate PTSD symptoms use the trauma recovery model. The system’s premise focuses on recognising the existence of trauma and its various effects on a person’s life.

The path toward recovery and growth can happen once the signs of trauma are recognised, and a person becomes more aware of their characteristic behaviours and the psychological needs and desires which create those types of behaviour. Once awareness is achieved, various activities are employed to create a growth mindset, where the person believes they can change their life for the better and learn strategies to avoid re-traumatisation.

Is Online Addiction Counselling Useful for Co-Occurring PTSD?

Yes, online addiction counselling can be a valuable way to get quick advice on how to cope with PTSD symptoms, get an opportunity to discuss trauma in a safe and comfortable environment, and receive accountability checks. However, a dual diagnosis is a very severe and complex condition, which will most likely require inpatient treatment to ensure constant supervision and guidance from addiction professionals.

Sources:

Gielen, N., Havermans, R. C., Tekelenburg, M., & Jansen, A. (2012). Prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among patients with substance use disorder: it is higher than clinicians think it is. European journal of psychotraumatology, 3, 10.3402/ejpt, v3i0, 17734.

Teeters, J.B., Lancaster, C.L., Brown, D.G., & Back, S.E. (2017). Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challenges. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation.8, 69-77.

S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2013, December 17). Women Veterans Health Care.

About the Author

PAUL SPANJAR, CEO

PAUL SPANJAR, CEO

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This content has been verified by Paul Spanjar, a leading addiction expert and CEO of the Providence Projects

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