PTSD/Trauma Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D

Post-traumatic stress disorder or other manifestations of past trauma often co-occur with addiction. PTSD and other trauma can be caused by a number of things, including military service, physical and/or sexual abuse, and witnessing a traumatic event. Treating both trauma and addiction at the same time through a dual diagnosis program is the best way to overcome these conditions.

PTSD Trauma Therapy

One of the leading causes of drug abuse and addiction is unresolved trauma. Addiction and trauma disorders are closely linked, as many individuals turn to alcohol or other drugs to escape the pain of traumatic experiences.

Recent studies have found that as many as 96 percent of individuals seeking treatment for substance abuse reported experiencing some major traumatic event in their lifetime. Up to 34 percent of patients in substance abuse treatment have both a substance abuse diagnosis and PTSD diagnosis at the same time. For women, in particular, the rates are two to four times higher.

Specialized treatment programs are typically recommended for individuals struggling with both a trauma disorder as well as addiction. Treating both conditions at the same time is believed to offer a better outcome than addressing only one disorder at a time. Dual diagnosis programs, such as the ones offered at various Addiction Campuses’ facilities, offer the highest rates of success.

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Co-Occurring PTSD And Addiction

Statistics have shown that there is a direct correlation between PTSD or other forms of trauma and substance abuse. However, the formation of these two conditions is less clear. Some people may develop a substance use disorder after experiencing trauma, while others may be more likely to be exposed to trauma as a result of addiction.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, an estimated 75 percent of people who survive abusive or violent trauma report having an alcohol use disorder. This supports the theory that PTSD can result in self-medicating behaviors, as people attempt to numb or drown out difficult memories and emotions. In fact, for teens with substance use disorders, up to 59 percent began abusing substances after the onset of PTSD.

On the other hand, abusing drugs or alcohol can increase a person’s risk of experiencing trauma. Many substances change a person’s thinking and decision-making skills and can lower inhibitions. This can cause people to participate in dangerous activities that put them or others in danger. For example, drinking and driving may result in a car accident, which can be a very traumatic experience.

Regardless of whether PTSD or addiction came first, it’s important that both conditions are treated for individuals to fully heal.

Symptoms Of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person. Some people may begin to experience symptoms soon after the traumatic experience, whereas others may not develop PTSD until many years after the event or events.

Post-traumatic stress disorder directly affects the brain and how it processes emotions and memories. Someone with PTSD may associate a current situation with past trauma and react accordingly. PTSD can cause the brain to be unable to differentiate past and present circumstances, resulting in individuals being triggered by certain situations.

Substance abuse can also affect the brain and cause problems with memory and emotions. A person with PTSD who abuses drugs or alcohol may be more susceptible to triggers and less likely to handle them in a healthy way. Co-occurring substance use disorders and PTSD can cause increased symptoms of both conditions.

Common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • flashbacks
  • night terrors
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • avoiding triggering people, places, or things
  • trouble expressing emotions
  • difficulty experiencing pleasure
  • impulsive or self-destructive behaviors
  • irritability
  • guilt
  • shame
  • insomnia

Some of the symptoms of PTSD overlap with the symptoms of a substance use disorder. Seeking treatment for both conditions is imperative to relieve symptoms of these disorders.

Treatment For PTSD And Addiction

At Addiction Campuses, we maintain a team of medical doctors, therapists, and staff who are uniquely trained to be sensitive to the individual struggling to address unresolved trauma. Our programs incorporate various forms of therapy to treat both PTSD and substance use disorders.

There are four phases of addiction and trauma resolution:

  • Safety And Grounding — This phase begins to establish boundaries based on trust and safety for the individual. This phase also readies the client for how to manage transitions in therapy and life.
  • Disordered Belief Systems — This second phase of treatment revolves around the distorted beliefs that have arisen from years of unresolved trauma. Irrational thoughts and feelings, extreme emotional reactions, paranoia, sadness, and trust are brought to light.
  • Reconnection And Transitions — Phase three uses role-playing and adventure therapy to practice newly learned skills. Trauma triggers are determined and trauma trigger management is put into practice.
  • The Future — The final phase of trauma and addiction treatment involves life skills, relationship development and management, trigger management, and what to do when the unexpected happens.

Additional forms of therapy that may be used to treat co-occurring PTSD and addiction include cognitive-behavior therapy and exposure therapy. Physical exercise may also be incorporating into a program of recovery, as the endorphins released during exercise can help combat feelings of anxiety and depression.

Not managing trauma through treatment may cause the individual to find other ways to cope with emotional pain and anxiety. Self-medication with drugs and alcohol is a common coping mechanism, and if trauma goes unresolved, it may result in long-term addiction.

To learn more about our treatment options for PTSD and addiction, contact an Addiction Campuses’ treatment specialist today.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network - https://www.nctsn.org/resources/making-connection-trauma-and-substance-abuse

WebMD - https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-are-symptoms-ptsd

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs - https://www.ptsd.va.gov/about/print-materials/sudptsdflyer.pdf

TIME - http://healthland.time.com/2012/08/15/how-ptsd-and-addiction-can-be-safely-treated-together/

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D
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