Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Abuse


The US Department of Veterans Affairs defines Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as “a mental health problem that can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like war, assault, or disaster.” For those who seek help following a life-changing experience, PTSD may be averted. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize how much a negative experience has affected them until it’s too late.

Once PTSD has developed, the proper course of action may be unclear. Some people know to seek treatment with a licensed mental health specialist. Others may feel isolated and unable to deal with their reaction to the trauma. This is when the stress becomes overwhelming and drugs may become a temporary escape.

People with PTSD and other mental health illnesses sometimes turn to alcohol or other drugs to cope with the stress. It can start out as an occasional habit when the symptoms are at their worst, but eventually a habit develops. Dependence on a drug is a medical condition which also needs professional treatment.

study called “Integrating Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use Disorder” addresses the difficulties in treating combined substance abuse and PTSD.

Key Points in the Study

The researchers begin by explaining the relationship between substance abuse and PTSD. They mention past studies which show more substance abuse problems in people with PTSD. There is also evidence of higher rates of PTSD among people with substance dependency.

One of the major issues discussed in the study is past uncertainty about how to treat combined PTSD and addiction. Previously, specialists were uncertain which disorder should be treated first and if one necessarily needed to be treated along with the other.

Today, it’s generally thought that substance abuse as well as the underlying mental illness must be treated. Negative emotions associated with PTSD like anger and guilt increase the likelihood of dependence on drugs. A person who is recovering from substance addiction will remain vulnerable to the habit until the other disorder is dealt with.

Final Considerations

The researchers in the study recommend a combined treatment regimen. They believe therapists should help their patients to physically recover from substance abuse and mentally recover from the trauma they have experienced.

It was noted that participants with PTSD who had lived through a violent event were more likely to become addicted to some form of drug.

Addiction needs to be treated like any physical and mental illness. It’s always important to consider the emotional factors that may have led to the dependence. Now that the issue of substance abuse in people with PTSD has been recognized, unique methods of treatment will hopefully be developed.

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