Addiction & PTSD

San Diego Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center

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Addiction & PTSD Treatment

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have devastating consequences for those with the disorder and their loved ones. In addition to the symptoms of the disorder itself,  the situation can worsen as it becomes a potential cause of addiction.

PTSD is a mental health disorder typically resulting from experiencing or witnessing an event so traumatic that it alters the person’s brain chemistry. The traumatic experience can have a lasting impact on the person, especially if left untreated. While most closely linked with military events, it can also occur as a result of everyday occurrences like car crashes, the death of a loved one, or a physical assault.  Individuals who have PTSD can become anxious and depressed. They may isolate themselves from others and become increasingly agitated, irritable, and hostile toward others. In some cases, this can lead them to self-medicate, which becomes a path to substance abuse.

Substance use disorders (SUD) are not always exclusive to self-medicating. People with PTSD may also experience SUD completely separately from their trauma. However, many people who receive a PTSD diagnosis are encouraged to stay away from addictive substances.

There are various treatment options available to treat PTSD when it co-occurs with addiction. At Healthy Life Recovery, we believe it is essential to treat both conditions simultaneously.

The Link Between PTSD and Addiction

Medical studies have established a close link between PTSD and addiction. One study published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology found that patients who have PTSD are three times more likely to suffer from substance abuse. Another found that people seeking PTSD treatments are 14 times more likely to also receive an addiction-related diagnosis, with alcohol as the most likely substance to abuse.

Perhaps the most common cause for this comorbidity is the desire for individuals with PTSD to self-medicate. They hope that the numbness they experience from consuming a substance like alcohol will reduce or even eliminate their PTSD symptoms. For example, PTSD patients commonly experience trouble sleeping. Consuming alcohol may help a person fall asleep, which can lead a person to get into the habit of drinking alcohol every night before bed. However, alcohol-influenced sleep has been proven to be less restful, and a habit of daily drinking can quickly lead to alcohol abuse and addiction.

PTSD and Addiction Dual Diagnosis

The Cycle of PTSD and Addiction

Unfortunately, self-medication is not the only reason PTSD and addiction tend to occur concurrently. The two diseases are linked in how they alter brain chemistry due to their common triggers.

The same triggers that may lead to PTSD can also lead to alcohol and drug addiction. The key to understanding that connection lies in one of the most well-known hormones produced by the human body: endorphins, long linked to feelings of happiness.

Researchers believe that when an individual experiences trauma, their endorphin levels temporarily increase drastically. But over time, these level decrease, leading to a condition called “endorphin withdrawal.” When that condition becomes permanent, PTSD tends to set in.

Lower endorphin levels may be to blame for feelings of disconnect from loved ones or society as a whole. They are also closely connected to experiencing anxiety and depression. Finally and perhaps most significantly, low endorphin levels are also a key reason why PTSD patients tend to use alcohol to enhance their mood.

It’s true that alcohol can temporarily increases endorphin levels, which is why this substance is so closely linked to self-medicating PTSD. But it is also true that alcohol is addictive, and the long-term symptoms and consequences of Alcohol Use Disorder are significant.

The combination of PTSD and addiction can be devastating, with lifelong consequences for the individual suffering from them and their loved ones. For example, PTSD at its worst can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. Alcohol doesn’t soothe these thoughts but instead intensifies them.

The Importance of Treating Both PTSD and Addiction Concurrently

For people with PTSD, understanding whether they have a co-occurring issue with addiction is vital. That’s because only a thorough understanding of PTSD and addiction can lead to a treatment that successfully and comprehensively helps the person recover. Similarly, patients with a substance use disorder can benefit from a diagnosis that helps to discover whether PTSD may be a cause of the addiction.

A diagnosis that discovers both conditions can suggest treatments designed to care for them. Studies have examined the effectiveness of a few treatment methods that can work for both:

Exposure-Based Treatments: These focus primarily on PTSD but may have positive effects on substance use disorders, as well.
Non-Exposure-Based Treatments: These seek to educate the patient about the relationship between addiction and PTSD and teach coping skills, how to manage negative emotions, and how to find alternative solutions that don’t result in addiction.
Pharmacologic Interventions: These have seen limited studies for the combination of both disordeers but are primarily used to support other, more comprehensive treatments.
As knowledge about the concurrence of both PTSD and addiction increases, the results of these studies have become increasingly promising. Treating both disorders simultaneously can lead to better outcomes that don’t just reduce the symptoms of either disorder but also address the root causes of the dual diagnosis.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment At Healthy Life Recovery

Healthy Life Recovery can help. Our Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center in San Diego, California, offers comprehensive addiction and mental health treatment services. We treat both drug and alcohol addiction along with the mental health disorders that exacerbate them.

It all starts with the correct diagnosis. Potential patients need to know if they have both PTSD and addiction, not just one or the other. That’s the only way to ensure that any treatment can successfully address both disorders and give the person the best chance at lasting recovery.

If you or a loved has PTSD and shows signs of addiction, contact us today.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center
Dr. Sanajai Thankachen

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Sanjai Thankachen

Dr. Sanjai Thankachen graduated from Adichunchanagiri Institute of Medicine in 2000. He completed his residency in psychiatry in 2008 at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in New York. Dr. Thankachen is currently working with Pacific Neuropsychiatric Specialists in an outpatient practice, as well as working at multiple in-patient psychiatric and medical units bringing his patients the most advanced healthcare treatment in psychiatry. Dr. Thankachen sees patients with an array of disorders, including depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, anxiety, and dementia-related problems.

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Dr. Sanajai Thankachen

Edited for Clinical Accuracy By:

Sean Leonard, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Sean Leonard is a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner. He received his master’s degree in adult geriatric primary care nurse practitioner from Walden University and a second postmaster specialty in psychiatry mental health nurse practitioner from Rocky Mountain University. Sean has experience working in various diverse settings, including an outpatient clinic, inpatient detox and rehab, psychiatric emergency, and dual diagnosis programs. His specialty areas include substance abuse, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, PTSD, ADHD, and OCD.

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