Treating Substance Addiction and PTSD Simultaneously

Treating Substance Addiction and PTSD Simultaneously

Did you know that people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are three times more likely to develop substance addiction? Since the co-occurrence of these conditions is so high, we must understand the best way to treat addiction and PTSD together. Addressing the problem and finding solutions requires an understanding of the complexity of trauma.

Understanding Trauma and PTSD

Based on the definition given by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), trauma occurs as a result of witnessing or experiencing violence, abuse (physical or sexual), neglect, loss (death), natural disasters, and other emotionally harmful events. For example, people who experience wars or extreme life changes due to a hurricane or tornado may develop PTSD symptoms. Other examples include:

  • Military combat
  • Serious accidents and injury

PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by traumatic experiences. People with PTSD may display behavioral changes. They may be easily irritated, have outbursts of anger, have difficulties sleeping, feel emotionally numb, and have flashbacks. Moreover, developing and healing from PTSD does not follow a visible timeline. Some people may display symptoms shortly after the events. Others may not show signs of distress for some time. 

Trauma takes a heavy toll on a person’s emotional and mental health. This is because the brain produces fewer endorphins following traumatic stress. As a self-protection mechanism, the central nervous system also begins to make people feel disconnected from their surroundings. They may become triggered by things that remind them of the traumatic event and suffer flashbacks or panic attacks.

Treatments for PTSD

People with PTSD often go about living their lives untreated. Many of them are not even aware that they have experienced significant trauma. When they receive medical attention, it involves a comprehensive physical exam and a psychological assessment. Untreated PTSD can lead to several complications, including substance abuse. Addiction and PTSD become intertwined when a person starts using substances to drown out memories, medicate pain, or escape reality following trauma.

Common PTSD treatment methods include talk therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). The goal is to help people process memories of past traumatic experiences and regain control over their emotions and life. 

Severe consequences of PTSD can lead to suicidal thoughts. This is when harm prevention therapies are needed. Take dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), for example. DBT helps people accept the reality of their lives and behavioral patterns as responses to past trauma. DBT has been proven effective in treating severe PTSD and self-harm tendencies.

Dual Diagnosis of Addiction and PTSD

A comprehensive dual diagnosis is needed to address both conditions. The two conditions are linked, one a symptom of the other. Only treating one condition alone is not enough. Without healing, both addiction and PTSD can re-trigger each other.

Given the complexity of trauma, individuals looking for addiction recovery need a trauma-informed program. Health professionals and the treatment processes must practice sensitivity and prioritize the safety and agency of the recovering individual. Dual diagnosis also requires collaboration between teams of addiction experts and mental health professionals. 

Treating Addiction and PTSD

It takes a lot to treat addiction and PTSD. Treatment centers that provide dual diagnosis options have teams of addiction recovery experts and mental health professionals. These two teams need to work collaboratively to deliver the best results. Also, they all need to be trained in the trauma-informed approach.

Treatment for both conditions requires monitoring progress for an extended period. Ongoing evaluation efforts ensure quality improvements along the way. Recovery involves the support of a strong recovery community with therapists, peer support groups, and accountability partners.

Traditional therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and DBT can treat both substance addiction and PTSD. These tools help people manage and regulate their emotions as well as behaviors. They encourage people to consider how their actions are informed by their thoughts. With this analysis in mind, they can make better decisions regarding addictive substances and ground themselves when trauma triggers arise.

Expectations for Trauma-Informed Care

There are some key assumptions and principles when it comes to trauma-informed dual diagnosis. The essential principle is the physical and psychological safety of people with both conditions. Recovering individuals should expect regular check-ins with their care team to ensure treatment sticks within these bounds.

Second, trauma-informed care values voice and choice on the part of recovering individuals. Even though there are power differentials between health professionals and clients, the client’s voice should be as influential as the professionals’. Self-advocacy and the freedom to choose and say when something isn’t working is crucial.

Last but not least, trauma-informed care values the cultural, historical, and gender aspects of trauma. As identity is a defining factor in how people heal and what will bring them to healing the best, health professionals should offer gender-appropriate or culturally-sensitive services. 

DBT can be challenging. A DBT therapist is more likely to work with clients toward improvements if they are committed to making positive changes and are ready to commit to the assignments fully. They will be asked to focus on their present and maybe the future rather than their past. 

If you suffer from PTSD and substance addiction, you need dual diagnosis treatment. Among the many co-occurring mental health disorders, PTSD ranks highly. How can you recover from both addiction and PTSD at the same time? How long will this take? What are the risks of relapse for people with dual diagnosis? If you wrestle with these questions, Laguna Shores Recovery can help. Not only does our team know dual diagnosis and treatment, but we have also had a lot of success in helping people achieve long-term recovery. We make personalized treatment plans for each client so that both conditions can be treated effectively. Call (866) 774-1532 to begin this new journey.