Haunted Past: Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Anyone who has dealt with traumatic life events can probably attest to the havoc they can wreak long-term. It does not always take much to cause severe trauma, either. Traumatic events can cause and worsen a number of mental illnesses, including anxiety disorders, depression, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), all of which have become increasingly common, especially in the past few decades.

We often see individuals suffering from symptoms of PTSD after a traumatic assault, national disaster, or upon returning from some sort of service, whether it be in the line of police or military duty. However, it’s not unheard of for people to experience PTSD symptoms due to a minor car accident, injury, or even something that might be considered “mundane.” That aside, if untreated, PTSD can be incredibly dangerous and deadly, especially if it exacerbates other present mental illnesses, including struggles with addiction or substance use disorder (SUD).

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

The National Institue of Mental Health (NIMH) defines PTSD as a “disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” It’s not just a natural fight-or-flight response from a traumatic event, which almost everyone experiences in one way or another. The severity escalates when these fears, feelings, and triggers continue and impact a person’s daily life and routines.

Many individuals who have experienced a traumatic event may often experience the short-term symptoms of PTSD without any ongoing chronic diagnosis. In most cases, the NIMH claims that symptoms will usually begin within three months of a dangerous or traumatic incident. For a PTSD diagnosis to be considered, “symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work to be considered PTSD.” Some of the symptoms to be on the lookout for include:

  • Reliving the trauma, whether it be through flashbacks, nightmares, or recurring thoughts
  • Avoiding places, events, thoughts, or feelings have to do with the traumatic event
  • Persistent feelings of being on edge, having outbursts, or trouble sleeping
  • Difficult recalling important details from the traumatic event
  • Negative feelings of guilt, blame, or oneself
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable

To learn more about PTSD, we encourage you to continue reading using the link above.

PTSD and Substance Use Disorder

Like any struggle with mental illness, many co-occurring disorders can cause difficulties to either be caused or worsened by addiction or substance use disorder (SUD) and vise versa. PTSD is undoubtedly on that list as well. According to Current Psychiatry Reports regarding the treatment of co-occurring PTSD and SUD, about “half of individuals seeking SUD treatment meet criteria for current PTSD, and individuals with co-occurring PTSD-SUD tend to have poorer treatment outcomes compared with those without such comorbidity.”

There are some ways to treat co-occurring PTSD and SUD. Two distinct categories when it comes to these treatments include:

  • Non-exposure-based treatments. One of the non-exposure-based treatments is “Seeking Safety (SS), which consists of an average of 25, 60-90 minute sessions covering a wide variety of topics such as decreasing risky behaviors, setting boundaries, and coping with substance triggers.” The treatment avoids the exposure or exploration of past trauma.
  • Exposure-Based Psychosocial Treatment Disorders. These treatments involve several “exposure-based interventions.” Prolonged Exposure (PE) has proven a very effective treatment for PTSD. This exposure consists of in vivo and imaginal exposure. In vivo exposure involves “clients and therapists working together to create a list of feared/avoided, yet safe, trauma-related situations that the client can systematically, and repeatedly engage in until the anxiety in those situations diminishes.” Imaginal exposure entails “clients repeatedly recounting their most bothersome trauma to the therapist in the present tense for 45-60 minutes without stopping,” with the sessions being recorded and listened to by the client daily.

Not Feeling Discouraged

As if coping with one mental illness isn’t enough, handling co-occurring disorders can sometimes feel next to impossible. Not only will you have to identify and learn how to cope with triggers for addiction or SUD, but you may now have to identify and cope with triggers of PTSD. Practicing mindfulness, focusing your energy on new and exciting habits, or figuring out how to help others may help you better cope.

In addition to these small tricks, you may consider taking part in a relapse prevention program. Here at the Lakehouse Recovery Center, we emphasize the importance of participating in our relapse prevention programs. You can work with counselors on goals to focus on during and after treatment. If you are struggling with addiction or SUD and PTSD and are looking to start your path to recovery, we encourage you to seek out help today.

It is very common for individuals to struggle with addiction, substance use disorder, and many other co-occurring mental illnesses. This includes battling with post-traumatic stress disorder. A number of effective treatment methods can be used to treat co-occurring SUD and PTSD, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and even some medications depending on the circumstances surrounding the severity of illness and SUD. Learning specifically what triggers your SUD and PTSD and how to best cope with those triggers can be extremely important for your recovery. Additionally, you may want to consider actively seeking a treatment program that focuses on relapse prevention. At the Lakehouse Recovery Center, our relapse prevention programs and counselors work hard towards getting you equipped to take on your illness post-treatment. To learn more about co-occurring treatment and resources you can utilize, we encourage you to reach out at (877) 762-3707 and start your path to recovery today.