Post traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction have a high rate of comorbitity, which means occurring at the same time. In Vietnam veterans, between 60 to 80 percent of those seeking treatment for PTSD also meet the criteria for substance abuse. In the general population, around 30 percent of PTSD sufferers develop drug dependence, and 50 percent develop alcohol dependence. This relationship also plays an important role in a person's treatment. Someone with both PTSD and drug addiction requires dual diagnosis treatment, or concurrent treatment for both disorders.
What is PSTD?
PTSD is a mental health condition that affects the body's stress response. It occurs after a person has experienced a significant trauma. Most people associate PTSD with veterans, but it is not solely a problem with this population. Although veterans have a high risk of developing PTSD, anyone can develop the disorder after experiencing any significant trauma. Common traumatic experiences triggering PTSD include military action, rape, child abuse, natural disaster, car accident, being a victim of or witnessing a violent crime, and terror attack.
The symptoms of PTSD fall under three categories: re-experiencing the event, avoiding experiences associated with the event, or hyperarousal (which includes feelings of irritability, anger, and extreme anxiety). To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must experience these symptoms for at least one month.
PTSD Leads to Drug Addiction
PTSD can cause severe disruption and disability in a person's life. People with PTSD might re-experience the traumatic event, suffer from nightmares, have trouble sleeping, or otherwise have difficulty just living their daily life. Many will turn to drugs to self-medicate their condition. They cannot cope with the feelings they have, so they numb their emotions with drugs just to try to live a normal life. Over time, their body develops a dependency on the drugs, creating an addiction. This leads to a vicious cycle. The person takes drugs to manage the PTSD, without actually dealing with the issue. They just suppress it, so once the effects of the drugs wear off, the feelings reemerge, sometimes even more intensely. Then, the person turns to more drugs and alcohol, creating a dangerous ongoing sequence of events.
Another reason for the relationship between PTSD and drug addiction is endorphins. Endorphins are the neurotransmitters produced during the body's stress response. These reduce pain and create an overall feeling of well being and helps the body to cope with stress. Afterwards, the body can feel withdrawal from endorphins, which has some similar symptoms as withdrawal from drugs and alcohol, including anxiety, emotional distress, depression, and cravings for drugs or alcohol. By synthetically providing the body with endorphins through drugs, a person can feel better.
Can Drug Addiction Cause PTSD?
Although typically PTSD leads to drug addiction, in some cases it can happen the other way. Some experts believe that people who already use drugs and alcohol are more in danger of being involved in high-risk situations for experiencing trauma. Experts also believe drug and alcohol abuse may cause the brain to be more susceptible to the malfunction to the stress response in the brain that leads to PTSD. There may also be a similar genetic variant that increases a person's risk of developing PTSD, a drug addiction, or both.
Treating PTSD and Drug Addiction
If a person has both PTSD and drug addiction, then he or she needs to undergo dual diagnosis treatment with both drug detox and psychotherapy. A licensed therapist will work with a patient to understand the causes of the PTSD and teach healthy methods to overcome and manage the symptoms. With the right holistic program that treats the two concurrently, a person can overcome their PTSD and drug addiction and regain control over his or her life.