PTSD and Substance Abuse

How PTSD and Substance Abuse Overlap

Mental disorders do not frequently exist in a vacuum. In fact, many people who experience traumatic events have co-occurring diagnoses, including substance use disorder. Entering into PTSD treatment, you need a comprehensive approach that will give you the best outcomes. You must first understand the link between PTSD and substance abuse.

Icarus Behavioral Health gives you the structure and framework to tackle both a substance use disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Whether you opt for a residential treatment program or a form of partial hospitalization, you can learn to cope with a traumatic event without the use of alcohol or drugs.

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How Common is Co-Occurring Substance Use and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Many people are surprised to learn just how prevalent PTSD and substance use truly are. If you have been feeling isolated and alone with your struggles, fear not. The statistics indicate that there are more people than you think with both diagnoses.

The National Center for PTSD has reviewed the literature and found that 46.4 percent of individuals with PTSD also have substance use disorders. According to their review of the most prominent research, men were more likely than women to have comorbid PTSD and substance use (51.9 percent versus 27.9 percent).

Why PTSD Symptoms Lead to Substance Use

Why PTSD Symptoms Lead to Substance Use

Now that you know just how common alcohol abuse or drug abuse is in light of PTSD and trauma disorders, it is crucial to look at why this happens. You are not alone in your struggle and it makes sense that you might turn to substances in order to cope with PTSD symptoms.

Difficulty Sleeping or Concentrating

Many people with posttraumatic stress disorder have a hard time getting a restful night of sleep. They desperately crave a break from their internal thoughts but find themselves tossing and turning in the middle of the night. To give themselves the best chance of slipping into the sweet oblivion of sleep, they might try to lull themselves to sleep with drugs or alcohol.

This substance abuse may make it easier to forget about the struggles leading to insomnia, but it may not actually help you to sleep. Drugs and alcohol can make it more challenging to stay asleep and even to enter into the restful part of sleep, known as REM.

It may feel good in the moment not to lay awake in bed, thinking about your traumatic event. However, it will not give you the lasting rest that you crave. Instead, you should consider talking with your doctor about insomnia related to your PTSD and see what they recommend.

Avoidance of Emotions and Memories

One of the most prominent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder is the avoidance of anything that reminds you of the traumatic event. You might go out of your way to avoid any people, places, or events that are similar to what you went through. For example, someone who was in a bad car accident may avoid driving.

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to avoid all of your triggers.

Some people who struggle with avoidance of their symptoms find a new way to put off dealing with the repercussions: substance use. These alter your state of consciousness, making it more likely that you can stay numb in the face of your struggles. Self-medicating this way is quite common.

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Coping with Severe Anxiety Disorders

Post-traumatic stress disorder is often linked to higher levels of anxiety. You might feel anxious all of the time but especially when PTSD symptoms surface. Nightmares, flashbacks, and constant hyper-vigilance make it a challenge to cope with day-to-day life. The easiest thing for many people is to take the edge off anxiety with substance use disorder.

Of course, using substances in combination with your posttraumatic stress disorder leads to poorer treatment outcomes. You will have a hard time learning to handle your anxiety in a healthy way if you are constantly numbing it with drugs and alcohol.

Negative Changes in Mood or Thought Patterns

One of the primary categories of PTSD symptoms is a negative change in your mood or thinking. You might experience negative thoughts about yourself, the people around you, or just the world in general. The future seems bleak and hopeless. You no longer derive pleasure from the things you once enjoyed.

In other words, you are completely numb to the feelings that make life worth living.

When nothing seems to be going right, it is quite tempting to turn to a substance that promises relief. Drugs and alcohol abuse might lead to short-term relief of your symptoms, but it will not last beyond the length of the substance.

Keep in mind that many of the symptoms of PTSD also mirror severe depression. If you are experiencing chronic hopelessness, it might be time to start seeking safety with DBT residential treatment programs instead of substance use.

Hypervigilance and Taking the Edge Off

When something traumatic happens to you, you start to see the signs that something else negative could happen at any moment. Trouble awaits you around every corner. You are constantly on guard and easily startled. For just a little while, you might want to feel calm.

Substance use can give you what you are looking for, even if only temporarily. It is a slippery slope though. Once you find that this can be an effective method of reducing PTSD symptoms, you will turn to it more and more frequently. It will be time to seek help.

Common Self-Destructive Behaviors

In addition to all of the other symptoms listed here, it is well-documented that people with PTSD tend to engage in self-destructive behaviors. Some people may drive recklessly or take up gambling. Perhaps the most common self-destructive behavior is substance use though.

You might find that you are drinking far too much, using drugs you never dreamed of using in your past life, and you find that you are doing all of this far too often.

Substance use is a quick way to self-medicate PTSD symptoms, but it is also a destructive tendency. It can bring chaos into your life and make it less likely that you will have the bandwidth to work on your trauma. If you see yourself heading down a dangerous road where substance use is the way that you cope with trauma, you need to seek out professional help.

Icarus is proud to adopt trauma informed addiction treatment approaches throughout our programs, for clients diagnosed with PTSD as well as those who have had trauma play any form of role in their lives.

Effective Treatment for Co-Occurring PTSD and Substance Use

Effective Treatment for Co-Occurring PTSD and Substance Use

Icarus Behavioral Health offers a robust and holistic addiction treatment program for those who are struggling with both PTSD and substance use. Our five-star residential treatment programs give you the best of the best. Using a multifaceted approach to your care, we can help you to cope with trauma exposure without turning to substances.

Individual Therapy to Work on Your Experiences and Coping Skills

The first piece of your holistic treatment plan will be to initiate individual therapy. This gives you the space needed to unpack what you experienced and implement coping skills for when the memory of the event inevitably comes up. Post-traumatic stress disorder can be very personal to discuss, so we ensure a good fit between you and your counselor.

There are several types of PTSD treatment that we can offer to treat all of your symptoms.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Coping Skills

One of our specialties at Icarus Behavioral Health is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and the skills it teaches such as the ‘DBT Stop Skill.’ This treatment modality helps people to monitor their current symptoms through a mindset known as mindfulness. You will learn how to sit with your feelings and tolerate distress temporarily.

Learning to tolerate distress is essential to helping you handle your emotions naturally, without the use of drugs or alcohol. While you are sitting mindfully with your feelings, a licensed counselor will help you to develop coping skills. These will be the tools that you turn to when you are tempted to use substances to cope with your feelings.

We will make sure that you have all the tools you need at your fingertips from guided meditations to grounding exercises. You can be present with your body and emotions using the tools that DBT teaches.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy to Approach Traumatic Events

Another approach to therapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also be helpful. In particular, posttraumatic stress disorder tends to benefit from a specific type of CBT known as prolonged exposure therapy. This is an approach that helps you to learn how to deal with and even handle the memories of your traumatic event.

While undergoing this therapy, you will no longer be able to avoid thinking about what you have been through. Learn how to address your trauma head-on, and you will often find that the memory is not nearly as frightening as you thought. You will no longer need to avoid all aspects of life that remind you of the trauma.

Once you start to realize that you can indeed face your trauma, you can start to cope without substances. Avoidance will no longer be the force that drives you to drugs or alcohol.

Group Therapy Sessions for Peer Support

Group Therapy Sessions for Peer Support

An important part of both PTSD inpatient treatment and substance abuse treatment as a whole is meeting with other people. This can be seen through the Alcoholics Anonymous model and other 12-step programs that emphasize community. At Icarus Behavioral Health, we also have a group therapy model that allows you to find peer support.

Your peers will help you to realize that you are not alone in the struggles you face. By itself, this can be a powerful approach to facing your diagnosis. However, it is not the only thing that you can gain from meeting with other like-minded individuals with PTSD and substance abuse.

Having other people available to talk to also serves as a sounding board. You can gain more perspective on how to handle your feelings when they arise. Others might have ideas for better coping skills that have benefitted them in their own journey. Do not discount the power of concurrent treatment with both individual and group therapy, even if you are hesitant to share in a group setting at first.

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Family Therapy for In-Home Support

In addition to group therapy, you might also benefit from a family therapy component, though is not true for all clients and is up to your choice. Many people find that their families actually enable their substance abuse. You can put a stop to unhealthy patterns of behavior in the home which can promote more healing.

Chances are that you spend the majority of your time with your family. Allow them to enter into the treatment space with you so that they know how best to support you. You might even be surprised at how healthy your relationships can become under the right circumstances and with clinical assistance.

An effective rehab family program also gives loved ones some insight into what you are going through. Many of your family members may have no idea how deeply you are affected by your trauma. Understanding what you have experienced may help them to be more empathetic and teach them how to interact with you in your struggles.

Medication-Assisted Therapy for Severe Symptoms

To get your substance abuse under control, you may need to first treat your severe PTSD symptoms. Medication can help you to cope with any underlying depression and anxiety that stem from your traumatic experiences. A trained psychiatrist has several medications they can offer to minimize PTSD symptoms, including off-label medications.

This can make it more comfortable for you to take on the challenge of coping with your trauma. With anxiety and depression minimized and relegated to the back corners of your mind, you will have the space necessary to start talking about what you have lived through.

Depending on the severity of your substance use disorder, a medical professional may also prescribe medications that make your continued use less likely. They may also offer you some medications that make your detox more comfortable.

Medical Detox for Substance Use

Medical Detox for Substance Use

Those who have been using substances for a while and have a comorbid substance use disorder might need additional help to get through the early days without drugs or alcohol. To this end, you might want a facility like Icarus Behavioral Health that offers a medical detox for a variety of substances.

We are experienced in the various stages of detox and can be there in an emergency situation. Everyone responds to detox in a unique way, so it can be helpful to be under the care of a physician and medical team. Our goal is to make these early days of sobriety as easy as possible for you, offering both therapeutic treatments and medical supervision.

The benefit of enrolling in a treatment facility for detox is that you will not be able to use it anymore. If you were on your own at home, you might be tempted to use at the first sign of discomfort which could be hours or days after your last use. Being in a secure facility takes away the risk of jeopardizing your sobriety.

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Get the Help You Need for PTSD and Substance Abuse

The truth is that there are no quick and easy solutions to PTSD, but we can confidently say that substance use will only compound the concerns you face. When you are struggling to manage your day-to-day symptoms, you need a team of experienced professionals to guide you through the process. This is where Icarus Behavioral Health comes into the picture.

We have the experience and skills necessary to help you minimize PTSD symptom severity and to implement positive coping skills in place of substance use. If you feel that a medical detox and residential treatment facility might be the right fit for you, reach out to our admissions team today for more information.

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