PTSD and Substance Abuse
The truth about co-occurring disorders is not inconspicuous or difficult to understand. It’s easy to see how mental illness, like anxiety or depression, could lead to a destructive habit like substance abuse. What’s not as obvious is a reason to let go of a bad habit that, in some ways, alleviates the pain of the other affliction. This is especially true in cases of PTSD, where victims work tirelessly to stave off bad thoughts while trying to avoid rumination.
Coping with PTSD
PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder, and it refers to a painful state of awareness that follows a traumatic event. This could be anything from a car accident to a suppressed childhood memory. The body’s natural fight-or-flight mechanism becomes tripped, leaving victims feeling as though they are in danger, when in fact, they are not. Hallmark symptoms of PTSD include depression, anxiety, and reoccurring, painful thoughts.
PTSD and Substance Abuse
How do you stop painful memories and depression when they are ailments of the mind? PTSD has a powerful connection to substance abuse because many victims use drugs to let go of their memories.
Drugs, despite their many harmful side effects and risks, can bring about feelings of relaxation and comfort. They can temporarily lessen anxiety, as well as inhibit memory functions. They have also been known to increase dopamine production in the brain. But — and this is very important — any respite from drugs only leads to a crashing “low” that follows the high.
A New Problem Unfurls
At some point, using drugs becomes abuse. And for victims of PTSD, this is an incredible threat to mental health. Addiction can quickly become the band-aid you can’t peel off — with an incredible wound festering beneath the surface.
Substance abuse can alter the mind so greatly that a person suffering from PTSD can no longer separate their past trauma from the pain they’ve created. When that happens, a co-occurring disorder arises, which brings forth an entirely new set of problems. Co-occurring disorders are much harder to cure, as separate tracks of therapy are often needed to address the amalgam of issues that have become intertwined between two diseases.
To Make Matters Worse
Imagine that you have a very difficult problem that you do not know how to solve. This problem gets in the way of your life, it ruins your friendships, and it tears you away from the things you once loved. You want to make it go away, and you wish you knew how. But you don’t. And you feel powerless. The only way you know how to relieve the pain is through drugs. But when the high wears off, you realize your problem is bigger than before. It’s scarier. It’s harder to solve.
This is the relationship between PTSD and substance abuse, where a lack of foresight leads to destructive behaviors. When the high goes away, the PTSD is still there. Many times, it is much worse than before.
What Can You Do?
There is hope, and this cannot be understated. PTSD, though very hard to deal with, does not have to last forever. That monumental problem that seems unsolvable is actually very curable — with the right treatment.
Cognitive Behavioral and Exposure therapies are the best options for working through insidious rumination that debilitates and scares the mind. With the right therapist, a person can reasonably recover from most traumatic incidents. And they can do so without using drugs and alcohol.
If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, please seek the guidance of a medical professional. Reach out to United Recovery Project for help.
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