In a given year, approximately 8 million U.S. adults are suffering with PTSD.1
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common mental health condition. People who experience PTSD have developed the disorder following an experience or exposure to a traumatic event, defined by SAMHSA as “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening, and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning, and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”2
Combat in war
Serious accidents and life-threatening injuries
Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse (in childhood or adulthood)
Sudden death of a loved one
Most of us experience a traumatic event in our lifetime – about 60% of men and 50% of women will experience a traumatic event at least once according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.4 While more men than women generally experience a traumatic event, PTSD impacts almost twice as many women as men.
Following these events, it is normal to feel anxiety, depression, and increased fear or agitation. Most people who experience such events are fortunate enough to recover from these symptoms in a relatively short amount of time. However, some people do not recover so quickly. When a person experiences the symptoms of trauma for an extended period of time (i.e., the symptoms simply do not go away and negatively impact the individual’s day-to-day life), they are diagnosed with PTSD.
Emotion and memory processing are impacted by PTSD. While a healthy brain can differentiate between a present experience and memory of the past, the brain of someone suffering with PTSD may become triggered by something in their present environment that transports them back to the past. As a consequence, feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress arise, and aggression and violent outbursts or other uncontrollable behavior may occur.
PTSD symptoms fall under the following categories:
Drastic changes in mood and thought
Persistent and unwanted memories about the event(s)
Resistance or reluctance to talk about the trauma
Avoidance of people, places, or things that remind the person about the event (triggers)
Substance use, high risk behavior
Drastic changes in mood and thoughts
Emotional shut-down (numbness)
Difficulty sustaining interpersonal relationships
Poor memory and concentration
Low self-esteem, low self-worth
Negative feelings about others
Persistent guilt and shame
Suffering from PTSD may lead a person to turn to substances as a means of coping or finding relief from symptoms. Drugs and alcohol are sometimes used to self-medicate in an attempt to alleviate PTSD-related symptoms such anxiety, stress, and heightened states of fear.
PTSD symptoms are persistent, which makes the use of substances even more dangerous than normal for someone who is suffering. If a person chooses to use a substance to relieve symptoms, they will find that symptoms return as soon as the substance wears off. This leads some to keep using substances, which leads to dependence and addiction.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “nearly three quarters of those surviving violent or abusive trauma report alcohol use disorders.”5
Following a traumatic event, the brain produces fewer endorphins,6 which are one of four main brain chemicals that are responsible for feeling happy. Since sufferers of PTSD are producing less of these “happy chemicals,” they may turn to alcohol and other mood-altering substances in order to increase their levels of endorphins.7 This is a temporary increase, and the sufferer may eventually come to rely on substances for self-regulation.
When a person suffering from PTSD develops an addiction, both conditions become harder to treat. PTSD wears down our physical and mental health over time, and addiction is a progressive disease, which means that professional help should be sought as soon as possible to give the person suffering the best chance of recovery.
Call or email Heather R. Hayes & Associates today to arrange for the help you or someone you love urgently needs. Healing is possible but takes courage to initiate. At Heather R. Hayes & Associates, we are able to offer a range of recovery services led by a team of experts so that our clients have a fighting chance to recover from PTSD and addiction and to attain a higher quality of life.
1 “VA.Gov | Veterans Affairs”. Ptsd.Va.Gov, 2020, https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp#:~:text=About%207%20or%208%20out,have%20gone%20through%20a%20trauma. Accessed 16 Oct 2020.
2 Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2014. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57.) Section 1, A Review of the Literature. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207192/#
3 “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Causes”. Nhs.Uk, 2020, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/causes/#:~:text=Post%2Dtraumatic%20stress%20disorder%20(PTSD)%20can%20develop%20after%20a,physical%20or%20sexual%20assault. Accessed 16 Oct 2020.
4 “VA.Gov | Veterans Affairs”. Ptsd.Va.Gov, https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp#:~:text=The%20following%20statistics%20are%20based,have%20gone%20through%20a%20trauma. Accessed 16 Oct 2020.
5. “VA.Gov | Veterans Affairs”. Ptsd.Va.Gov, https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/related/problem_alcohol_use.asp#:~:text=Up%20to%20three%20quarters%20of,ongoing%20health%20problems%20or%20pain. Accessed 16 Oct 2020.
6 Volpicelli, J et al. “The role of uncontrollable trauma in the development of PTSD and alcohol addiction.” Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism vol. 23,4 (1999): 256-62.
7 Volpicelli, J et al. “The role of uncontrollable trauma in the development of PTSD and alcohol addiction.” Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism vol. 23,4 (1999): 256-62.
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