By; Robert Henslee SFYB Founder
How PTSD Leads To Addiction. If you need some help your in the right place.
How PTSD Leads To Addiction.
Today most people have at least a general idea of what Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is, understanding about the disorder came after decades of research and avocation. In the past people with PTSD were either misdiagnosed with such things as “shell shock” or undiagnosed due to misconceptions surrounding the affliction.
What is PTSD?
Yet fallacies concerning what PTSD truly is and the effects of this disease on the brain continue to circulate in our society. That it is occurs only in former military personnel is a common belief but untrue; any traumatic event in one’s life can cause PTSD. The illness is undeniably common among those who serve in the armed forces, but also among survivors of natural disasters, physical and sexual assault, child abuse, and acts of terror.
That people with PTSD are somehow invalidated is another outdated belief. Severe cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can cause one to withdraw from society or even act irrationally when triggered, but most people living with the disorder are able to function without much complication on a day to day basis.
Someone with PTSD is not ‘crazy’ or any other derogatory term used for those with mental illness. They are coping with a disease which, in a moment’s notice, can cause extreme anxiety, paranoia, and emotional distress.
PTSD is an ailment which causes the body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ mechanisms to be triggered without due cause. For example, veterans with PTSD may experience an episode triggered by something as seemingly simply as a car backfiring which sounds a bit too much like a grenade explosion. Survivors of child abuse with PTSD may find that slammed doors or screaming are triggers for their disorder.
Different PTSD Symptoms
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the various symptoms of PTSD can be grouped into three categories:
These are the classic symptoms most people associate with PTSD-
- Flashbacks to the traumatic event
- Frightening or obsessive thought about the trauma
Re-experiencing symptoms are difficult to deal with because they often begin with the person’s own thoughts or feelings. These thoughts can quickly snowball into panic and anxiety attacks which are terrifying both for the person experiencing it and bystanders. Reminders of the traumatic event associated with PTSD such as words, objects, or situations can also trigger their disorder.
Avoidance symptoms are exactly what they sound like; people with this type of PTSD symptoms distance themselves mentally and physically from the event and all things and people associated with the trauma they experience.
- Creating physical distance and avoiding places, events, and objects one associates with the traumatic event
- Emotional numbness
- Powerful feelings of guilt, worry, or depression
- Trouble recalling the initial event (mental distancing)
- Loss of interest in former pastimes
People displaying avoidance symptoms may become reclusive or act in a manner of which they were not known prior to experiencing the trauma. Victims of date rape or sexual assault while under the influence of alcohol may avoid parties or drinking prepared drinks. Avoidance symptoms can also cause complete changes in one’s daily routine and habits.
Unlike avoidance and re-experiencing symptoms, hyperarousal symptoms may be constant, affecting one’s personality and interpersonal relationships. These symptoms include:
- Being easily startled
- Tense, “on edge” demeanor
- Difficulty sleeping, insomnia
- Unfounded angry outburst
Those experiencing hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD have difficulty dealing with day to day life due to the constant stress and anxiety PTSD causes them. Severe cases may have difficulty with such seemingly simple tasks as eating and drinking.
PTSD and Addiction
Stigmas associated with mental disorders often cause hesitation or prevent one from seeking treatment. As it becomes more difficult to cope with symptoms of undiagnosed or untreated mental problems, some turn to self-medication through alcohol or drugs. This, of course, only compounds pre-existing problems as dependency and addiction set in.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that two in ten veterans with PTSD also have a substance abuse disorder. Additionally among veterans, one-third of those seeking treatment for substance abuse is diagnosed with PTSD. The explanations behind this trend vary depending on the symptoms one is experiencing, but the fact remains that abusing alcohol and other illicit substances is not a solution.
Dependence on anything that alters one’s mental state as a means to function or survive is not the life anyone wishes to live. Much like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is not the fault of those afflicted, fault in addiction cannot be ascribed to the sufferer. Understanding that both conditions are a disease which can be not only managed, but treated and overcome is essential to helping those in need.
The first step to breaking the link between PTSD and addiction is eradicating the stigmas associated with both conditions. Social imputations for both PTSD and substance abuse depict the disorders as shameful and brand people living with them as outliers to be pitied or worse, shamed. This idea that having a mental illness makes one inferior or defective must end. Too many people lose their lives each year due to avoidable causes like overdose or suicide because of society’s attitude toward mental illness.