Do I Have PTSD? Understanding Addiction & Trauma

Addiction is like a glaring check engine light. You can have your mechanic turn the light off, but that’s not going to fix what’s making it ping. In the same way, you can’t find lasting recovery unless you heal the deeper issues that are causing you to drink or use drugs in the first place. 

By now, that’s a scientifically proven fact. One recent study found that nearly nine million Americans suffer from drug or alcohol addiction along with a mental health disorder. Of that, nearly 40% get diagnosed with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. 

If you think you might be affected by PTSD and are struggling to gain control of your drug and alcohol use, you are not alone, and there is hope for a better life.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that develops after a traumatic event. What “traumatic” means can vary from person to person. It might be something as serious as a major personal accident or assault. It might be something as seemingly trivial as a fight with a friend. No matter how intense an incident is, if it makes you feel helpless, hurt, or threatened, it can cause PTSD down the road.

When a person suffers from PTSD, their body often continues to physically operate as if the trauma were still happening; or, happening all over again. Your heart races. Your hands sweat. Your pupils shrink. The traumatic event continues to create stress, anxiety, and fear long after it is over. The physical and mental effects of that can be debilitating, and many people turn to drugs and alcohol in the hopes of escape.

What are the signs of PTSD?

Anyone who experiences a traumatic event will need some time to heal, and it is normal to feel a wide range of emotions following a high-stress incident. However, people suffering from PTSD continue to experience the physical and emotional side effects for an extended period of time—sometimes even for decades. How can you tell if it’s PTSD? The length of time you’ve been suffering is a good clue, but these are the physical and emotional symptoms:

  • Repetitive mental playback of the event, or flashbacks
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Problems focusing or concentrating
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares
  • Avoiding people, places, and/or things that remind you of the event
  • Abusing drugs and alcohol, or other means of numbing your emotions 

PTSD & Addiction

Individuals suffering from PTSD are 14 times more likely to abuse substances than regular people. Why? There are a variety of reasons, depending on the individual.

Some people use drugs and alcohol to feel numb or reduce the symptoms of their PTSD. After a traumatic event, it may seem like having a beer or popping a Xanax is a justifiable response to the symptoms they’re experiencing. It is common for a person to not even realize that they have PTSD or another mental health disorder; all they know is that drugs and alcohol help quiet the unpleasant symptoms.  All too often though, this creates a slippery slope towards addiction. 

Worse, drugs or alcohol can cause further mood problems on top of those associated with PTSD. When someone is suffering from PTSD symptoms, they may experience dark and negative thoughts. They may then begin using drugs or alcohol in the hopes that it will help, not realizing that depressants like alcohol or opioids can make their symptoms even worse.

Meanwhile, someone with PTSD is likely to withdraw from their friends and family. That loneliness and isolation make it harder for some people to control their substance use. People suffering from PTSD are also much less likely to seek help or guidance from a support group. They believe that no one can understand their unique pain.

Treatment for PTSD & Addiction

While it is true that each individual’s pain is unique to them, there is always a solution to the struggle of addiction, if you look hard enough. People that struggle with substance abuse and another disorder, like PTSD, have what is called co-occurring disorders or are dual diagnoses. Since both disorders, PTSD and substance abuse, feed off of each other, it is important to treat both disorders at the same time in order to truly find freedom. 

At Country Road Recovery Center, we specialize in treating co-occurring disorders like PTSD. Our customized treatment plans are made to treat your addiction as well as any underlying issues. If you are suffering from PTSD or another disorder, you deserve to find a trauma-informed rehab team to help you find freedom from addiction and get you on the road to recovery. Call us today to learn more about how we can help.