Addiction and PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs more commonly than you think. Most people assume that a person will only develop PTSD if a really serious traumatic event happens to them. But how a person processes a stressful situation and the length of time that they are exposed to this kind of stress can affect one long after the event in question has past. Understanding those four letters and the diagnosis, as well as how PTSD can impact ones life may be the key to understanding a range of negative behaviours.

Frightening or distressing events can trigger PTSD, for example:

  • Direct exposure to violence or witnessing an assault or mugging
  • Road accidents
  • Serious injury or illness
  • Abusive relationships
  • Prolonged stress at work

It’s important to remember that not everyone that has lived through a traumatic event develops PTSD and there are many factors at play. One symptom of PTSD is self-medication which if untreated can result in addiction. The need to escape the memory or flashbacks becomes all-consuming as a person struggles with debilitating depression and anxiety. Many people self-medicate with alcohol after a stressful day or a fight with a loved one. This coping mechanism offers an escape from the emotional pain the person is experiencing.

This type of behaviour pattern doesn’t just pertain to substance abuse or alcoholism. It can also take the form of eating disorders, sex addiction, gambling, self-harm and a number of other self-destructive behaviours. A person suffering from PTSD may not understand why they feel the way they do and are overwhelmed by their emotions. A relationship with substances becomes a norm as the person disassociates themselves with more constructive activities and relationships.

Most commonly people only seek treatment and enter a rehab facility when their addiction to their drug of choice has become unmanageable. Most treatment programmes only focus on treating the symptoms of addiction or alcoholism. They provide a guide to living a sober life and advice on the recovery process. Detox treatment may help sober up a person but the trauma that lies behind why the person started self-medicating is not addressed. Abstinence from all substances is recommended but it is common that people who have given up a heroin addiction, then go on to develop an eating disorder. Finding a treatment facility that provides a holistic view of a person’s situation is important to prevent relapse.