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Understanding PTSD and Addiction

Understanding PTSD and Addiction

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition caused by exposure to an extreme or traumatic event, whether it was an isolated incident or something that regularly occurred over a more extended period. People who go through such circumstances can sometimes deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression as a result of their trauma, especially if it’s unresolved or ongoing. As a result, many will also seek out ways to cope with their pain and discomfort by misusing substances, putting them at risk of developing substance use disorder. The link between PTSD and addiction is important to understand, especially for those struggling with a dual diagnosis.

Changes in the Brain

Both addiction and PTSD can similarly rewire brain functionality. In most cases, both of these disorders feed off each other and often stem from the same experience or trauma. Upon experiencing trauma, the brain emits fewer endorphins, which are the chemicals in the brain that allow us to feel happiness. This can push people to use mood-altering substances if they think they can’t resolve their unhappiness, anxiety, or general irritability independently.

The brain of someone with PTSD cannot differentiate between memories and emotions associated with past experiences from the present. This can interfere with trauma healing because the brain is triggered by stimuli in the environment that will ignite stress, fear, anxiety, and other fight-or-flight responses. Addiction triggers work in a very similar way, especially when someone is in recovery and attempting to abstain and take control over their cravings and urges.

The Vicious Cycle

People who misuse substances like drugs and alcohol to cope with their PTSD and anxiety tend to fall into a cyclical pattern of behavior. Using the substances helps dull their anxiety, but once the effects wear off, it comes back at what can feel like ten times the intensity as before. This can cause panic attacks and further substance misuse, which can quickly spiral into addiction, adding many more health problems into the equation.

Fear of triggers and experiencing panic attacks can also push people with PTSD into isolation, causing them to withdraw from social activities and spend much more time alone. This dangerously puts people in a position where they may rely on substance misuse to cope with loneliness and other negative emotions, but people with PTSD often experience suicidal ideation. Drugs and alcohol can further intensify these thoughts, which can be dangerous for people who spend a lot of time alone without much contact with their peers or loved ones.

Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

PTSD and addiction are both treatable conditions for anyone ready and willing to take the first step. At Recovery Services of New Mexico, we recognize that all of our patients have the best possible chance to achieve recovery when treated as a whole, paying close attention to both physical and mental health. Our experienced and compassionate staff and medical providers will utilize evidence-based treatment methods while using FDA-approved medications to make treatment as comfortable and convenient as possible at our out-patient locations. Call us or contact us today to start your journey.


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