PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is triggered by a difficult event. It is mostly associated with war veterans in popular culture but can also present in people who have experienced childhood trauma, sexual abuse, or disaster.
What PTSD Is
During a traumatic event, everyone will feel afraid. Your body is wired for a fight-or-flight response, and people react in a wide variety of ways to shock and danger –often in ways that they did not expect. However, after the event, most people recover from those initial symptoms.
When someone continues to feel stressed even when there is nothing dangerous happening, he or she may have PTSD. The symptoms usually begin within a few months of the traumatic event and last for more than a month. The symptoms are not considered PTSD until they are so severe as to interfere with daily life or work.
There are a number of symptoms that must be present for a diagnosis of PTSD:
- At least one avoidance symptom, including staying away from anything that reminds them of the event.
- At least one re-experiencing symptom, such as flashbacks for bad dreams.
- At least two arousal and recovery symptoms. These are usually constant and include angry outbursts, feeling tense, and difficulty sleeping.
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms, which can include a loss of interest in things they used to enjoy, memory loss, or feelings of guilt or blame.
In kids, PTSD can lead to regression, such as forgetting how to talk or wetting the bed even though they have been potty trained.
Substance Abuse and PTSD
People who have PTSD often turn to alcohol and other drugs to numb their pain. However, the perceived benefits do not last long. Instead, they can make things worse – increasing paranoia, and making people more likely to participate in risky behaviors.
Over 50 percent of men with PTSD, and 28 percent of women, also meet the criteria for alcohol dependence, according to a 1995 National Comorbidity Survey. The same study showed that 35 percent of men and 27 percent of women with PTSD abused drugs.
Drugs and alcohol can also be used in a quest for endorphins. During a traumatic event, the brain produces an excess of endorphins, reducing the pain you feel in the moment. As those endorphins wear off, the feeling is much like coming down from a high or even experiencing withdrawal and can lead people to try to replace those endorphins with recreational drugs or alcohol.
People with PTSD are often ashamed by their reaction to the event, especially if they believe they did something wrong at the time, or if they are a survivor of an event where there were fatalities that they believe they could have prevented. Their use of drugs or alcohol may add to their guilt, making them even less likely to seek treatment.
Additionally, PTSD can lead to a lack of motivation, making it difficult for them to make the challenging life changes that treatment requires. That is why those affected need a team like ours, with training in handling PTSD and addiction at the same time, to overcome these disorders.