Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorder (SUD) are two complex conditions that often coexist, creating a challenging and debilitating situation for those affected. PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by a traumatic event, while SUD involves the excessive and harmful use of substances such as drugs or alcohol continually, despite negative consequences.
The Link Between PTSD & Substance Use Disorder
According to research studies, approximately half of people with PTSD also meet the diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder. This is an alarming statistic, as both of these powerful conditions can exacerbate one another, creating a vicious cycle of debilitating symptoms. Below are some of the possible explanations for this high rate of comorbidity/co-occurrence:
PTSD As A Cause Of Substance Use Disorder
Many individuals with PTSD turn to substances as a way to numb or cope with the distressing symptoms and emotional pain associated with their traumatic experiences. And while these substances may initially provide temporary relief, they can quickly lead to a cycle of dependency and exacerbate the symptoms of both disorders.
Substance Use Disorder As A Risk Factor For PTSD
Substance use can also increase the risk of experiencing a traumatic event. It can impair judgment and lead to dangerous situations, increasing the chance of encountering a traumatic event or situation. Substance use can also tamper with your emotional resilience and affect your ability to process and recover from a traumatic experience, increasing the risk of developing PTSD.
Researchers also believe there may be some shared vulnerabilities that increase the risk of developing PTSD and SUD. These may include genetic influences, environmental factors, other pre-existing psychological disorders, and other individual characteristics such as impulsivity.
The Impact Of Co-Occurring PTSD & Substance Use Disorder
Increased symptom severity and chronicity: When PTSD and SUD coexist, the severity and chronicity of symptoms increase significantly. Substance use can intensify the emotional dysregulation, intrusive thoughts, and hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD, making recovery more challenging. On the other hand, worsening PTSD symptoms can drive an individual deep into substance abuse. This vicious cycle can lead to poor treatment outcomes.
Impaired functioning and quality of life: The combination of PTSD and SUD can significantly impair an individual’s daily functioning, relationships, and overall quality of life. The constant struggle with both disorders can lead to social isolation, financial difficulties, legal issues, and a host of other health complications.
Risk of retraumatization: Substance use environments can expose individuals to situations that may trigger or retraumatize them, increasing their vulnerability to further traumatic experiences. This cycle can disrupt or hinder recovery.
Treating Comorbid PTSD & Substance Use Disorder
Effective treatment for co-occurring PTSD and SUD requires an integrated approach that addresses both disorders simultaneously. This may involve evidence-based therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and motivational interviewing (MI). These therapies help individuals process trauma, develop healthier coping strategies, and/or address substance use behaviors.
In some cases, medications may be used as part of the treatment plan to manage symptoms of both disorders. Medications can help alleviate PTSD symptoms, reduce cravings, and assist in substance use withdrawal and maintenance.
Joining support groups and group therapy sessions can provide individuals with a safe and understanding environment to share their experiences, gain support, and learn from others facing similar challenges.
Living with co-occurring PTSD and Substance Use Disorder can be overwhelming, but there are effective treatment options that can help you overcome the symptoms and lead a fulfilling life.
But for those who can’t seem to find relief with traditional treatments, Rainfall Medicine offers personalized ketamine treatments that have shown promising results in managing these complex conditions when conventional treatment options have failed.
Our clinic combines compassionate care with innovative therapies to help individuals break free from the shackles of treatment-resistant mental illness so they can go back to enjoying life once again.