You probably have already faced a traumatic or stressful incident in your life which caused you to experience many negative but temporary emotions and fears. It may even have affected your daily life for some time. Such occurrences, while unpleasant, are a natural part of life. However, if you have encountered or experienced an event with dangerous and life-threatening consequences — for either yourself or a loved one — the negative emotions surrounding the incident may not have gone away on their own. In fact, they may continue to harm your emotional, psychological and physical well-being, your ability to meet your responsibilities and your quality of life for months and even years after the event.
Doctors refer to this condition as “post-traumatic stress disorder,” or PTSD, and it can stem from a variety of causes. While some experienced PTSD from violent situations where their own life or someone’s close to them was threatened, PTSD can also begin when you experience violent and unwanted sexual advances or witness them. As a result, you may re-experience the traumatic event frequently and involuntarily or begin to distance yourself not only from the event but from reality itself as a means of coping. Alternately, you might experience a host of stress-related responses which can be debilitating and interfere with your job performance and relationships.
To manage these painful and uncontrollable symptoms, you may turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain you feel and to regain a lost sense of control. However, self-medication through drugs and alcohol will inevitably complicate an already difficult situation. Prolonged drug and alcohol use, even if you have the best intentions, will lead to abuse as your tolerance for drugs and alcohol increases and can ultimately cause addiction. Drug abuse and addiction invites additional serious medical and psychological problems — including the risk of overdose and death — and will also make your PTSD symptoms worse. The only clear and safe way out of your PTSD and addiction is sound, professional medical detox and mental health treatment which addresses all aspects of the problem in an individualized approach.
SYMPTOMS OF POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
Many criteria must be present to diagnose a post-traumatic stress disorder. Also, since different types of events can cause a PTSD response, each event will produce slightly different symptoms. All PTSD, however, stems from involvement with a traumatic event characterized by the threat of death, serious injury or sexual violence, and in general, PTSD will include many of the following visible signs.
- directly experiencing a traumatic event
- directly witnessing a traumatic event happening to others
- learning of a traumatic event happening to a family member or loved one
- repeated and extreme exposure to the details of a traumatic event
- recurrent distressful memories beyond your control
- recurrent distressful dreams related to the traumatic event
- flashbacks and re-experiencing the traumatic event
- intense psychological and physiological responses to items or people related to the traumatic event
- persistent avoidance of thoughts, feelings or memories of the traumatic event
- persistent avoidance of people, places or objects associated with the event
Negative Changes in Thought and Mood
- difficulty remember details of the traumatic event
- extreme feelings of guilt and responsibility
- persistent, intense negative emotions, such as fear, anger and shame
- difficulty feeling happiness, affection or satisfaction
A Heightened Emotional State
- reckless or dangerous behavior
- edginess and being easily startled
- difficulty concentrating
- sleep problems, such as an inability to fall asleep, stay asleep and feel rested
THE CHALLENGES OF TREATING PTSD AND ADDICTION
Even if drug and alcohol use brings you some relief early on, ultimately adding the symptoms of substance abuse and addiction to your mental health symptoms will always make your problem larger, more complex and increasingly difficult to treat. Self-medication also quickly creates a vicious cycle as your substance use increase your mental health symptoms, and your increase in mental health symptoms require more and more drugs and alcohol to manage them.
Treating addiction or a mental health disorder individually can be a very difficult task even for professionals, and when you combine both problems, they become even harder to treat and impossible to manage on your own. Further, if you do not have a previous mental health diagnosis, drug and alcohol use can mask some symptoms and add new ones, making an accurate diagnosis of your underlying mental health concerns more challenging, further delaying the treatment which can help you.
HOW A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO PTSD AND ADDICTION TREATMENT CAN GIVE YOU YOUR LIFE BACK
To treat the symptoms of your PTSD, first you will need to address the substance abuse and addiction which increases your symptoms, adds new ones and prevents an adequate diagnosis of your mental health issues. If you continue to use, your aggravated PTSD symptoms will require more drugs and alcohol to control, and your substance use will undermine any mental health treatment you would receive even if you enrolled in a recovery program. An individualized, medically-supervised detox that focuses on your personality, your substances, your habits and your triggers will address your specific substance use problems and give you ways to stop using, based on your needs, and ample opportunities to practice them.
This type of detox ensures that the addiction treatment you receive will have the most impact because you will not have cravings or dependency to sabotage your new skills and healthier habits. This same individualized approach will also afford the same benefits during your mental health treatment. Once you have stopped using, you will experience less severe PTSD symptoms and feel healthier, and with professional help to guide you, you will be better able to focus on how to manage, control and overcome your PTSD. Focusing on the real problem, your triggers, and methods to deal with your symptoms when they appear, you and your doctors can craft personalized solutions which will give you the best chance of successfully dealing with your PTSD long-term and remaining healthy and sober as well.