PTSD and Addiction: Why Understanding the Connection is the First Step toward Healing

PTSD Addiction

PTSD increases the risk of substance abuse; substance abuse increases the risk of PTSD. There is a well-observed link between the two, but these commonly co-occurring conditions are still shrouded in a veil of mystery. What is understood is that effective treatment embraces the whole person, not just one condition at a time.

Numerous studies have shown the connection between PTSD and substance abuse. Several theories have emerged, and all of them have a basis in truth, according to Matthew Tull, PhD for VeryWell. Fortunately, the lack of a definite cause and effect does not impede treatment. If anything, it offers a broader opportunity to identify, understand, and craft the right approach for the individual suffering with both issues.

At Least Four Different Connection Theories Exist

Nearly 35 percent of men and 27 percent of women who suffe
r from PTSD also have a substance abuse problem. According to Dr. Tull, there are four relatively well-researched theories that help explain why.

  1. The High-Risk Theory says that a preexisting drug or alcohol problem makes you more likely to experience a traumatic life event, thereby increasing the risk of PTSD.
  2. The Self-Medication Theory suggests that a person with PTSD is more likely to resort to drugs or alcohol to ease the trauma symptoms.
  3. According to the Susceptibility Theory, “there is something about alcohol and drug use” that can heighten the likelihood of PTSD after a traumatic event.
  4. Finally, the Shared Vulnerability Theory explains that there may be a genetic cause behind the increased likelihood of developing both PTSD and substance abuse problems after suffering a traumatic event.

These are not necessarily conflicting theories, but rather deeper explorations of the range of possible culprits behind co-occurring PTSD and substance abuse. According to Dr. Tull, the recent uptick in scientific research is paving the way for better treatment of both PTSD and addiction.

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Integrated treatment enables healing for the whole person, not just for separate conditions.

People Are Not Segmented, and Neither is Effective Treatment

Not too long ago, PTSD treatment was put on hold until after substance abuse detox and remission. Now, the co-occurring conditions are often treated in tandem.

Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH, writes for PsychCentral that drug and alcohol use were believed to numb the patient too much for PTSD treatment to work. The treatment community, she suggests, feared that the stress of facing PTSD treatment could trigger a substance abuse relapse.

Although it may seem logical to argue for segmented or sequential treatment, evidence points to integrative treatment as the best and most beneficial approach. Staggs says, “Sequential treatment acts like the PTSD and substance abuse are separate issues and to do so ignores some key elements of the interaction between them.”

Substance abuse remission is not necessary before PTSD treatment can begin. In fact, there is mounting evidence to suggest that integrated treatment holds significant promise for people suffering from both PTSD and substance abuse.

In a caring, clinical setting, those suffering from co-occurring conditions can receive the necessary diagnosis. That opens a wealth of effective treatment options designed specifically for the whole person, which is where true healing begins.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from substance abuse and PTSD, Orlando Recovery Center is waiting to help. Contact us to learn more about co-occurring conditions and how integrated treatment can lead to real recovery.