Sebastian Rucci Blog PTSD And Opiate Addiction
PTSD And Opiate Addiction
People with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develop drug addictions at three times the national average.
The legacy of traumatic memories can cause structural changes in the brain in areas that process emotion, memory, and fear — and can produce an array of symptoms that sometimes take a lot of the joy out of life.
A lot remains unknown about PTSD, and scientists still can’t say with certainty why people with the disorder seem especially prone to addiction. However, even though research-based understanding of the disorder remains incomplete, treatments to improve the symptoms of the disorder seem quite effective.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD describes a syndrome of symptoms that sometimes affect people who have experienced a very traumatic event. Symptoms typically start within three months of the traumatic event, but in some cases can begin even years after the fact. To meet the criteria for PTSD, symptoms must either be very severe or last for more than one month.
In about 30 percent of PTSD cases, the passing of time does not lessen the severity of symptoms. Experiences that can cause PTSD include the following: War; Physical or sexual abuse as a child; Physical or sexual assault as an adult; Accidents or natural disasters; Terrorist attacks
Any events during which people feel very frightened and at fear for their lives or for the lives of others can result in PTSD. Factors thought to increase the likelihood of experiencing PTSD include feeling a loss of control during the event, getting seriously hurt, and losing a friend or family member.
PTSD Symptoms fall into four basic categories: Re-experience symptoms (flashbacks); Avoidance symptoms; Numbing symptoms; Arousal symptoms
Re-Experience symptoms include nightmares or flashbacks that bring you back to “the moment.” The fear and arousal that are felt during a flashback can be every bit as intense as the emotions that were experienced during the actual event. Flashbacks can be caused by external stimuli, for example, a sharp and sudden sound bringing back the memory of a gunshot.
Numbing Symptoms are techniques that are used to decrease emotional responses as a way to decrease exposure to emotional memories. Symptoms include minimizing close personal relationships or losing interest in previously enjoyed activities.
Arousal Symptoms are sometimes called hyper-vigilance symptoms, and include being very easily startled, unable to sleep, irritable, and unable to concentrate.
Avoidance Symptoms describes behaviors meant to minimize exposure to stimuli that trigger memories of the trauma. For example, if you had a near drowning experience, you might avoid driving on roads that had a view of bodies of water.
Does PTSD Cause Substance Abuse and Addiction?
Researchers aren’t yet sure why PTSD and substance abuse and addiction are so closely linked, but they do know that people with PTSD seem to be at significantly increase risk for addiction.
Theories related to the link between PTSD and addiction include the following: Susceptibility or Shared Vulnerability – Abusing alcohol or other drugs changes the brain in some way to increase the risks of experiencing PTSD after trauma. Another version of this theory posits that the brains of people who are susceptible to addiction are also more susceptible to PTSD. Self-Medication — People who are suffering from PTSD symptoms such as fear, insomnia, or hyper-arousal use illicit drugs or alcohol to calm these symptoms or to prevent them from re-occurring. Risk Theory — People who abuse drugs or alcohol put themselves in dangerous situations and are thus at greater risk for experiencing serious trauma. Scientists speculate that more than one of the above theories may prove valid.
Drug Use Worsens PTSD Symptoms
Although the use of opiates can help provide temporary relief from PTSD symptoms, drug use can actually increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and emotional numbness, and decrease general mental and physical health. Getting high isn’t an effective way of dealing with traumatic memories.
Treatment for PTSD and Addiction
Treatment for both PTSD and addiction should be concurrent, and treatments that are effective in reducing PTSD symptoms can also help with substance abuse problems. The following treatments have been proven to reduce the severity of PTSD symptoms:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy — This involves working with a therapist to change the way you think about the traumatic event. By learning how you think (or avoid thinking) about the trauma, you can learn techniques that will lessen the impact of traumatic memories.
Exposure Therapy — During exposure therapy, a patient works with a therapist to repeatedly recall traumatic memories in an attempt to lesson the stress and emotional power of these memories. Exposure therapy may be practiced with breathing or relaxation exercises.
EMDR — EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a newer technique that is used to “reprogram” the part of the brain that stores traumatic memories. During an EMDR therapy session, a patient will move his or her eyes rapidly back and forth, often tracking a therapist’s hand or pen, while talking about and remembering the traumatic experience. EMDR seems to work well for PTSD symptoms, but no one can say exactly why or how it works.
Pharmacological Therapy (Medication) – Certain antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, including Zoloft, Prozac, and Paxil) seem to reduce PTSD symptoms.
Symptoms of PTSD can get worse over time but getting treatment for PTSD can stop this from happening.
If you suffer from PTSD and addiction, treatment can help. Getting treatment for addiction and PTSD at the same time gives you the best chance to break free from both disorders.