The Identifiable Ties Between Trauma and Addiction

June is PTSD Awareness Month, so it’s important to spread awareness about the impacts of trauma. This includes the ties between trauma and addiction, as many people who struggle with substance use disorder have also struggled with trauma. The causes of addiction are many, but one of the most common is a history of trauma. The impacts of trauma can be severe, even sometimes leading to the development of mental health issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Dealing with the impacts of trauma can be a challenge. So, many people who struggle with experiencing trauma turn towards drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, leading to a cycle of use and the eventual development of addiction.

It can be helpful to understand more about the relationship between trauma and addiction in order for people who struggle with both to learn more about the available resources and treatment that may be helpful to them.

Identifying What Trauma Is

Trauma is an experience an individual may face that can present a number of difficult and debilitating symptoms to a person’s life. Trauma triggers the fight or flight response, which is a defense mechanism to high stress and fear levels, that allows for the release of specific hormones. This can help a person to react in a dangerous situation so they are better suited for survival. However, sometimes, people who have experienced trauma have a long-term reaction to trauma which involves the body’s fight or flight response to react all the time, leading to a number of debilitating side effects. One of which being the neglect of knowing the difference between actual danger and situations or things that aren’t actually dangerous at all.

This is why, often, people who develop PTSD may not be able to move on with their lives – constantly being sucked back into the time period they have experienced a traumatic event. And, living with debilitating symptoms as the result of not being able to move forward from traumatic events.

Experiences of Trauma

There are a number of things that can be classified as traumatic. And, every person may experience trauma differently. So, while some people may be able to experience trauma and eventually move on with their lives, others may experience trauma and eventually develop PTSD. Some examples of traumatic experiences that can lead to PTSD include:

  • living through a natural disaster
  • being the survivor of a vehicular accident
  • surviving childhood abuse
  • sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
  • being diagnosed with a chronic illness
  • experiencing a life-altering injury
  • witnessing or being the victim of a violent crime
  • war combat
  • losing a loved one or loved ones suddenly

Trauma and Addiction

In many cases, the effects of PTSD and living through traumatic events can be debilitating. These symptoms can negatively affect relationships, careers, and social lives. They can also lead to negative feelings of hopelessness, suicidal ideation, and despair. So, many people who develop PTSD may look for an outlet in order to manage these symptoms. This outlet is often the numbing effects of drugs or alcohol. Over time, using addictive substances can lead to dependency and a cycle of addiction.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment at Delray Center for Recovery

When a person is living with two mental health issues, like PTSD and substance use disorder, this is known as dual diagnosis. It’s important for people living with two or more mental health issues to get help for them simultaneously. This improves the chance of sustainable recovery. Delray Center for Recovery offers dual diagnosis treatment in order to address multiple mental health diagnoses. Find out more about our dual diagnoses program available at our outpatient Delray Center treatment facility on our website.

Could Virtual Reality Soon Be Used for PTSD Therapy?

A study published in the April 18, 2014 online edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that virtual reality exposure therapy, or VRE, could treat PTSD symptoms in combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Researchers at Emory University recruited 156 veterans in need of PTSD therapy for the study. They found that VRE greatly improved the veterans’ symptoms, especially when administered in conjunction with d-Cycloserine (DCS), a drug that has been used to treat anxiety and stress disorders, including phobias.

DCS and Minimal VRE Effective for PTSD Therapy

Of the 156 combat vets with PTSD recruited for the study, 53 were given DCS, 50 received alprazolam (or Xanax) and 53 received a placebo prior to undergoing five sessions of VRE. The researchers discovered that DCS significantly enhanced the results of VRE for those veterans who demonstrated a high level of emotional learning during their sessions.

Objective measures, like levels of the stress hormone cortisol and the startle response, allowed researchers to form an accurate measure of study participants’ emotional states and reactions. Study participants also self-reported their levels of fear and stress during the experiment.

While the combination of DCS and VRE improved stress reactivity in the PTSD sufferers, researchers found that alprazolam hampered the study participants’ recovery from PTSD. The study results would seem to suggest that alprazolam, and perhaps similar drugs, are not an effective PTSD therapy.

Lead researcher Barbara Rothbaum, PhD, who is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine and director of the university’s Trauma and Anxiety Recovery Program, said of the experiment, “D-cycloserine, combined with only five sessions of the virtual reality exposure therapy, was assocated with significant improvements in objective measures of startle and cortisol and overall PTSD symptoms for those who showed emotional learning in sessions.”

In addition to six visits for PTSD treatment, study participants also received follow-up assessments at three, six and 12 months after the therapy ended. The VRE consisted of 30 to 45 minutes of exposure to a virtual reality environment via a head-mounted display. The VRE was designed to match the stimuli the PTSD victims described. They included a variety of scenes in Iraq and Afghanistan, seen from multiple points of view. Study participants took a pill – either DCS, a placebo or alprazolam – about 30 minutes before beginning VRE.

Dr. Rothbaum said that the researchers were “very excited” by the results of the study.

What Methods Are Currently Used for PTSD Therapy?

While the current methods used for PTSD treatment are very effective for most people, some do not respond to them as well as others. Because PTSD symptoms can lead to depression, substance abuse, self-destructive actions and even violence, experts need to explore as many avenues as possible to find methods of PTSD therapy that work for everyone. Some treatment methods currently in use include:

  • Family therapy. The symptoms of PTSD often affect not just the sufferer, but all of those close to him or her. Family therapy is invaluable to help loved ones comprehend the daily struggles of a person coping with PTSD. It can alleviate the relationship problems PTSD often causes, and help members of the family communicate better.
  • Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT for PTSD generally consists of gradually, carefully, under the supervision of a trained counselor, “exposing” yourself to the feelings, thoughts and situations that remind you of the trauma. People with PTSD sometimes develop avoidant symptoms, meaning that they go numb emotionally, lose memories of the traumatic event and avoid things that remind them of it. CBT can help relieve these feelings, and can also address irrational thoughts and feelings that may stem from the PTSD.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This form of PTSD therapy incorporates rhythmic stimulation, like eye movements or left-to-right hand tapping or sounds, with elements of talk therapy and CBT. The method is believed to unlock the brain’s information processing system, allowing victims of trauma to finally process their experiences.
  • Medication. Antidepressants can help treat secondary symptoms associated with PTSD, such as anxiety or depression. They cannot treat the PTSD itself, however.
  • Self-help. As with any other mental illness, self-help is effective in managing the symptoms of PTSD, if used in conjunction with appropriate treatment. Self-help can include reaching out for support, practicing relaxation techniques and spending time in nature.

If you or someone close to you needs PTSD treatment, it’s important to seek help right away. PTSD symptoms can get worse and can take a toll on your physical health. Our program for PTSD therapy is one of the best in the country.

Call today at 888-699-5679 to learn how you can move forward.