Are Drug Treatment Programs Equipped to Handle Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

If you’re struggling with a co-occurring disorder that includes PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), you’re not alone; according to a study published in Time Magazine, more than 50 percent of those with PTSD also have a substance abuse problem of some kind. Also, those who have PTSD are as much as 4 times more likely to have a problem with drugs and alcohol compared to those who do not have the mental health disorder, according to a separate study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, a peer-reviewed medical journal covering psychological research, assessment, and practice. Fortunately, the right rehab facility can help individuals overcome both of these problems and go on to lead healthy, productive lives.

WHAT IS PTSD?

Before detailing some of the treatments available to help those struggling with substance abuse and PTSD, let’s take a moment to familiarize ourselves with the mental illness and how it can make overcoming addiction even more challenging. According to the National Institute of Health, one of the world’s foremost medical research centers, PTSD will impact the lives of 8 out of 100 people every year. For those who may not be familiar with this particular form of mental illness, PTSD is often the byproduct of traumatic or life-threatening events that have transpired in an individual’s life.

To further put this all into context, as human beings, when we are presented with dangerous or life-threatening situations, we naturally enter a “fight or flight” mode that allows us to either face danger head-on or to run away. This fight or flight response also triggers an array of physiological changes, some of which include an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and body temperature, not to mention changes in brain chemistry. Those with PTSD will experience these symptoms even if there is no threat of danger. Instead, their symptoms are brought on by flashbacks of past traumatic events. PTSD can make normal day to day life challenging. And for those trying to overcome an addiction, it can also stand in the way of their recovery.

WHY DO INDIVIDUALS WITH PTSD ABUSE DRUGS AND ALCOHOL?

In the same way that many individuals turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with stress and other problems in their lives, those with PTSD will turn to these substances to help ease symptoms associated with the disorder. Ironically, instead of easing PTSD symptoms, drugs and alcohol only make their symptoms worse, according to a study published by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs. Fortunately, many rehab facilities offer treatments that are effective when it comes to easing PTSD symptoms and helping individuals overcome their addiction to drugs or alcohol.

TREATMENTS FOR SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND PTSD

Treating PTSD or any other mental illness alongside a substance abuse problem can be challenging and requires a two-pronged approach. In most cases, the first step will require that an individual undergo detox, which will enable the body to rid itself of drugs, alcohol, or other toxins that may be in their system. Because PTSD can intensify withdrawal symptoms, most rehab facilities will offer prescription-based medication to help make the detox process easier.

After detox, they will transition to a treatment center that specializes in co-occurring disorders where they will complete the remainder of their recovery. While at these treatment centers, individuals will meet with a substance abuse counselor who will start them on a series of psychotherapy sessions to address their struggles with PTSD. The most common approach to psychotherapy involves cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is designed to help individuals identify and cope with stress and other triggers associated with their addiction. Beyond that, CBT is also used to help individuals cope with their PTSD symptoms as well.

ADDITIONAL TREATMENTS USED TO TREAT PTSD

Along with CBT, many rehab facilities will also use exposure therapy to help ease severe PTSD symptoms. For those who may not be familiar with this form of psychotherapy, it entails teaching individuals to confront the fears that contribute to their PTSD symptoms. While undergoing exposure therapy, individuals will learn coping strategies that can lessen the severity of their PTSD symptoms. In short, exposure therapy is designed to help individuals become so desensitized to their fears that their PTSD symptoms have less of an impact on their lives.