PTSD and Addiction

PTSD and addiction are two disorders that often coincide with individuals suffering from past traumatic experiences. Before we start navigating the ins and outs of these co-occurring disorders, let’s go over a few important terms.

PTSD is a mental health disorder that develops as a result of exposure to a traumatic event. People who have PTSD feel severe anxiety over the traumatic events that occurred and find themselves reliving the event in their minds as a result.

What is Addiction?

Addiction occurs when an alcohol and drug-dependent individual cannot function without the substance daily. It’s intense independence with negative consequences in one’s mental state, as well as physical well-being. This dependence will take over a person’s life, often becoming somewhat habitual. Addiction is the most severe form of substance abuse. 

Dual-diagnosis is the presence of addiction and mental health disorders. Rather than having one or the other, the individual has both. If you or someone you love is struggling with a dual diagnosis, we encourage you to seek help as soon as possible. Our addiction specialists are here to help you through every step of the way. 

PTSD: A More In-Depth Look

PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) can be categorized as an anxiety disorder. The risk of developing PTSD occurs after an individual experiences a traumatic or life-threatening experience. This can include events such as war, sexual assault, accidents, or natural disasters.

Stress affects our autonomic nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system. All of these systems are dependent upon each other. How an individual perceives stress has a crucial role in how our bodies respond physically to stress. PTSD can also be thought of as an emotional stress overload.

Recent studies show that PTSD causes a part of the brain called the amygdala to shrink. The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes emotions and fear. When the amygdala is smaller in size, it is harder for individuals to process their anxiety resulting from trauma. Thus, the relationship between PTSD and addiction can often develop due to the individual not coping with the trauma healthily.

PTSD Symptoms

Each individual who has PTSD will have varying symptoms based on their unique situation. However, there are general symptoms that most people with PTSD will experience. A few of the general PTSD symptoms include:

  • Intrusive thoughts or images
  • Nightmares
  • Trouble concentrating and completing simple/routine tasks
  • Being jumpy or easily startled
  • Self-destructive actions or recklessness
  • Avoiding triggers and situations that remind you of the trauma
  • Feeling physically numb or detached from your body
  • Inability to show affection

Understanding Addiction

Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is controlled by an individual’s substance use despite negative consequences. People with addiction, severe substance use disorders (SUD), prioritize drug and alcohol abuse and cannot function daily without it. Alcohol and drug abuse often lead to addiction. Common addictions include:

  • Alcohol use
  • Marijuana
  • PCP, LSD, and other hallucinogens
  • Opioid painkillers, such as codeine and oxycodone, heroin
  • Cocaine, methamphetamine, and other stimulants
  • Tobacco
  • Nicotine

Individuals suffering from addiction have distorted thinking, behavior, and body functions. As a result, their ability to have sound judgment suffers, and their days become centered around being able to use again. It’s crucial to catch yourself or a loved one in this pattern so that you can seek help immediately. 

Symptoms of Addiction

To be diagnosed as having an addiction, not all symptoms must be present. Each individual is unique, as are their symptoms. These are signs which occur across many, but not necessarily all, addictions. 

Generally speaking, these are some of the most common symptoms of addiction:

  • Financially unpredictable – holding large amounts of cash at times but then no money at all at other times
  • Significant changes in friends or social groups, new and unusual friends, odd phone conversations
  • Repeated unexplained outings, often with a sense of urgency
  • Drug paraphernalia such as unusual pipes, cigarette papers, small weighing scales, etc.
  • “Stashes” of drugs, often in small plastic bags, paper, or even small storage containers.
  • Drug abuse tolerance – increasingly participating in addictive behavior to receive the desired effect.
  • Extreme mood changes – happy, sad, excited, anxious, etc
  • Sleeping a lot more or less than usual, or at different times of the day or night.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis, also referred to as co-occurring disorders, refers to an individual with both a mental health condition and issues with drug or alcohol abuse. These conditions occur together frequently. These two disorders can often interact and begin to feed off of each other. Many individuals attempt to self-medicate to deal with symptoms stemming from trauma. 

Did you know that in any given year, about 5.2 million adults have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs? Each suffering from PTSD is different. It’s essential to speak to licensed addiction and mental health counselors to understand the full scope of a dual diagnosis. Post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction can be conquered if both are addressed in treatment.

Dual Diagnosis: What if I Have a Co-Occurring Condition?

Dual diagnosis treatment places a strong emphasis on mental health and working through negative thought patterns and behaviors. PTSD and substance use disorders require care and attention to work through them properly. The individual will receive a wide range of evidence-based therapies to address their conditions.

For example, your substance abuse treatment plan may include detox and weekly cognitive-behavioral and dialectical-behavioral therapy. In addition, we believe in the importance of providing you or a loved one with a toolkit of skills that you’ll be able to use long after you leave treatment.

Co-occurring PTSD and a substance abuse disorder must be taken seriously. At North Jersey Recovery Center, we make sure to factor in all aspects of this. We’ll help you tackle PTSD and addiction so you could live a long-lasting sober, and healthy life. 

What Types of Therapy Will I Encounter In Treatment?

Therapy is the focal point of treatment for PTSD and substance use. Treatment will vary for co-occurring disorders, but the combination of different therapies will be consistently used. Each form of therapy tackles the situation in its unique way. 

This is why you’ll find that some people respond to one kind of therapy better than the other. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of therapy for addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy will consist of one-on-one sessions with the recovering individual. The individual will have access to a licensed and caring therapist that’ll help them address and work through PTSD and addiction simultaneously. 

Individual therapy can include a cognitive-behavioral, dialectical-behavioral, or eye-movement reprocessing-based approach. Thus, there are many different forms of therapy, with each offering a variety of benefits. 

Family Therapy

Family therapy includes anyone close to the recovering individual, such as a spouse, significant other, parent, sibling, etc. This form of therapy may be a beneficial part of treatment if the presence of PTSD or addiction is affecting your loved ones. However, it is entirely up to each member of our facility whether or they want the family to get involved.

These sessions take place in a judgment-free space where effective and honest communication is a priority. This can help create a healthy dynamic long after treatments for PTSD ends.

Group Therapy

Group therapy is another core component of dual diagnosis treatment centers for PTSD and addiction. This type of therapy creates an encouraging environment that allows peers to support each other during their recovery journey. Struggling with co-occurring disorders isn’t easy. Peer-to-peer support can make all the difference.

You’ll find a lot of fulfillment in giving support to others and receiving it right back. This community is made to propel you forward in your recovery journey. You can talk about anything that’s on your mind and share your feelings with those who can relate.

A Comprehensive Treatment Plan for PTSD and Addiction

Integrative treatment addresses the underlying mental and emotional roots that cause addiction, as well as PTSD. Both disorders are taken into account when the treatment plan is developed. It’s essential to create a plan that provides support and therapy simultaneously.

Recovering from addiction requires a unique set of tools that is different from the tools you’ll need to cope with past trauma. Thus, we believe in creating a personalized treatment plan for each individual that addresses a broad spectrum of issues. 

Treatment options include varying evidence-based therapies, as well as medical care and lifestyle changes. Dual diagnosis treatment generally entails:

  • Medical detox. Withdrawal symptoms are not only difficult to manage alone, but they can also have fatal consequences. This is where detoxification comes in. This is the process in which your body rids itself of harmful chemicals accumulated through substance use. To target simultaneously occurring conditions, it is crucial to start with a clean slate. 
  • Assessment. A full psychological and physical assessment ensures that we can create the most thorough and accurate treatment plan. This assessment is a way for us to evaluate what mental and physical state you’re in and how we can help best.
  • Therapy, Recovery Meetings, Support Groups. A tailored addiction recovery plan is best for co-occurring disorders. This is why the plan must include a variety of therapies and methods of treatment. We’ll create a plan that fits your unique needs.
  • Aftercare. The goal of an aftercare program is to prevent relapse and promote long-term sobriety. Depending on the individual, aftercare can include a step-down program for addiction and post-traumatic stress, such as outpatient care. In other cases, aftercare can mean merely traveling to the facility for recovery meetings once a week. 

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment also referred to as inpatient rehabilitation, offers the highest level of care. Dual diagnosis patients receive around-the-clock care and support in an inpatient treatment program. Members of residential treatment will reside at the facility for the full duration of treatment.

Each day will have a structured routine full of therapy and support to target each specific condition. Residential treatment ranges from 28 to 90-day programs but can last shorter or longer, depending on the recovering individual. Residential treatment for co-occurring disorders allows the individual to focus on themselves in a trigger-free environment.

Outpatient Treatment 

Regardless of a recovering individual’s schedule, a high level of care remains crucial for those with a dual diagnosis. PTSD and addiction can be worked through even if you have severe obligations outside of treatment. Outpatient care doesn’t require the individual to reside at our facility. Instead, you’ll travel to the facility for treatment and be able to return home after.

This is especially ideal for those without obligations, such as taking care of a child at home or attending work. There are a few types of outpatient programs. A partial care program (PHP) is a more intensive option in outpatient care. The schedule of a PHP consists of five or more days a week at our facility. These programs are similar to residential options, but clients can live at home.

Other options include intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) and standard outpatient programs. IOPs are more hands-on, with more time required at the facility. Traditional outpatient rehabilitation is the least intensive option, with the most amount of flexibility. 

Find Help at North Jersey Recovery

You don’t have to let PTSD and addiction run your life anymore. We can help you overcome obstacles that get in the way of living a healthy and fulfilling life. Our recovery center provides high-quality treatment and a supportive environment to treat co-occurring disorders.

We’re here to help you develop healthy coping mechanisms. We’ll incorporate a variety of treatment services in your dual diagnosis plan, such as:

  • Detox programs
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Group counseling
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Holistic care
  • Trauma therapy
  • Sober living

If you or a loved one are seeking safety and recovery, please contact us today. Remember, we’re here for any questions, comments, or concerns you may have. We’re waiting for your call!

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Medical Reviewer

Laura comes to NJRC with 23 years of vast clinical experience in hospital, residential, outpatient, and community outreach settings where she has worked, supervised clinical teams, and volunteered. She has provided substance abuse and mental health counseling, clinical coordination, and advocacy to individuals, families and groups, and specializes in co-occurring disorders for both adults and adolescents.