Held every June by the National Center for PTSD, PTSD Awareness Month is an important opportunity to open up discussions about PTSD — particularly when it comes to the complex ways the condition can influence addiction. Addiction and mental health struggles often go hand-in-hand, and PTSD is no exception to this rule. According to Time magazine, between 50 and 66 percent of people who struggle with a substance use disorder (SUD) also have PTSD. A study published in the journal Clinical Psychology also found that individuals with PTSD were two to four times more likely than individuals without PTSD to meet criteria for SUD. Despite the prevalence of co-occurring addiction and PTSD, many people struggling with SUD don’t realize that they also have PTSD.
If you grapple with addiction and have experienced one or more of the following criteria, you might also have co-occurring PTSD:
1. You Experienced a Traumatic Event
Trauma is always the catalyst for PTSD. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you may have undergone a traumatic experience without labeling it as such. A broad range of events that people might not traditionally think of as traumatic have the potential to trigger PTSD.
Some of the most common examples of events that could bring about PTSD include:
- Combat situations
- Serious car accidents
- Natural disasters, like fires, tornadoes, flash floods and earthquakes
- Terrorist attacks
- Physical or sexual assault
- Life-threatening medical diagnoses
While directly experiencing any of these events can cause PTSD, witnessing or even simply hearing about loved ones undergoing these traumas can also trigger the condition. For example, learning about the violent death or injury of a friend or family member be traumatic enough to bring about PTSD symptoms.
This condition can be triggered by traumatic events that a person witnessed or experienced in the past, even going as far back as childhood. People can struggle with PTSD for decades without ever realizing it.
2. You Relive the Traumatic Event Regularly
It’s normal to be preoccupied with a traumatic experience in the weeks and days that follow it. You might find yourself thinking about it constantly. However, for individuals without PTSD, these thoughts usually subside within a few months of the event. If you find yourself reliving your trauma for months or years after it happened, this could be a sign of PTSD. Some people are suddenly overcome with the memory of the event in such vivid intensity that it feels like they’re going through it all over again. Others re-experience it in nightmares. Regardless of the forms they take, involuntary memories, thoughts and flashbacks could be a sign of PTSD.
3. You Avoid People, Places and Things that Remind You of the Trauma
In many cases, the symptoms of PTSD — including intense anxiety, fear, anger, dread and flashbacks — are brought on by things that remind you of a traumatic event. Collectively, the people, places and things that you associate with the event are referred to as triggers. Because the symptoms of PTSD that they bring about can be intense, many people with PTSD go to extreme lengths to avoid their triggers, either consciously or unconsciously. For example, a combat veteran may stay away from crowded areas, like grocery stores or concerts, because it feels dangerous; A woman who was assaulted at night might avoid leaving her home in the evening.
4. You Feel Like a Different Person Since Your Traumatic Experience
After experiencing a traumatic event, it’s natural to not feel like yourself. You may be sad or numb, or feel distrustful of the world around you. However, these feelings usually fade over time. For people impacted by PTSD, personality and attitude changes can persist long after a traumatic event has taken place.
These changes may include:
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Disinterest in spending time with friends and family
- Trouble expressing or feeling positive emotions
- Taking up unhealthy habits, including smoking, abusing drugs and alcohol, or driving aggressively
Part of these personality changes may include hyperarousal, or constantly feeling jittery, “keyed up” and on edge. Concentrating, sleeping or relaxing might feel more difficult than usual. You may find yourself becoming angry or irritable at the drop of a hat, or be easily surprised and startled.
Coming to terms with PTSD isn’t easy, but the first step to getting help is admitting that you need it. With the right care, PTSD and addiction are treatable. If you’re struggling with addiction and suspect that you might also have PTSD, The Recovery Village can help you heal. With centers located across the country that offer comprehensive care for addiction and co-occurring disorders, help is just a telephone call. Reach out to a representative today for more information.