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The Link Between Complex PTSD and Addiction

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When someone suffers from complex PTSD, they may turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. Sadly, using drugs or alcohol in this manner can lead to dependence and eventual addiction. Understanding how complex PTSD and addiction are related is essential when someone needs help.

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was identified as an anxiety disorder that affects people exposed to a traumatic event. For example, seeing a loved one die in a car accident could trigger PTSD. PTSD is also associated with military service personnel and veterans exposed to war, death, and other traumatic events. 

Someone with PTSD relives the trauma and events when they are triggered by a sight, sound, smell, or witnessing a similar traumatic event.

What Is Complex PTSD?

Complex PTSD is a sub-category of PTSD that healthcare professionals have started using in recent years. It is also an anxiety disorder where a person has been exposed to trauma. However, the traumatic event occurs numerous times and is often long-lasting for several months, years, or longer.

Complex PTSD is often associated with childhood trauma when a child has been neglected, abused, or mistreated in some manner. Whatever the event, the child continues to be exposed to it repeatedly, such as being sexually assaulted multiple times by the same person. 
While healthcare professionals are starting to distinguish between PTSD and complex PTSD, the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) does not list complex PTSD as its own mental health condition.

What Are Common Symptoms of Complex PTSD?

  • Re-experiencing the traumatic events through flashbacks. 
  • Ongoing upsetting memories of the events.
  • Avoiding people, places, or other triggers that remind oneself of the events.
  • Having nightmares about the events.
  • Being overly guarded and afraid. 
  • Engaging in self-destructive behaviors.
  • Having thoughts of self-harm. 
  • Experiencing panic attacks and anxiety.
  • Viewing things in a negative manner. 
  • Difficulties sleeping.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Unexplained mood swings, anger, aggression, and irritability.
  • An overwhelming sense of shame and guilt.
  • Difficulties maintaining relationships with others. 
  • Detachment from one’s reality.

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What Is The Link Between Complex PTSD and Addiction?

People who experience PTSD and complex PTSD have a strong desire to feel normal like they were before experiencing trauma. They also want their symptoms to go away so they can have moments of peace. 

In addition, many people with complex PTSD experienced trauma when they were younger. According to the SAMHSA, one in four children, tweens, and teenagers experiences traumatic events before age 16. 

Therefore, it is not uncommon for someone to have a strong sense of shame and guilt associated with their traumatic experiences. As a result, most children, tweens, and teens can be too afraid to ask for help. 

Instead, they can find it easier to turn to alcohol or drugs to help them cope. The effects experienced while drinking or using drugs can provide a brief moment of respite and make them feel normal. 

However, the effects are usually short-lived, and their symptoms return. Sadly, they will start drinking more or using drugs more frequently to avoid facing their traumatic experiences. Unfortunately, as the body develops a tolerance to alcohol or drugs, they are no longer as effective.

As such, they have to drink more or take larger dosages of drugs to achieve the desired effects. Eventually, this puts them on a path to addiction. Furthermore, as addiction takes hold, their PTSD or complex PTSD symptoms become more pronounced whenever they stop drinking or using drugs. 

When children, tweens, and teens are drinking or using drugs to cope with their complex PTSD, their substance use often carries over into adulthood, should they survive and not commit suicide.

How Are Complex PTSD and Addiction Treated?

An integrated treatment approach is necessary so that a person’s complex PTSD and addiction are treated simultaneously as a co-occurring disorder. Therefore, in order for the person to overcome their addiction, they must also address their traumatic event and work through it using various forms of therapy, such as:

  • CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) – This therapy helps people learn how to recognize negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviors and teaches them how to apply positive emotions instead. 
  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) – EMDR is a multi-staged approach to therapy where the person will focus on one part of their traumatic event and associated negative feelings or emotions. Next, they learn how to replace that specific part of their trauma with something positive. 
  • DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) – DBT is a type of talk therapy where the person shares their feelings during individual sessions. The therapist teaches the person how to develop healthy and positive coping skills and mindfulness. 

Other therapies are also incorporated into the person’s personalized treatment program focusing on their addiction. 

Complex PTSD and Addiction Treatment in Murfreesboro, TN

When you struggle with complex PTSD and addiction, Tulip Hill in Murfreesboro, TN, is here to help. We offer customized dual-diagnosis treatment plans for co-occurring disorders in a caring, safe, and supportive environment. Contact us today to take the first steps to regain control over your life.

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